Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Self -> Serve -> Scale

[We've talked about Self->Serve->Systems with lots of Ember people in the past few years. It's not quite a complete thought and after sharing it with a workshop this past weekend, I think Self->Serve->Scale makes the idea more complete. This is what I would have said if I had thought of it in time. The idea of 'Scale' has also come up in a few recent conversations related to this topic and this excellent article, Scale or Bail, continues to make an impression.]

When the affluent serve the less fortunate, there are lots of dynamics at play, many that we need to take care with. We need to specifically be careful of doing something for someone else that they could do for themselves. This premise - that we should never do something for someone that they could do for themselves - is well outlined in two fantastic books, When Helping Hurts, and Toxic Charity. The image here represents a progression from Self to Serve to Scale and portrays one mental model which might help us think through some of these ideas.

Everyone of us starts out only thinking about self. At some point in our journey, for most of us here at this conference, we move from thinking about only ourselves to thinking about someone else - we want to serve someone less fortunate. This is, of course, a good thing.

But there are lots of us that stop at that point, when there may be one more step to go. We continue to serve when we really should think about scale. What do I mean when I say scale? It means the ability to grow and multiply your efforts. Take a simple idea and use it to affect a ton of people. If our great passions and actions stop at serving, we might be serving at the same soup kitchen for the next 10 years. If we scale something, we could be helping hundreds, thousands, that same community as well as many others.

You can only scale when you get the people you are serving involved. Your service project will never grow and multiply if you are doing for them what they could be doing for themselves. Not only will you stagnate the growth of your passion, you'll cripple those less fortunate than you. Scaling requires you to listen, it requires you to think about the assets in the people you serve, it requires you to uncover talent.

I'd like to highlight two quick examples of this. The first one is outlined in Toxic Charity by Bob Lupton. Dr. Lupton spent thirty some years working in the inner city in Atlanta. At his church, they had a food pantry and he suggested a slight tweak to it - turning it into a food cooperative. Instead of hand outs, they actually now had members and a small monthly income. They used this income to employ food buyers, who were actually from the community they were serving. Now they had insiders who bought food the less fortunate actually wanted to eat. People started sharing recipes, they started throwing community dinner parties. At one point, someone suggested the idea of starting a restaurant with all their culinary skills and passions, and they eventually did it. The restaurant is still in existence today. Someone had to think about scale as part of this whole project though - when they need a commercial kitchen, someone helped to find it. When they needed seed funding, someone helped write a grant. Lots of thinking about assets and talents.

The second example comes from the world of housing and construction. New Story Charity has a vision to end global homelessness. Last summer, they unveiled a solution to use a 3D concrete printer to print a home in less than 24 hours and at less than $4K. Scaling means they do this for a whole community, not just one house. Scaling also means that they have developed a robust pattern for partnership with locals as well as a people-centric design process - thinking about local culture and involving those they serve in the design stage. The vision of New Story is not building homes - it is ending global homelessness. In their own words: "One billion people live without a basic human need: shelter. Linear improvements will never reach this market. We need a quantum leap in affordability, speed, and quality to reach families exponentially faster."

This is an experimental mental model that we talk about with Ember kids and I'm optimistically expectant - one day soon, one of our Ember kids is going to make this happen and I will be thrilled. So come on Ember peeps, no pressure. Actually just kidding. Lots of pressure - the world needs you.

In the meantime, self to serve to scale. Dig in and take your passion past just serving. Scale it to really change the world.

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