In the last several decades, the global community has increasingly recognized the complex nature of problems to be solved in global development. Many of the key poverty reduction, inclusive growth, and empowerment tasks of our time – from ensuring food security and nutrition to advancing open government – require changing complex systems, and doing so on a scale commensurate with the size of the problems. In this context, donors, foundations, and even private sector bodies have asked, “How do we move from pilot projects to platforms that enable scale?” and “How do we mobilize and influence stakeholders – like governments, private industry, and entire sectors of fragmented players – who can operate at scale?” Many have embraced the idea that impact at scale requires a systems approach, but a collection of uncoordinated and disjointed interventions among disparate stakeholders is simply not enough to achieve these changes.
Against this backdrop, when the Global Development Incubator (GDI) approached us about engaging with and supporting this research, we were keen to participate and – along with valued advisors from the Rockefeller Foundation and Gates Foundation – shed some light on these often overlooked field-building anchors. The report starts by asking: what have we learned from the experience of conceiving, designing, launching, and running these MSIs? Although not designed to be a comprehensive examination of these entities, this research mines the wisdom of the founders and first CEOs of 17 MSIs, drawing insights from their experiences and 20/20 hindsight, as well as public documents and evaluations. In analyzing the successes, trials, and failures of these MSIs to date, the report provides a useful guide for those who are considering setting up MSIs and those charged with running or participating in them.
The findings point to important early lessons. Overall, we were heartened to see that the report highlights some promising examples of success, and leads us to believe that MSIs – in the right context, and set up well – can play an essential role in helping achieve results at greater scale for a broad cross-section of stakeholders. But the report also says loud and clear to proceed with caution, drawing on experiences of MSIs that did not live up to the bold ambitions of their founders.