Olivia Elson

Olivia is a development professional with experience in market systems, private sector development and results measurement. She currently works at Results for Development, focusing on identifying and scaling innovative solutions to address systemic challenges in health, education and nutrition in low- and middle-income countries. She supports the management of the International Development Innovation Alliance, a collaboration of world-leading bilateral, multi-lateral and philanthropic agencies working to surface and promote high-impact innovations. Previously, Olivia worked for PwC and had a lead role in the management of the Business Innovation Facility, a DFID-funded market systems development programme.

Getting into the Million Lives Club

What we can learn about achieving transformative impact from social businesses that are successfully scaling

In South Africa, MomConnect is a National Department of Health initiative that uses mobile technology to improve the health of pregnant women, newborns and infants at national scale. In Myanmar, Proximity Designs has created and is expanding a nation-wide platform of key on-farm services and products. Meanwhile across Sub-Saharan Africa, Ubongo Learning is leveraging the power of entertainment, the reach of mass media, and the connectivity of digital technology to deliver localised early learning support to hard to reach and vulnerable populations.

What do these three organizations have in common? Each has reached millions of clients and counting.

Development innovation is at an exciting time in its history. Innovations that have been developed and tested over many years are transforming lives on a grand scale, thanks to the combined efforts of many different actors within local and global innovation ecosystems. And yet, there remains some scepticism among development practitioners and investors alike that innovations are reaching significant scale, or that there are investable innovations out there.

Introducing the Million Lives Club…

In response, a partnership of leading development organizations recently launched the Million Lives Club (MLC). Our initiative aims to identify and celebrate innovations that are successfully scaling to improve the lives of those living on less than $5 a day. It is based on the belief that identifying and highlighting social innovators that have reached transformative numbers of clients will act as a powerful platform to:

  • Enable further uptake and scaling of these innovations by country governments, funders, and other actors;
  • Share examples of different growth paths and lessons learned that may be valuable for other social entrepreneurs and funders alike;
  • Illustrate the importance of innovation and its potential to accelerate impact in support of the Sustainable Development Goals; and
  • Increase the use of social entrepreneurs and innovators as key delivery partners for development agencies.
Alexis Bonnell speaking at Million Lives Club event
Alexis Bonnell, USAID's Chief Innovation Officer, introduces the Million Lives Club at the OECD ‘Accelerating Innovation for Development Impact’ conference in October 2019. Photo Credit: Million Lives Club

Showcasing the first Million Lives Club Members

We were delighted to announce the inaugural group of Million Lives Cub Members recently at the SOCAP Conference on 22 October 2019. Forty-four innovations were selected for inclusion across three cohorts.

  • 31 MLC Vanguard Members, celebrated for innovations which have already directly impacted 1,000,000 clients or more;
  • 8 MLC Voyager Members, recognised for innovations on an impressive scaling trajectory, and expected to impact at least 1,000,000 clients within 18 months; and
  • 5 MLC Pioneer Members, highlighted for scaling an innovation which meets the needs of more than 40% of their target population.

The MLC is geography- and sector-agnostic. Current members are working to address important development challenges in health, agriculture, democracy and education, among others. Collectively, their innovations have impacted more than 260 million lives to date. Click here to view the full list of Members in the MLC Directory.

What next?

Now that we have recognised our first group of members, we are developing a learning agenda to generate knowledge that will be useful to our members, partner organisations and other social businesses who are hoping to join the club one day. We want to find out exactly which factors enabled members to scale, how they overcame barriers, and how partner organisations can best support their work—and the work of other budding social businesses—going forward. What’s more, we know that many successfully scaling innovations are not yet on the radar of the development community; the Million Lives Club is actively working to change this, tapping into local and regional networks to highlight innovators worldwide.

The Million Lives Club is accepting applications on a rolling basis, so innovators and social entrepreneurs are strongly encouraged to apply! Submissions received by Friday 10th January 2020 (12:00 EST) will be considered for inclusion in the next group of MLC Members, which will be announced in Spring 2020.

Additional Resources:

Million Lives Club website

Follow @million_lives on Twitter

Banner image: Tommy Engvik, CSO at Bright Products - one of the inaugural MLC Members - demonstrates the Sunbell multifunctional solar lantern at the OECD’s ‘Accelerating Innovation for Development Impact’ conference in October 2019. Photo Credit: Million Lives Club.