global perspectives

Unleashing the power of scale: how to invest in nature-based solutions for global impact

11 July 2023 / WORDS BY Kirsty Galloway McLean

The success of nature-based solutions will depend on how well we can create the systemic change needed to scale them.

Imagine if you were to suddenly multiply your own daily responsibilities tenfold. Would you have the infrastructure – mental, physical and temporal – to maintain your current level of efficiency and effectiveness? What sorts of big changes might you need in your environment, your support network, and your organisational architecture to help you adapt, grow and even thrive in the flow of the demands of this scaled-up existence?

This thought experiment forms the crux of the challenge we face in our collective pursuit to address the world’s most pressing environmental challenges and achieve our global sustainable development goals. It is not simply about replication of small-scale successes – just as your personal life would require significant recalibration to accommodate a surge in responsibilities, efforts to scale conservation solutions cannot be limited solely to technological innovations. Rather, our investments and solutions must go beyond incremental growth; they must spark systemic change to ensure a truly sustainable future. There is a growing awareness that a spectrum of interventions loosely grouped as ‘nature-based solutions’ will be key in protecting us from climate change, while also securing the world’s essential biodiversity reserves and ecosystem services. However, there are challenges in navigating the transition between successful participatory community-led innovations, to solutions that work at scale.

Pollination Foundation’s report Scaling and Systems Change: Fundamentals, Insights and Case Study Reviews offers insights and case studies that shed light on the path towards creating a sustainable future through scaling nature-based solutions. Drawing from the expertise of scaling and business strategists, as well as successful scaling initiatives from the non-profit sector, this report provides a roadmap for impact investors keen to change the world for the better, and shares valuable lessons for community-led projects as they move from the protective cocoon of a pilot project to a far more predatory environment in the real world.

Women carrying firewood. Copyright Annie Spratt

Scaling and systems change 101 – understanding the power of collective action

The journey towards scaling nature-based solutions begins by recognising the need for collective action and transformative change. Scaling expert Lennart Woltering emphasises the importance of fostering shared vision and ownership, investing in local capacity, and engaging public and private sectors.

Lennart explores the need for stepwise scaling and collaboration partners using the simple idea of moving people between two destinations. Imagine you start with the idea of transporting people using a bicycle. Initially, you can scale to some extent by carrying a few additional passengers on your bike, but the possibilities remain limited. If your goal is to bring a larger number of people to their destination, the vehicle itself needs to evolve. This necessitates a transition from a bicycle to a minivan. With the minivan, you require a licensed driver who can navigate on well-paved roads, roads which need to be constructed and maintained by the government. As your scaling efforts progress, you encounter the capacity constraints of the minivan, and another transformation is necessary – shifting to a fleet of buses – which comes with new challenges and new partners.

This example illustrates how each phase of scaling brings forth unique needs, implications, and involves the participation of different stakeholders.

 You need to focus on what you do best, and then build a good stakeholder collaboration strategy to see how other organisations can fill the gaps – Lennart Woltering, CIMMYT – Scaling and Systems Change


Lennart delves into various types of scaling: scaling out, which involves multiplying or replicating innovations; scaling up, which entails policy changes and collaborations; and scaling deep, which focuses on transforming mindsets, values, and practices. There’s also scaling down, the challenge of recognising what needs to be phased out or exited to create space for new, more sustainable solutions to emerge. When implementing nature-based solutions, it is essential to embrace all types of scaling. However, a particular focus should be on initiatives that drive systemic change, as they hold the key to achieving sustainable and substantial impact. This is crucial for securing the net-zero, nature-positive future that our planet so urgently requires.

Scaling lessons from the private sector – powering the growth and innovation journey

Start-ups have valuable lessons to offer nature-based solutions when it comes to rapid scaling and adaptation to new challenges. Lisa Miller, a business strategist and digital marketer who has scaled teams at some of the fastest-growing companies in Australia, including Canva, shares insights on redesigning organizational structures and teams to sustain growth.  She is now applying these insights at Wedgetail, an organisation devoted to conserving and restoring biodiversity through sustainable investment.

Often what we see as investors and grant funders in conservation is the mismatch between the funding pitch and capacity to deliver at that scale immediately. The key is to take small risks first. It’s then important to reflect and ask, what worked and what didn’t. In the conservation sector, depending on where your funds are coming from, it can feel hard to take those risks. – Lisa Miller, Wedgetail – Scaling and Systems Change


Lisa’s keys to success include cultivating a learning culture that embraces experimentation, innovation, and continuous adaptation. By balancing structure with flexibility, nurturing team dynamics, and promoting leadership skills, initiatives can thrive as they scale. Lisa highlights the importance of storytelling to share the vision and leveraging the unique strengths of each team member.

Start-ups have valuable lessons to offer nature-based solutions when it comes to rapid scaling and adaptation to new challenges.

Scaling case studies and lessons learned – harnessing the power of collaboration

One of our challenges has been existential. How do we stay true to our core identity through this transformation? – Cedric Robillot, GBRF – Scaling and Systems Change


Examining case studies from various sectors and countries, the report also shares the experiences of non-profit organisations that have successfully scaled their initiatives. Each case study provides valuable insights into scaling strategies and lessons learned:

  • UN Women’s Second Chance Education Program talks about how they achieved success in addressing gender-based barriers and providing transformative life skills. They have expanded their reach while adapting to diverse contexts through engaging in advocacy, capacity building, and partnerships with organisations that share their commitment to change.
  • The Great Barrier Reef Foundation (GBRF) successfully adapted to rapid growth after receiving a substantial government grant. By adhering to their core values, building the right team, and embracing flexible strategies, the GBRF talks about how they were able to maintain their identity while scaling up their impact. They also speak to the need to create conditions that allow partnerships to thrive after funding ceases.
  • The Open Contracting Partnership (OCP) has transformed public procurement across 50 countries. By focusing on legislative guidance, advocacy, and collaboration, they multiply beneficiaries through replication and amplify their impact through partnerships. Measuring impact and leveraging technology have been instrumental in their scaling journey.

The case studies reveal the importance of collaboration, capacity building, adaptability, documenting impact, and leveraging technology, to successfully scale their initiatives and created meaningful, sustainable change.

The Great Barrier Reef Foundation successfully adapted to rapid growth after receiving a substantial government grant.

From start-ups to sustainability – the power of creating lasting change

By understanding the principles of scaling and embracing a “systems thinking” approach to innovation, we can drive transformative change. The private sector’s experience with rapid scaling offers valuable lessons in fostering innovation and growth, while deeply held landscape knowledge and local understanding will be needed to illuminate the pathways to successful scaling for community-led solutions.  Collaboration and adaptability will be key to realising the potential of nature-based solutions in future-proofing our planet.

Further reading:

Scaling and Systems Change: Fundamentals, Insights and Case Study Reviews is a report produced by Pollination Foundation as part of its role in facilitating Ampliseed, a learning and leadership network that connects seven Projects supported by the BHP Foundation’s Environmental Resilience Global Program. The report is available in English and Spanish.


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