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How to know when ​you’ve got a ​Programmes of ​Scale contender

Story By rotary international

Congratulations! Your Rotary club or district has had success with a large ​project. Maybe the outcome was so good that now you’re wondering if the ​initiative should be expanded and what to do next.

For starters, you need to have a scaling mindset, explains Larry Cooley, an ​international development and scaling expert and a member of the Rotary Club ​of Washington Global, based in Washington, D.C. “Big problems require big ​solutions,” he says in a webinar on Rotary’s Learning Centre.

Then, of course, there’s the funding required to go big, usually more than a ​typical global grant. The Rotary Foundation offers $2 million in funding each year ​to one large-scale, high-impact project through its Programmes of Scale grant ​competition.

The first three awards went to programmes addressing malaria in Zambia, ​maternal and neonatal mortality in Nigeria, and cervical cancer in Egypt.

How do you know if your project is a good candidate? Before you hit “submit” on ​your application, ask yourself these questions.

1. Is your project ready to ​scale?

A project that’s a good candidate builds on proven interventions. Is there ​evidence that what you’re proposing has addressed the issue it intended to?

Things like a research study, recommendations from the World Health ​Organisation, or an external evaluation are good benchmarks; a self-produced ​final report from a global grant is not.

Has the effort been tried in the setting you’re proposing? If not, consider a pilot ​project first and add in robust monitoring and evaluation systems to understand ​if it has the effect you wanted.

In Egypt, for example, Rotary clubs built on prior success and known ​interventions when designing their Programme of Scale initiative by increasing ​demand for vaccines to prevent cervical cancer through awareness-raising ​activities.

Jennifer Jones stands in front of a sign that says United to End Cervical Cancer in Egypt

Rotary International Past-President Jennifer Jones announcing the US $2 million awarded to United to ​End Cervical Cancer in Egypt

2. Do you love your ​problem?

Bringing a project to scale takes an average of 15 years, Cooley says. “The idea ​that you’ll develop something of great importance and walk away is an unrealistic ​expectation,” he says. “Look at polio.”

In a way, it’s like raising a child, minus the fights over screen time. Do you love ​your problem enough to change course when you learn things aren’t going as ​planned? And are you keeping the long game in mind: that your goal is not to ​support your child — er, project — forever but to guide it to functioning ​independently?

3. Is your project built for ​sustainability?

“The only real way to make a permanent change is to make a change to the ​system itself,” Cooley advises. By “system,” he most often means governments or ​economic markets, which have the necessary infrastructure, incentives, and ​budgets.

A sustainable project is designed in collaboration with the communities and ​institutions that will implement it and sustain it after the grant is over. It must be ​integrated into a local, regional, or national system with clearly identified ​financial support.

The team in Nigeria, for example, is working with the state and national ​ministries of health to embed elements of the maternal and neonatal health ​program within their budgets so that it becomes a government program rather ​than a Rotary one.

a Rotary volunteer speaking to a group of mothers holding their babies and wearing facemasks

Rotary in Nigeria is working with their state and national ministries of health to improve maternal ​and ​neonatal health throughout the country

4. Does your project ​promote learning?

A Programmes of Scale-worthy initiative uses data to understand what’s working ​and what’s not, and changes direction as needed.

Are you willing to share the lessons you learn with the governments and other ​entities you are working with, as well as with the broader Rotary world?

As one example, community health workers supported by the malaria project in ​Zambia enter data about cases. The data goes to the Ministry of Health and helps ​determine which districts need additional malaria tests and treatment, and ​which districts have higher malaria cases.

5. Does your project ​represent Rotary?

An ideal Programmes of Scale project gives Rotary members a role beyond ​executing funding, using their expertise, networks, or influence to advance ​project goals.

For example, through their membership on the End Malaria Council, members in ​Zambia advocate for consistent supplies for malaria testing and treatment.

Two volunteers in Zambia talking whilst sat on a tree trunk

Community health workers supported by the Malaria-Free Zambia project enter data about cases so ​tha​t the Ministry of Health can provide additional support to the right districts

6. Has your project attracted ​partners that are invested in ​understanding what works to ​solve certain problems?

The Programmes of Scale vision stresses the need for two types of partners: one ​to help implement the solution and another to provide financial resources (The ​same organization could be both kinds of partners).

Starting with the 2024-25 grant competition, The Rotary Foundation Trustees ​have mandated external contributions of at least $500,000.

Co-investment can indicate that the resource partner believes in the proposed ​intervention’s potential effectiveness, and early investment supports learning ​alongside Rotary to understand what works — which can lead to greater ​investment beyond the original grant.

This is what happened in Zambia, where success led to help from Rotary’s ​partnerships with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and World Vision for a ​new disease prevention and treatment funding opportunity, the Rotary Healthy ​Communities Challenge, which will be implemented in four countries from 2024 ​to 2027.

Find out more in Rotary’s Programmes of Scale Grant Competition Handbook.


Phase 1

March: Concept note template available

1 August 2024: Concept notes due

August-September: Concept notes review

October: Most-qualified applicants invited to submit proposals

Phase 2

January 2025: Proposals due

January-March 2025: Proposal review

April 2025: Applicants notified of results

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