Twin Engines for Propelling Social Impact
How ambitious nonprofits balance today’s needs with tomorrow’s potential
In the 12 years since its founding, OneGoal had grown to engage almost 12,500 high school students a year in six metropolitan areas and had become widely recognized for its success in helping lower-income students—mainly young people of color—enroll and persist in postsecondary education. Yet OneGoal was hitting the limits of its relatively costly model, which required large and continuing streams of philanthropic funding. It was growing one school at a time, adding hundreds of students each year—but the need was many, many times that. “If we continued to grow at the current rate,” says OneGoal CEO Melissa Connelly, “we would never come anywhere close to reaching the 1.4 million 11th graders nationwide who could benefit.”
OneGoal’s problem is a familiar one. On one hand, they want to expand their services to meet needs which only seem to grow. On the other, they feel pulled toward identifying new solutions that hold the potential to scale their impact far beyond their current approaches. It is often hard to pursue both.
For the private sector, Bain & Company has created a concept called Engine 1/Engine 2 to describe this dynamic and help leaders effectively manage it. To sustain profitable growth over the long term, companies need to optimize the core business—their Engine 1—while sowing the seeds of reinvention for their Engine 2, which can fuel growth through a new business model, new customer segments, or completely new products or services. Engine 1 focuses on today’s business model and current capabilities, and it involves continuous improvement and careful risk assessment; Engine 2 focuses on new growth opportunities and business models that are outside of Engine 1, and involves experimentation, agility, and creativity. Bain defines Engine 2s as new businesses built within an existing company that use the existing scale benefits—namely, the assets and capabilities of the strong core business (Engine 1)—to grow to a large size faster than an independent start-up could.
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