June 9, 2022
A Pragmatic Playbook for Impact: Direct, Widespread, and Systemic
By Alex Cortez | Christine Wade

Share this article

Click HERE to access the playbook.

Click HERE to watch a webinar.

Click HERE to access an overview slide presentation.

Access the Case Studies: Envision Education/Envision Learning Partners, Saga Education, and uAspire

Social entrepreneurs don’t lack ambition. Being a social entrepreneur requires an irrational belief in the power of one’s work to transform a world in dire need of change. Just look at the scale and degree of change embodied in any social impact organization’s vision and mission statements about the transformation it aspires to create for the communities it serves.

Nowhere is this truer than in education entrepreneurship. However, to make their ambitions a reality, to make the irrational actionable, and to move from a narrow theory of action to achieving a successful theory of population-level change, education entrepreneurs must consider working across three strategies for impact:

  • Direct Impact: How an organization provides programming directly to its target beneficiaries.

  • Widespread Impact: How an organization builds the capacity of partner organizations to replicate elements of its program model.

  • Systemic Impact: How an organization shifts mindsets, relationships, and power to in turn shift the policies, practices, and resource flows that create stronger conditions for adoption of an organization’s values, program model, and its ultimate vision for change.

These strategies are not mutually exclusive but rather reinforcing and cyclical.

Rooted in promising practices from the education sector, A Pragmatic Playbook for Impact: Direct, Widespread, and Systemic is a practical resource for decision-makers to maximize their impact, further equity, and respond to the urgency of this moment amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The playbook covers:

  • The design considerations in first developing a Direct Impact model.

  • The reasons more organizations are considering expanding into Widespread Impact.

  • Widespread Impact design decisions and different models organizations can consider in prioritizing breadth versus depth of impact.

  • How organizations maximize fidelity of implementation of more intensive Widespread Impact models.

  • How organizations extend their work into Systemic Impact strategies to create the conditions necessary for their program model to achieve and sustain scale.

  • How organizations balance work across these three impact strategies — including aligning it with their theory of change, building out the organizational capabilities to execute across these strategies, and understanding how these strategies impact financial sustainability.

  • How organizations can measure their Widespread Impact.

  • Three case studies showing how education nonprofits are effectively implementing Direct, Widespread, and Systemic Impact in the field.


More from Bellwether

Bellwether’s School Finance Equity R Training 

Bellwether’s annual School Finance Equity R Training builds deep knowledge and capacity among advocates across the country to influence education finance policy at the state level. The training is free for selected participants, and additional grant support is available to cover participants’ time. 

State school funding formulas are a major lever for improving educational equity, but reform of those systems requires deep policy and technical expertise. Bellwether’s training equips state-level advocacy organizations with the policy and technical tools they need to become a trusted authority for modeling potential changes to their state’s school funding formula, primarily using R, an open-source analytic software package. Training participants take part in an intensive series of virtual classes to build data analysis and modeling skills, demystify education funding policy, and accelerate advocacy on behalf of historically underserved students. 

Contact our team at contactus@bellwether.org to be notified when the next round of applications opens in Spring 2024. 

Thank you! Your subscription has been confirmed. You'll hear from us soon.