What do we know about Million Lives Club Members? Four initial insights from our learning agenda  News

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In October 2019, the Million Lives Club announced its first group of 44 Members. We know that our first cohort is an innovative group of high-impact social entrepreneurs, scaling to improve the lives of those living on less than $5 daily - we wouldn’t have chosen them otherwise!

But what else do we know about our Members? What size are the organizations behind the innovations, and where are they based? How long have they been scaling, and who is leading them? We were curious, so we crunched some numbers to see what we could learn and have collected some of the most interesting stats below. Based on these insights, we will also be diving deeper into several key topics in the coming weeks and months, so be sure to keep an eye out.


Almost half (20 out of 44) of our MLC Members are women-led, where we defined this as any of the CEO, President, Chairperson, or Managing Director self-identifying as a woman. This means that for every five organizations that are led by women, there are six that aren’t. This isn’t quite 50-50 gender representation, but higher than a lot of other fields – as a few quick examples, there are only 23 heads of state or government that are women worldwide, and only 6% of S&P 500 CEOs are women. There’s more evidence out there suggesting that gender representation is more equal in social entrepreneurship compared to other sectors – this is intriguing, and we’ll be engaging with our Members to try and understand why, what this means for the organizations they run, and what unique barriers exist for women social innovators.

Figure 1: Women-led organizations in the Million Lives Club. Dark orange figures represent organizations led by women, light orange figures represent organizations that are not.


Nearly half of the first MLC cohort are small organizations, employing fewer than 50 people overall, reflecting the growth and scale potential of our cohort. Nearly a third are large organizations with more than 250 employees, while the rest are medium-sized organizations lying somewhere in between. Our aim is both to celebrate well-known entrepreneurs, but also to reach smaller organizations that are generating significant impact, and we’re happy that our diverse Membership reflects this. However, we are keen to expand on the regional diversity of our membership - more than half of our current Members are headquartered in the Global North, while a third are headquartered in sub-Saharan Africa, and only one is based in East Asia. This is spurring us to look at how we can broaden our MLC networks to identify even more innovators based in LMICs. One of the seven Whistler Principles, a call for innovation endorsed by the G7 Development Ministers in 2018, is investing in locally-driven solutions, and we want to play our part in getting beyond the “usual suspects”.


As a point of contrast, however, we can see from Figure 2 that countries of operation are concentrated in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, meaning most of the impact will be generated there too – 17 Members were active in India, 15 were active in Kenya, and 11 in Ghana. Most Members have large workforces outside of their home bases as well, and 70% of them employed more than three-quarters of their workforce in-country. Only five Members employed less than a quarter of their workforce in the countries in which their innovation is implemented. We expect the difference between them can be explained in part by the type of innovation and its business model – for example, an organization providing vital sanitation systems would likely have a high percentage of their workforce employed in-country, but should we expect the same from an app with users all over the globe? And it’s not clear from the data what it means operationally if an organization is headquartered in the US or the UK – leadership and key decision may still be delegated to regional or country-level offices. This is another area we’ll be exploring further.

Figure 2: Countries of operations of Million Lives Club Members. Larger bubbles mean more Members operating in the country.


As may be expected, our Vanguard Members, those who have already scaled to impact more than 1 million lives, have spent the longest time pursuing their innovations at an average of 10 years. Our Voyager (those expected to reach 1 million lives within 18 months) and Pioneer (those working in smaller markets who have scaled to reached 40% of them) cohorts have spent an average of 6 and 4 years respectively getting their innovations to their current level of scale. There can be a lot of hype about how fast-moving innovation is, but our data reveal an important truth – getting an innovation to scale and to achieve real impact is a long and tough process. An idea needs to be incepted and refined, the entrepreneurs need to find a way to prove that it works, funders and appropriate implementing partners need to be convinced and brought in, and all the while innovators need to navigate complex regulatory and compliance barriers. There is still a lot of work need to under the range of different scaling pathways, so we’re going to dedicate some time and research to this issue alone and aim to showcase some concrete examples of the complex process of scaling innovation!


This is only the beginning of our learning journey here at the MLC. We’ll be doing deeper dives on some of the topics we touched on above, such as gender representation in our innovators, and into topics we couldn’t fit in here, like what determines effectiveness at reaching low-income clients. We’re also scaling up our learning with new activities directly engaging our Members, so watch this space for further insights over the coming months!