Lessons learned from 2021

Making time to reflect

When it comes to our programs, Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) processes and the collection of qualitative data is something that we put a lot of time and energy into. Insights gathered from these data allow us to understand how we are tracking against our intentions with each body of work that we do. It’s a useful record of progress regarding what people think, feel, and value about our work. This kind of comprehensive reflection is, however, something that we don’t often prioritise internally as an organisation. Feeling the need to look back on the year that was 2021, we surveyed our staff in November with a series of questions to understand how people were feeling about the year just past, the year to come, what we were doing well, and where we needed to improve.

Our people work in many places across the world, from Nairobi to Johannesburg, Fiji to Byron Bay, yet this organisational barometer showed remarkable consensus across personnel and offices about the highs and lows of 2021, and what we learned as a global team. Among a busy end of year wrap up, everyone took the time out to reflect; and the consensus was that this kind of internal MEL is something we will continue on with into the future. We’re proud to share those lessons as we wrap up this year and head into the next.

What we did well

We were bold and we tried new things

After such a global shake up, it would have been easy to stay on the well-trodden path of what we’ve always done. Instead, we tested a lot; new program structures, a new organisational vision, innovative and targeted program recruitment strategies, just to name a few. In 2021 we chose to be brave and it paid off. We learned that in order to grow, sometimes we have to purposely sit outside of what we know — even when it’s uncomfortable — and think about what’s possible rather than what’s right in front of us.

We found our voice and a greater sense of confidence

Across the board, we recognised a shared sense of growth in our roles, our skills and ourselves as people. As we settled into another year of uncertainty as best we could, many of us found a renewed sense of confidence and a stronger voice when it came to our work. We learned that growth comes in part from being able to set and respect boundaries — for ourselves and for others — and that personal development and the consideration of individual circumstances, especially when working remotely, are so important to our ability to function as a whole.

We deeply appreciated the team that we work with and the environment we work in

ygap is a small but mighty operation and our people are our most important asset. This year we held a deep appreciation for the people that we are so privileged to work with across every function of the organisation. We admired the hard work, dedication and passion that every ygap staff member brings to their role, and how we all work together as a whole to make the organisation function. We also recognised the richness that comes from learning across business functions, offering fresh perspectives, supporting each other to do and being our best in our roles and as people.

We held a deep sense of pride in the work we’ve done and what we’ve been able to achieve this year

2021 was hard for ygap staff across the world. Changes to lockdown measures, new variants, personal loss — it’s been difficult for everyone in different and poignant ways. Despite this, intersecting everything else was a deep feeling of pride for the work that we’ve done this year. We learned that taking time for active reflection and gratitude make our achievements in 2021 even more resonant. In a time of such uncertainty, celebrating successes and wins is so very important to keeping us along the path forward.

What we will look to develop further in 2022

We want to invest more in our development, which includes making time to do things properly and thoroughly

Even a true master must continually learn as time changes a baseline of knowledge. While we did feel a tangible sense of growth this year, we acknowledge that it wasn’t necessarily on purpose, and that we want to be more intentional about making space for that growth to continue into the future. This goes for our development as people, our performance in our roles, and for the organisation as a whole as we keep moving forward as all of these things are intertwined. We learned that an investment of time is a recognition of value, and that concerted change and growth requires that investment.

We learned the value of systems and processes

We’re a fast-moving, agile organisation with teams that work autonomously across the world. This is a brilliant way to operate for the kind of work that we do but it doesn’t necessarily lend itself to the embedding of organisation-wide systems and processes that make life easier for everyone in the long run. This year we felt the absence of those systems and made a concerted effort to start devising and implementing what we need in order to complement our growth as an organisation. We learned that strong foundations, built of systems that everyone understands how to participate in, are an essential precursor to reaching soaring heights sustainably.

We’re excited to actively focus more on climate across our work

With COP26, a year of tumultuous weather, and working in places that are already being deeply affected by global warming, we solidified climate as one of our key strategic focus areas going forward. 2021 has been about laying this foundation and doing some thinking around how we incorporate considerations about climate in a meaningful way across the organisation. We learned that climate is a cross-cutting issue that needs to be considered in everything, because there is no equitable or sustainable world in a future where we don’t do everything possible to take care of the planet.

In closing

The most common sentiment from our reflections was that we’ve spent a lot of time sewing and nurturing seeds over the last two years, and that 2022 is the time that we hope to see them start to blossom. The hope of all toil is the promise of the payoff, and we’re excited to see how ygap continues to grow and change with the love and dedication we’ve poured into it.

We learned a lot this year, and we are so grateful to the partners and supporters that allow us to keep developing, iterating, and becoming the best version of ygap that we can be. We’re also in constant awe of the incredible entrepreneurs that we have the privilege to work with — they really are, through using business for good, changing the world. We’re looking forward to what 2022 has to bring.

To learn more about ygap and what we do, head to www.ygap.org



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ygap is an international organisation that creates positive change by making entrepreneurship more inclusive. www.ygap.org