Scale matters: a model to support small and growing businesses to succeed

Towards the end of 2021, the Argidius Foundation released their #SCALEReport, an exciting new standard for how entrepreneur support organisations like ygap can better support small and growing businesses to succeed. Argidius has been a partner of ygap for the last five years as they’ve supported our Kenya-based team in their work. Through this partnership we have significantly evolved our Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning practices, many of which are reflected in the pages of this report. We’re proud to share some of the key initiatives we’ve adopted over the past few years to ‘scale’ our support for early-stage entrepreneurs.

Select — At ygap’s last face-to-face global team retreat in 2019, we identified the type of venture that we are best placed to support:

Without a strong selection criteria that aligned with our unique offering as an organisation, previously we had selected ventures that weren’t best suited to our programs. More importantly, our programs didn’t suit them. Since implementing the new selection criteria (with some additional considerations related to COVID-19), we are starting to see some significant changes in the quality of applicants coming through. In 2022, as per our strategic shift from poverty to equity, we will be further strengthening our selection criteria to identify those entrepreneurs who are closest to the problems being addressed, yet furthest from the necessary resources required to scale their business.

Charging — Our Kenyan program had planned to begin implementing a participation fee in 2020, an initiative that, according to Argidius’ findings in the SCALE report, encourages buy-in and accountability from the participating entrepreneurs. In both 2020 and 2021, entrepreneurs were selected with the understanding that there would be a fee, however both times we decided to waive it in light of the COVID context and based on feedback from the applicants/participants. However, after running the program, we had some entrepreneurs tell us how much value they had gotten from it, and how they were surprised they had been able to access it all for free as they would have been happy to pay. We’ll be looking to reinstate a fee structure for some programs in 2022.

Address problems — At least three of ygap’s country programs now use a detailed needs assessment within the onboarding period or the first month of program to understand the key strengths and needs of the ventures we’re working with. A great tool we’ve found and adapted for use is the SEED Resilience Assessment Tool, which our yher Pacific Islands program will be trialling for the new cohort that just kicked off in February.

We’re also constantly seeking feedback from participants on our program content and support activities. In 2021, our First Gens program which supports refugee and migrant entrepreneurs in Australia, did a big revamp of our 10-year old curriculum, changing some of the language that we use to be more appropriate for entrepreneurs for whom English is not their first language, bringing in more appropriate and relevant examples and case studies, as well as linking in resources that are more practical and not just theoretical. We also responded to feedback that our usual 5 day live-in bootcamps were too intense or did not take into account different circumstances, like families with young children. As a result, we have been re-designing the 2022 program to be more spread out, with weekly masterclasses that give participants time to really apply the learning and strategies that are talked about.

Learn — At our last end-of-project discussion with Argidius in 2020, they encouraged us to look at the data that we had been reporting for the last three years and dig deeper to understand why some of the Kenyan ventures we’ve supported had grown and some had since ceased operations. This inspired us to do the same reflective activity after our annual reporting period for all of our programs, which resulted in the Learnings Report that was published in 2021. We hope to discover trends through enterprise data, program feedback as well as the program evaluations that are planned for 2022 to understand the effectiveness of our program. For example, what are the differences in outcomes for our 3 month, 6 month and 12 month programs?

We continue to build our entrepreneurs’ capacity and understanding of why data is so important, not just for our purposes, but for the monitoring of their own businesses in identifying trends. To signal this importance, our South African team have implemented a process since last year where entrepreneurs “formally” agree to report on their enterprise data to ygap for two years after the program, which we hope will contribute to maintaining our response rates at 80% or more.

Lead by Example — ygap updated our vision and mission in 2021 to reflect the shift from alleviating poverty to achieving equity and striving to make entrepreneurship accessible to all. This acknowledges the current barriers that entrepreneurs face unequally around the world and we are finalising impact goals for our programs to achieve by 2025 and 2030. However, if ygap is truly focused on achieving an equitable and sustainable world through entrepreneurship, then as a not-for-profit organisation made up of individuals, we must also consider how our systems, processes, funding sources and partnerships may unintentionally exacerbate the existing inequities that exist. We have started to develop internal goals for ygap relating to reducing inequality, and ensuring a sustainable future as it relates to social, economic and environmental outcomes.

In an ever-changing world, it’s important to ensure that our work is iterating and changing along with it; to ensure we are properly meeting the needs of the people we serve. Thanks to partners like Argidius we have the space to learn and grow as we work. We truly believe that more inclusive entrepreneurship leads to greater economic equality, and that this is an important contribution to creating a more equitable world. To have these changes we’ve been making validated within the SCALE model helps us to know that we are on the right track.

Written by ygap’s Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Manager, Hedda Ngan. 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