The confidence gap in business, and how we’re trying to fill it

At ygap, one of our key values is “We challenge barriers to equality”. We know that inequality isn’t accidental; it exists as a result of systems that support the success of some people over others. We strive to bring down those barriers that exist in the entrepreneurial space, and reimagine a system that is accessible and inclusive for all.

When we think about what this means for the women entrepreneurs that we work with, it looks like barriers to accessing appropriate finance and markets in order to sustainably grow and scale their businesses. Through conversations with our ecosystem partners, the ygap team, as well as the feedback we’ve gotten over the years from our alumni, there is another more internal and personal key barrier to success for a lot of women entrepreneurs — a lack of self-confidence.

Within our programmatic theory of change, one of the short-term outcomes we hope to see as a result of our program is a self-reported increase in understanding and confidence in selected business skills developed through the program. We didn’t realise just how significant an indicator this was. Usually, we emphasise measuring the business indicators of success — venture survival rate, revenue and staff growth. Recently, however, we took some time to reflect on the issue of confidence. We heard from ecosystem partners who are now switching from purely concentrating on business skills to placing equal focus on cultivating the right mindset. We heard stories from our teams of entrepreneurs with less sustainable businesses models being able to win funding and pitches due to confidence. We heard from entrepreneurs who have missed out on investment due to a lack of confidence that pervaded through to their potential investors.

“On the personal side of things, the yher Program has really helped build my confidence — being around the other entrepreneurs, being with the yher team, it’s really helped question and validate my thoughts and ideas, increasing my confidence and commitment around the changes I want to make in my business. yher is my people! We’re yher people!”

“The best (the yher program) did was to build my self worth and self confidence which lacked in me — I was never able to speak in front of people but after yher I was able to pitch, I was able to speak in front of people and when I returned home to Malawi I had a pitch which went amazing; I was able to articulate myself.”

“For me, the week was a roller coaster of emotions, starting from feeling like I was an imposter to being confident in the work that I am doing. The training really opened my mind and it will definitely have an impact on how I take future decisions.”

There is a recurring theme in the feedback we’ve had from our yher programs over the years — it’s this journey from a lack of self-belief, to the discovery of a voice and courage to make the hard decisions needed for their business. In building entrepreneurs’ confidence, we hope that this will lead to outcomes of a stronger belief in both themselves and their business, that our entrepreneurs are backing themselves as much as we are backing them. In the words of a reflection from one of our country directors, “these entrepreneurs have a right to take up their space in the ecosystem”.

It’s this journey from a lack of self-belief, to the discovery of a voice and courage to make the hard decisions needed for their business

Since 2019, ygap has been working with SPF to create resources and facilitate a community of entrepreneur-support organisations who are passionate about advancing gender equality in acceleration and incubation. Together, we developed the Gender Lens In Acceleration (GLIA) Toolkit which set out ideas and strategies on how to increase access and gender inclusion, as well as the subsequent Measuring Gender Equality component in 2020, which gives guidance on how to measure, evaluate and learn from the impact of the strategies implemented. Internally, we also put together a Gender Lens Working Group made up of representatives across our country teams who developed a guide around our own gender commitments in different stages of program delivery, from recruitment to post-program support. We set ourselves targets such as getting 50% gender split in our applications and our selected cohorts and highlighted ways in which we might be able to achieve these goals, such as making sure our messaging and promotion is attractive to women entrepreneurs as well as in our considering care-giving and childcare needs in our program design.

However, we still have a long way to go. We need to revisit the gender commitments we made in 2020 and review them to make sure they’re still relevant and implement a clearer process to keep ourselves accountable to them. We’ve also recently included an organisational KPI to ensure we apply a gender lens to our programs but we need to flesh out what that really means. In a recent team sharing, one of our impact leads made an on-point remark — that applying a gender lens means understanding and being adaptive to the many different roles that our women entrepreneurs play as business women, mothers, care-givers, but it doesn’t mean babying them because that’s not a realistic world that we’re setting them up for — an investor will not wait around and chase you up for your pitch deck and if you miss the meeting, you may not get another.

This year, we piloted the yher Invest Program. Developing a MEL plan for a pilot program has been quite different, the yher team spent a lot of time thinking through what the learning questions were that they wanted to get out of the program. Narrowing down to some key ones, the team are hoping to find out:

  • What is yher Africa’s role in enabling entrepreneurs to become investment ready?
  • What value does this program add to the entrepreneurs’ journey towards accessing investment? (e.g. does it add more value to the yher accelerator?)
  • What does success look like to entrepreneurs & investors?

We also developed a theory of change for the pilot program and drew out four key outcomes that we see this program contributing to:

  • Entrepreneurs have an increased understanding of steps needed to get their ventures investment-ready
  • Entrepreneurs can more confidently navigate the investment ecosystem
  • Entrepreneurs have access to the right networks and relationships with potential investors and financial institutions

As this is our first time running this program, the indicators and the outcomes may be different to what we anticipated, so we look forward to learning from the experience of the participants as the basis for future iterations. And as always, we look forward to sharing our learnings with you later this year!

By Hedda Ngan — ygap’s Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Manager. To find out more about 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