Why we’re changing our focus — from ‘poverty’ to ‘equity’

ygap First Gens alumni, Grace Mugabe, founder of Financially Empowered — a business that supports financial empowerment for women in Australia.

‘For the first time in our thirteen-year organizational history, we are updating our vision to better reflect the evolution of our work and the significant global challenges facing us all. Rather than focusing on “a world without poverty,” we are striving towards achieving “an equitable and sustainable world” through the types of inclusive entrepreneurial activities that we support. This is in response to increasing global inequality and the role of business to contribute towards a world in which we can all enjoy full and healthy lives.’

Mark Harwood, ygap CEO

It is the nature of things to change.

Those who have been following ygap for some time would know that we began as a small group of young Australian volunteers trying to help solve the issue of poverty. That was 2008, in the context of the global financial crisis and Make Poverty History campaign — whilst much has changed then, some things haven’t.

One thing ygap has always believed in, is backing locally-led change. It’s still one of our organisational values today. From our perspective, the key to inclusive and sustainable development lies in the hands of those closest to the problems being addressed. We’ve also always seen entrepreneurship as a key lever for change — the ideas, knowledge and lived experiences of those closest to the problem represented as solutions in the form of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). These SMEs are vibrant pillars of the community, representing the potential for prosperity, self-determination, meaningful employment and locally-led change. Locally-led entrepreneurship still sits at the heart of what we do, but the way we conduct our work, the way that we talk about it, and the structure of our organisation has changed significantly in recent years.

There is no doubt that poverty continues to be a massive issue in the world — with COVID-19 expected to undo much of the progress that has been made in the last decades, and climate change driven by human activity beginning to have adverse effects on communities around the world, the position of the world’s most vulnerable people is arguably more precarious than ever before.

However, poverty is a symptom of global structures that perpetuate inequality, not a cause of inequality in of itself. This new vision of an equitable and sustainable world is one where poverty does not exist, but it is also so much more than that. Our new vision is even bolder than the previous one. Whilst equality looks to treat everyone the same, equity acknowledges that not everyone is coming from the same starting point and tries to understand the different levels and type of support required to ensure everyone is able to live healthy, happy and fulfilled lives. Our mission has also been updated to reflect this change and encapsulates how locally-led entrepreneurship can contribute towards an equitable and sustainable world — advancing global equity through inclusive entrepreneurship.

So how has our work changed to reflect this?

In the last 13 years, ygap has supported over 500 entrepreneurs and their businesses. Having worked alongside these entrepreneurs at the micro level to help them grow their businesses, our local teams have identified the critical role of the business enabling environment. However from an equity lens, structural inequalities exist within the wider entrepreneurial ecosystem meaning that people are not starting from the same position and face a unique set of barriers to starting a business, or accessing the resources or tailored support that they need to grow that business successfully. We have expanded the scope of our work to identify barriers that perpetuate inequality both in the entrepreneurial ecosystem and in wider society, and how ygap can help to make the enabling environment more inclusive and accessible to all entrepreneurs. Read more about our work here.

‘It’s exciting to also now be engaging in partnerships that look at the entrepreneurial ecosystem more holistically and apply the lessons we’ve learned over the last 13 years as it relates to improving the support systems for entrepreneurs, ensuring accessible finance and expanding market access.’

Another change we’re making is formalising our focus on Gender, Diversity and inclusion (GDI) and climate: two key areas that we see as essential considerations for advancing global equity through inclusive entrepreneurship. ygap has always had a focus on GDI, however we have now adopted GDI as a key focus area of our new strategy, applying a GDI lens to all our programs having learned from our yher curriculum supporting women-led SMEs and the development of the GLIA toolkit that aimed to make entrepreneurial ecosystems more inclusive of women. We are not only applying a GDI lens to our programs but also going through the process of applying it to our organizational operations up to the board level.

The second key focus area which we’ve recently introduced is climate. If we are working towards an equitable and sustainable world, then disadvantage and inequality cannot be uncoupled from how the climate crisis is disproportionately affecting certain groups. We are looking forward to learning more about the intersectionality of climate and entrepreneurship because the risk posed by the climate crises must be considered in terms of the financial sustainability of SMEs in the future and their adaptation to those changes. Moving forward we will also continue to explore the role of business in mitigating the impacts of climate through their core business activities. Given the displacement that is already happening, rising sea levels and greater onset of cyclones and natural disasters in the Pacific Islands, we are exploring how we might weave climate holistically through all of our work, starting with the yher Fiji program.

It is in the nature of things to change, and as the world has changed so much over the last 13 years, we too are evolving our work and language to match that. We’d like to acknowledge the partners and supporters that have been with us on the journey through this transition and worked alongside us. Whether you’re new to the ygap family, or have been with us from the very start, thank you.

For more information on ygap and what we do, head to www.ygap.org and sign up to our monthly newsletter, or follow us on social media by searching ‘ygap’.

ygap is an international development organisation that supports early-stage social impact ventures with locally-led solutions to local problems.