June 8, 2021
Member Spotlight: ygap

From its global newsletter to its major annual events, ANDE members have access to a multitude of platforms for promoting their work and co-creating knowledge with other members. The ANDE Member Spotlight is a series of short, interview-based blog posts highlighting an ANDE member organization and any new projects, recent investments, or ongoing research with interesting learnings that add value to the ANDE community.

ygap is an international organization that sees inclusive entrepreneurship as a powerful lever for change in the world. It currently supports entrepreneurial initiatives across Africa, South and South East Asia, the Pacific Islands, and Australia.

ANDE spoke with CEO Mark Harwood to learn more about ygap’s new strategy, focused on working more broadly across the entrepreneurial ecosystem and strengthening their focus on gender, diversity, and inclusion (GDI) and climate-focused programming.

Tell us about ygap and the role it plays in the SGB ecosystem.

ygap is an organization that is focused on advancing global equity through inclusive entrepreneurship. We have been going now for thirteen years, originally directly supporting very early-stage locally-led SGBs, and now also work more broadly to strengthen entrepreneurial ecosystems in order to make them more inclusive and accessible.

Have there been any recent developments within ygap?

For the first time in our thirteen year organizational history, we are changing our vision to better reflect the evolution of our work and the 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.

We have always supported locally-led SGBs. With that intention, we have focused on ensuring that those who are closest to the problems and have the greatest insights are supported to be able to create the solutions that are needed to address those in a sustainable way. Having now worked alongside over 500 early stage SGBs we have identified the need to also strengthen the ecosystems that these SGBs are operating within to ensure they are indeed enabling environments for such ventures.

We have run an accelerator program for years and continue to evolve that program over time through insights obtained through our monitoring, evaluation, and learning data, particularly as it relates to supporting local entrepreneurs in Bangladesh, Kenya and South Africa; women-led businesses through our yher program in both the Pacific Islands and across Africa; as well as refugee and migrant founders here in Australia. Our partnership with Argidius in Kenya has certainly helped us to evolve and improve our accelerator program over the past three years based on informed data. It’s exciting to also now be engaging in partnerships that look at the entrepreneurial ecosystem more holistically and apply these lessons as it relates to improving the support systems for entrepreneurs, ensuring accessible finance and expanding market access.

ygap has always had a focus on gender, diversity, and inclusion (GDI), however coming in a year ago as CEO, we have now formally adopted GDI as a key focus area as part of our new strategy applying a GDI lens to all our programs learning — from our yher curriculum and the GLIA toolkit. 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.

Our second key focus area which we’ve recently introduced is climate. If we are working towards an equitable and sustainable world, you can’t uncouple disadvantage, inequity, and how the climate crisis is disproportionately affecting certain groups. It will be interesting to study the intersectionality of climate and entrepreneurship.

Through our programs in the Pacific Islands, we are already seeing displacement, rising sea levels and the greater onset of cyclones and natural disasters. How can we ensure that the women-led ventures in our yher Pacific program are not only adapting to the impact of the climate crisis but also playing a role in mitigating the crisis?

By applying a climate lens to this program in 2021, we are hoping to roll it out across all our programs globally in the future.

What resources has ygap helped pilot in these key focus areas?

Over the past few years, in addition to our accelerator program, we have been looking to develop high-quality tools and approaches to strengthen the ecosystem with regards to gender accessibility and inclusivity. The GLIA Toolkit that we developed, in which we worked closely with the Australian Government and the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, now has additional training modules related to gender and negotiation, gender and product design, imposter syndrome, and a Gender and Impact Measurement framework for other entrepreneurial support organizations (ESOs) .

This week, we also launched a community of practice in partnership with the Sasakawa Peace Foundation where ESOs are coming together and sharing how to apply, adopt, and strengthen the gender-lens, across all of our operations and programs, building upon the GLIA work. It is being trialed at the moment and may be opened up more broadly in the future so stay tuned.

What have you learned from this process?

I came in as a new CEO in March, had a week in the office, and then had to write a global pandemic policy — so it’s been a steep and sometimes wild learning curve. For the first few months of the pandemic, we put a stop to all scheduled programs, and said to all our staff on the ground, “What is happening right now, and how can ygap best support?” Within a week we surveyed almost 200 SGBs who had gone through ygap programs the past few years to identify what support they needed in light of COVID-19.

That led to the development of the nine resiliency toolkits which formed the basis of our 2020 Re-Accelerator Programs. To me that demonstrated the tenacity and agility of the ygap staff and entrepreneurs when they themselves were facing many unknowns and challenges.

What are you most looking forward to?

I’m excited by our new strategic direction focused on equity and sustainability achieved through inclusive entrepreneurship, and working across the ecosystem more broadly based on specific needs. But that gets really exciting when we start to operationalize that with new innovative program designs.

Having supported African women-led SGBs for many years, the Director of our yher Africa program has spent months researching and interviewing both impact investors and women entrepreneurs to design an investment-readiness program, we are cheekily calling an investment unreadiness program in 2021.

Currently, the sector is prone to force SGBs to interact with the existing financial vehicles or structures that have come from the traditional financial sector or venture capital world, which is not always appropriate. Sometimes in the impact investing world, we measure success by how much capital was deployed or how big the ticket size or financial returns were, when actually, talking to these entrepreneurs, that is not how they judge success. They are not looking for a quick exit — this is something they have been working on for a number of years. So, how do we help these women entrepreneurs understand the financial vehicles available to them and make better informed decisions? And on the flip side of that, we are helping the investors understand whether their current portfolio of financial vehicles is appropriate and most conducive for adopting a gender lens to their investments.

I’m also very excited by a new partnership, which we can’t announce yet, that is partnering alongside other ANDE members to enable women-led informal businesses in the Pacific adopt digital finance to improve their market access.

How can ANDE members get involved?

As part of our new strategy we are focused on continuing to scale our impact by partnering with local implementing partners. For ANDE members who are supporting entrepreneurship already, be it across financing or as a technical assistance provider, and are wanting to adopt (or strengthen their existing) gender, diversity and inclusion lens across their programs and operations we’d love to hear from you to discuss potential partnerships.

We are also continuing to design and develop practical learning resources to be used more broadly across the sector to promote inclusivity within entrepreneurship, so absolutely welcome collaborations to further those.

Please reach out to myself or Audrey (Program Director).