Refocus, retool, reset: insights from a COVID-19 rapid response & recovery programme

By Hannah Caswell, Head of Programmes and Development, Youth Business International (YBI)

YBI today launches a new report ‘Refocus, Retool, Reset: Insights from Youth Business International’s COVID-19 Rapid Response & Recovery Programme’, sharing our learnings and insights from YBI’s Rapid Response and Recovery Programme, supported by and delivered by a total of 34 YBI network members and delivery partners across the EMEA, APAC and MENA regions.

MSMEs, especially those led by women, youth, ethnic minorities, and migrants, were significantly impacted by COVID-19 with 70-80% facing major financial difficulties[1]. To support entrepreneurs to survive and even thrive in the pandemic, YBI members and delivery partners provided in-depth services through a rapid response & recovery programme to 145,738 entrepreneurs- with 77% reporting improved skills to manage the challenges, and 40% already improving the resilience of their business. With the support of a $5M grant from and support of Google employees, its 20 years of experience providing integrated support for youth entrepreneurship and its global network of expert members to deliver programmes helping struggling entrepreneurs. As a result, 375,588 entrepreneurs were reached through helplines websites and videos and 67,895 female, young, migrant and refugee entrepreneurs accessed intensive training and mentoring to support them to adapt and strengthen their businesses.

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During this time, YBI identified six key areas of future support that will ensure entrepreneurs have the emotional resilience, agility, and resources to allow them to build back stronger and harness new opportunities:

  • Build emotional resilience to address the short and long-term impacts of the pandemic and other shocks: Mentoring, peer connections, and tailored life skills and soft skills strengthened entrepreneurs’ emotional resilience, supporting them to make difficult decisions for their businesses.
  • Stimulate and support business pivots that are essential for survival and growth: Effective and timely business pivots allowed many entrepreneurs to remain trading. Early pivots focused on keeping the business viable, and later adaptions demonstrated entrepreneurs’ growth mindsets as they focused on strategy, improving operations, and building new opportunities for growth.

To continue this growth, entrepreneurs need high-quality intensive capacity building on key technical issues of financial management, strategy, business planning, legal support, and branding.

  • Enable digital solutions that offer the promise of a sustainable future: Digitalisation has been one of the most significant business pivots over the past year. Digital support services worked best when they were intensive, iterative, and provided entrepreneurs with the space to learn a skill, practice, and return to develop their understanding.

Tech partners are needed to identify the most relevant solutions for SMEs and greater investment is needed in growth areas, such as marketing, data acquisition and management.

  • Create linkages between entrepreneurs and private sector actors to leverage expertise, innovation, and technology: At a time when entrepreneurs’ networks were shrinking rapidly, Google facilitated links between entrepreneurs and their expert workforce to provide expert global advice on how to expand visibility, think innovatively, and leverage technology more effectively.

Entrepreneurs will continue to need the cutting-edge, innovative solutions offered by the private sector, especially technology companies, to remain market relevant today and future proof their businesses for tomorrow.

  • Enable entrepreneurs’ access to finance: Access to finance is challenging- the pandemic exacerbated barriers, especially for underserved entrepreneurs. The YBI network demystified the complexity of finance and aid requirements, adapted their own loan funds to reflect the challenges of repayment, and provided greater access to investors.
  • Invest in and develop fully inclusive outreach and programmes: Underserved and diverse entrepreneurs, such as women, young people, and those from migrant and refugee groups, were impacted by the pandemic first and are more likely to suffer longer-term repercussions[2]. YBI made significant context specific adaptions to programmes to improve the engagement and experience of underserved entrepreneurs. The inclusion of underserved entrepreneurs must be a priority in the post-pandemic context.

These support services have all been built upon YBI’s three pillars for success- established through 20 years’ worth of entrepreneurial support to young entrepreneurs:

  • Personal development: Entrepreneurs have the emotional resilience and support networks to embrace change and cope with challenges.
  • Business development: Entrepreneurs have the relevant skills, confidence, and technical expertise to adapt and improve their business.
  • Enabling environment Entrepreneurs have access to technical advice from the private sector and finance and investment.

Please read the full report here.

Read more on COVID-19 here.

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