The event was attended by over 90 delegates representing over 70 organisations including academic institutions, capacity development institutions and accelerator programmes, donor agencies, foundations, investors, venture capitalists and research service providers. These included representatives from the likes of The Kauffman Foundation, Acumen, DFID Impact Programme, Dev Equity, the Grameen Foundation, Mercy Corps, MIT D-Lab, Root Capital, the GIIN and Village Capital. The Foundation was represented as a capacity development programme, foundation and research body.
With the iconic capital city of Washington DC as the backdrop for a conference centred on understanding how to measure entrepreneurship at its core, the two-day event was filled with vibrant discussion, sharing personal experiences and debating best practice. The conference created a platform for practitioners and supporting organisations to discuss what is and isn’t working in the field of tracking, monitoring, evaluating and understanding the impact of entrepreneurship as well as the programmes that are designed to support entrepreneurial development.
The key take-aways from the conference include:
1. We are not alone
Many challenges mentioned at the conference resonated strongly with the challenges the Foundation itself faces within our Impact Assurance team, that is, the mandate to understand the impact of our programme and how we work smarter to measure this change.
2. Although we are not alone, we are unique
The holistic and long-term approach of the Foundation is unique. It is an invaluable opportunity to be part of the Foundation as a participant and an implementer from both a programmatic as well as research perspective. Many of the programmes present chose to focus on working with individuals who are already entrepreneurs, aiding them in accelerating their success or financing their endeavours. The Foundation, on the other hand, selects individuals who have the potential to become entrepreneurs. This makes measurement somewhat more complex as our development programme needs to be measured through specific developmental outcome indicators.
3. We are following best practice
Within our Impact Assurance team, we honour best research practices through understanding our beneficiaries’ development journey, tracking measurable outcomes within our Theory of Change and remaining fully-engaged with outcome indicators.
4. We can learn from and implement Lean Research and evaluation
A key theme of the conference was that of Lean Research. Lean practices stem from management philosophy derived from the Toyota Production System. The Lean process was developed with the aim of creating and enhancing the value of a process through eliminating and reducing waste. Although the Lean philosophy is most practiced in the manufacturing process, the research world is strongly proposing its application in research and evaluation. The key aim of Lean Research is to create a seamless process for value creation through research by eliminating waste, implementing right-sized research which is respectful, relevant and rigorous. The most important fact is that Lean Research and evaluation is lean in execution, not necessarily lean in preparation.
5. What you measure is what you get
This simple statement is suspiciously obvious. While you are only able to research, understand and make deductions on aspects that you have collected data on, the power of this statement lies in the implication that the work must be done up-front to understand which questions should be answered and what data will be sufficient to answer these questions. Consistent with the Lean Research process, the most effort and time should be dedicated to preparation.
Although the five learning points above are a tip of the iceberg relative to what the conference had to offer – these learnings will support and further develop the work done by the Impact Assurance team. These thoughts will spur even more vigorous and passionate debate within our team and continually strengthen our commitment to gaining a better understanding of and measuring not only our own budding entrepreneurs, but entrepreneurship worldwide.
It was a privilege to attend a conference surrounded by individuals who are passionate about entrepreneurship and dedicated to helping our community better understand the journey of entrepreneurial development.
Richter is the Foundation’s Business Intelligence Officer