As 2020 drew to a close, and Entrepreneurship Support Organisations (ESOs) across Asia had been navigating the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, along with other businesses and organisations across the world, a new initiative emerged from the Frontiers network: Frontiers Lab Asia (FLA).
Funded by the Australian Government, and following several other innovative projects under the Scaling Frontier Innovation program, FLA was launched as a virtual community and ‘lab’ to support ideas generated by ESOs across Asia. These ideas are concepts with the aim of generating sector-wide learning, improvement and impact, for the betterment of our sector.
We convene entrepreneur support organisations (ESOs), early-stage investors, foundations, development agencies, and entrepreneurs themselves to identify systemic challenges facing those who are growing impactful businesses in Asia.
We then work with them to collaboratively scope, prototype, and scale solutions to these challenges.
FLA 1.0 brought together many of the ESOs that had been part of the Frontier Incubators program between 2018 – 2019, and who had worked together as a COVID-19 responsive #BuildBackBetter virtual program. Over the space of several months and many online brainstorming sessions (and a lot of time together on Miro), some ideas emerged. From these initial ideas, several ESO leaders put their hands up to come together around different concepts, and collaboratively develop them through the first Frontiers ‘Lab’.
One such idea, named “EM1” in lieu of an actual titled concept at this point, was pitched as a potential project to ‘Scope’ and later develop further through a Prototyping Phase. “EM1” became an idea to create a set of ‘standardised metrics for ESOs to measure their impact’. Through the scoping phase and a lot of feedback from sector practitioners, including ESOs, governments, funders and entrepreneurs themselves, we realised that a ‘standardised set of metrics’ was too inflexible, and ‘benchmarking’ ESO metrics across the region could not take into account the many different shapes, sizes and growth stages of ESOs, and of the entrepreneurs they support.
As we moved into the Prototyping Phase, what emerged was a set of Impact Measurement Principles for Entrepreneurship Support, collaboratively developed by a team of ESO leaders from across 6 countries, and with input from key stakeholders including ESOs, government and funding agencies from 15 countries in total. We realised that rather than creating a specific set of ‘metrics’ to be adopted by ESOs and funders alike, what we needed was Guiding Principles which offered recommended practices and pathways for ESOs to adopt, tailor to their own situation and needs, and access capacity building, tools and resources to identify their own areas of need and improvement.
The development of the Principles has been a truly collaborative effort from the start. Although the project team included representatives from a diverse range of ESOs, MEL specialists and DEI specialists, there was a core value and shared understanding from the beginning that these Principles were to be created to genuinely contribute to the betterment of our sector. No one ESO or project team member ‘owned’ the project; the Principles were to be open-sourced, and designed using deep input and feedback from a wide range of individuals and organisations. Most importantly, the entrepreneurs we serve must be the ones who will ultimately benefit the most from the Principles, through the learnings and improved support services provided for them by the ESOs in our region.
The key message we hope to convey through these Principles is that Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning (MEL), or Impact Measurement, is crucial for our sector to better understand the impact we, as ESOs, governments, and funders, can make together, how we can learn from MEL, and how we can use these learnings to improve our work together. Being on the same page about what we measure, and how we measure it, can enhance our collaborative practices and shared learnings, ultimately bringing further value to entrepreneurs across the region.
MEL Specialist at Moonshot Global
“As an impact manager I’ve led or supported the design and implementation of MEL frameworks, systems and processes across three ESOs so far. I looked to other sectors to build skills and knowledge and then apply them as I thought appropriate. That involved a lot of experimentation and improving over time. But ESOs are doing critical, urgent work, particularly during this period of economic downturn and recovery. And so the more the ecosystem can support each other, including ESOs and funders, to do great MEL, the faster we will all improve, grow and have impact. These ESO impact measurement principles have so much potential to strengthen the entrepreneur support sector and I’m so excited to see them become a living resource for our sector!”