Collaborative Strategy Development for Sustainable NFPs: 5 Minutes with Brigid Canny, YLab

We recently sat down with Brigid Canny, Executive Director of YLab, as she shared her experience of partnering with us to develop YLab’s new strategic plan. Brigid highlights the needs-driven, collaborative nature of TDi, and describes how our flexible approach helped YLab gain clarity and confidence in their business model.

Brigid, tell us about yourself and about YLab!

I’m Brigid Canny (she/her) and I’m the Executive Director of YLab, the social enterprise, co-design, and consulting arm of the Foundation for Young Australians.

YLab’s model is all about working with young people with diverse technical and lived experiences to co-design systems for the better, and we do this across health, employment, and education services. We have a strong focus on intersectional and First Nations justice, ensuring that those young people who are feeling the brunt of broken systems are involved in designing the solutions to the most complex problems.
A collaborative approach to strategy development helps NFPs gain confidence in their business models.
Why did YLab seek out TDi?

We began working with TDi in 2022, after coming to the end of our previous three-year strategic plan. We went to market for a provider, looking for a few things: One was a very strong strategic thinking partner who could interrogate and push our thinking, test our assumptions, and make really good, evidence-based decisions, but also be able to balance the impact focus with the social enterprise focus, and help us build a sustainable business model.

We had been bouncing around and experimenting over the previous seven years, and we felt like it was time for us to stop and reflect and look at what was and wasn’t working in our organisation.

We wanted to be critical about where we were creating impact, and where we needed to shift things to create the impact we wanted to see in the future.

 

How did TDi help with that?

Part of that was about having fierce and brave conversations with our team, our partners, and the young people we work with about what was and wasn’t working. We needed to have those conversations about where we’ve failed in the past, and investigate where there were nuggets of gold that we needed to enhance – the things that were working.

We’d been in a phase of deep experimentation, trying lots of things, and going quite divergent. This next strategy that TDi has helped us build out is about converging on the things that we know work, being clear on what we do and what we don’t do, and doubling down on our theory of change and our impact model.

 
What was it like working with TDi during this phase?

I was really drawn to the way that TDi made a commitment to building a strong relationship with me as a leader and with our team.

They coached me through my thinking and assumptions, and some of the beliefs I held about what was possible. They encouraged me as a leader to open my mind and think more broadly, and they also validated some of the things I inherently knew about YLab and what we needed.

They held my hand throughout the process, and the relational element that I had with the team at TDi was a key part of the success of this project.

What other NFPs are saying about TDi:

[We valued] their questioning and their stretching us further, making us a bit more ambitious or bolder in what we thought was possible.

There wasn’t a question that any of us could ask that was stupid, it was really supportive.

Rather than making it overly complex for us, they walked us through it. It was adaptable, there were things that we changed as we went through the project just because of where we got to and what was needed at that point.

– Kate Finch, Policy and Innovation Manager, Health Justice Australia

How do you feel now that the project is complete?

After working with TDi I feel that we have so much clarity and confidence in our new strategic plan and business model. The critical path is extremely clear, and I feel confident in our business model.

I think in the past we’ve leant more into our impact model and focussed our attention there, and while that’s important, and that’s why we exist, going into this next strategic plan we have a stronger sense of what sustainability looks like for us, and a strong belief that we can do it.

The confidence, precision, and maturity that we’ve developed through this process with TDi gives me a lot of hope for the future, and a lot of personal confidence in what we can achieve.

How are you feeling about the future?

I honestly feel like the TDi team have been our cheerleaders in the next phase of implementing the strategy and bringing it to life. I feel so clear on what culture we need, what capabilities our team needs, what our business and financial model is, and what the critical strategic initiatives that we need to prioritise are.

We’ve got a clear sense of sequencing, and an understanding of the right rhythm to implement each stage to ensure that we do it in a way that builds iteratively on our fantastic existing culture and team.

Heading into the next three years I’m feeling very optimistic! I’m feeling backed by TDi – like they’re only ever a phone call away should I need additional support or reassurance, or need to have challenging conversations about where things are heading, as we inevitably hit new roadblocks, as all businesses and social enterprises do.

I feel positive, confident, and clearer than ever before on what’s required of us to achieve our mission.

More: How TDi works with NFPs

What would you say to other leaders of NFPs?

To any leaders or organisations wanting to know about why to work with TDi, or what you might get from working with them, I encourage you to make the most of their approach to being flexible and needs-driven when it comes to designing the work.

Something I’ve loved is the way that TDi outlined a high-level process, but were really flexible and responsive to what the needs of the project were at different times, and where we might need to move things around or rethink activity that was part of the project.

I’ve worked with lots of different consultants – and running a consultancy ourselves we can experience this too – where there’s a lot of rigidity around process, and there’s a specific scope, and it has to happen in a certain way. But something that I’ve loved and found really helpful about working with TDi has been the explorative nature of our work together, and the emergent way that we’ve worked. I think it’s the ONLY way to do strategy, because you never know what’s going to come up, and no process is identical.

The flexibility and the bespoke nature of TDi’s approach really helped us get the right outcome.

It was an absolute pleasure working with TDi and we know that they will remain friends of the YLab family for years to come, which is really exciting!

Read our case study on this partnership

With TDi’s support, YLab was able to strengthen their overall vision for creating meaningful and sustainable social impact, and in March 2023 officially launched their new three-year strategy, and their vision for the next ten years.

If you’re looking to re-strategise and rethink your approach to making an impact and maintaining sustainability, we’ll work with you to develop a comprehensive suite of strategic tools, from a strategy-on-a-page to a detailed action plan.

We’ll help you build a viable mission-centered business model so you can continue making a difference. Contact us today.

Need more? Hear what Mitch Wallis, founder and CEO of Heart on My Sleeve had to say about out work:

“TDi is what I would call a non-traditional consultant. And that’s really good because they’re solving non-traditional problems.

[Working with TDi] felt different. It was such a human experience. I feel like the people I was working with wanted to get to know me as a person as much as they wanted to get to know the business.” Find the rest here

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