Strategic Planning Empowers NFPs for Sustainable Impact: YLab Case Study
YLab is a youth co-design and consulting social enterprise that delivers solutions to challenges requiring youth-led innovation across health, employment and education systems.
YLab sought out TDi as a strategic partner who could challenge their assumptions, provide evidence-based insights, and support them in making informed decisions. They were looking for a partner who could help balance their impact focus with their social enterprise focus, all while helping them build a sustainable business model.
What was the opportunity?
Collaborative journey toward new strategic priorities
YLab had been in a state of experimentation for their first seven years and had just wrapped up a three-year strategic plan. The organisation was eager to shift from operating in this experimental manner, to focussing what was actually gaining traction in order to define its mission and goals moving forward. They were ready to focus on a new set of strategic priorities, and they wanted to ensure that their operational, impact, and financial models were not just thorough, but sustainable. We began a six-month partnership, from March to August 2022, where we could explore, test, and refine our ideas together. Like YLab, TDi also has a deep commitment to building capability and putting lived experience at the centre of solving the big problems we face, so we believed that working collaboratively with YLab was the best way to develop a strategy and business model that delivered real impact
Our work typically focusses on four key elements, and this is how we approached each element regarding YLab:
- Mission: Identifying the core social or environmental change that YLab wanted to achieve
- Model: Creating a business model for YLab that delivered both financial and social returns.
- Management: Building the capability of YLab to deliver on their goals, and
- Mindset: Fostering an internal culture that was critical to YLab’s success.
This approach explores financial sustainability and impact together, driving for opportunities that stay true to your mission while developing sustainable pathways forward. We focus on the elements that matter most – these elements are interdependent and connected.
Ensuring feasibility and Market Relevance
We also knew that the best way to make sure that our work remained grounded in reality was to involve a ‘critical friends’ group. These were 4-6 trusted friends who knew YLab well and were not afraid to speak their minds. Their feedback became invaluable in helping the project stay on track and making sure the emerging ideas were feasible in the market. We worked closely with both the core YLab leadership group, as well as the team as a whole, to identify opportunities that delivered blended value (combining financial sustainability with social impact), while staying true to their mission.
The role of mentorship: Guiding YLab’s leadership through sensitive decisions
Active mentorship played a vital role in helping YLab’s leadership navigate some sensitive decisions and work with the Board to deliver their recommendations. Rather than stepping in to provide our own recommendations, our approach allowed for YLab’s leadership to go through a process of discovery, unearthing their own voice along the way.
In the process of building capability, we were able to recognise where YLab was excelling and allow that to inform our approach – we made space for them to name where they were stuck, and what they needed, in order to discern what we could offer from our own experience. There were some key areas for discussion where sensitive decisions needed to be made, and where internal shifts were necessary. This sort of work often entails a delicate conversation, and so helping YLab navigate this process successfully was a great privilege.
Specifically, we assisted them in crafting a safe and respectful narrative that not only honoured their founding story and their relationship with the founding organisation, but that also presented a compelling case and cast a strong vision for the future. The success of the project can be attributed in part to YLab’s unwavering commitment to the process, their collective maturation, and their courage to make bold moves as an organisation, which is a rarity.
Origin Story: Unearthing YLab’s Founding Narrative
TDi CEO Annie Smits explains:
A key part of our approach with anyone we work with is delving into the origin story.
Firstly, we want to understand where they’ve been, what’s shaped them, and what’s been important to them in the past. The next part of the exercise is to have them think about what they want to take forward with them and what they might want to leave behind. For YLab, this was a really telling process and a big ‘aha’ moment.
This is a youth organisation with a lot of energy and a lot of aspiration, so the youthfulness of the organisation was very much a part of their founding story. They’re an incredibly smart, incredibly savvy group, but still had a journey ahead of them in terms of developing a sustainable business.
One of our reflections back to them after mapping out their origin story was that there was a missing role for eldership in their model, and this presented a significant opportunity. So, we were able to have a really honest conversation, and do some deep work around this.
There were some key moments for YLab throughout this, such as recognising that they needed to rethink their pricing strategy to be aligned with the value they were providing, and that this came back to the missing element of the voice of eldership. This was pertinent because in the last couple of years they’ve worked to raise the First Nations voice within their team, and we were able to reflect on the reality that elders aren’t always older people. Often, there are young people, or people with a different lived experience, who have wisdom as well.
Part of the problem we unearthed together, taking a collaborative journey, was that they needed to foster a culture and an environment where wisdom and lived experience is valued and rewarded, so that the voice of elders is not withheld out of fear or uncertainty. This was an incredibly significant moment in the process, and it’s now informed their entire strategy.
One thing that made it a real pleasure to work with YLab was that we were working with them, not for them. There are consultants that will come in and work for you, but that’s not what we do. Because there’s going to come a moment when we exit, and the client must execute the vision and own what’s been developed, and they love it because they’ve helped create it.
As leaders, YLab definitely had that, which was great! What they needed was a friend to come in, ask really good questions, help unearth the process, and test their assumptions in the market. YLab showed up, they were fully present during the process, and were open to going to the hard places. This had a massive effect on what we were able to achieve together.”
Collaborative and responsive approach: tailoring support and recommendations
Over the six-month relationship with YLab, what defined our work together was a huge sense of partnership and agility. Designing each stage as we approached it, tailoring where YLab needed support, and making recommendations for where we knew they had the nous to go it alone. For everyone involved at TDi, and at YLAB, it has been an incredibly enjoyable and rewarding way to work. From Brigid Canny, YLab Executive Director:
“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 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… it’s the ONLY way to do strategy, because you never know what’s going to come up, and no process is identical.”
Charting a clear course for YLab’s future
With TDi alongside as a partner, coach, and mentor, YLab was able to chart a new course and set a clear direction for the future. They were able to identify their strengths, hone their mission and goals, and create a sustainable business model to help them achieve their desired impact. Brigid says it best:
“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. 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…. 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.”
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. They’ve also launched their Theory of Change and Theory of Action, developed with assistance from TDi, with the full support of the Board and founding organisation.
The power of genuine partnership
One of the most rewarding aspects of our work with YLab was the way that Executive Director Brigid, and the whole YLab team showed up. Rather than presenting with a transactional and operational attitude, YLab carried the weight and the responsibility of every decision along the way, which allowed us to focus on bringing wisdom and advice from our own expertise, focussing on our mindset coaching work in order to lead the YLab team to deeper, more personal and intimate places which was extremely beneficial to the project and outcomes as a whole. This relationship is a perfect example of the power of genuine partnership, and how true collaboration can bring about transformative change.
“TDi have a really strong sense of not only how to provide really clear strategic direction and ask the most valuable questions for us as an organisation, but really nurtured me as a leader and helped me to develop confidence in the strategy throughout the process.
TDi were able to be the eyes and ears to the things we were struggling to see with clarity, and gave us a clear path forward for how we could grow the organisation towards its new strategy.”
Brigid Canny, Executive Director, YLab
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.