How To Measure Whether You’re Making Your Mark

This article was originally posted on the Gordon Institute of Business (GIBS) “Leading Change” website, here: http://leadingchange.co.za/2014/05/06/how-to-measure-whether-youre-making-your-mark/

Measure success

A long time ago I read somewhere that for $1 you could provide oral rehydration salts that would save a child’s life.  Or maybe it was $5; it’s so long ago now that I don’t remember.*  No matter how faulty my memory is, this statistic has stuck with me the whole way through the journey of setting up enke: Make Your Mark in 2009 to now.  At times it’s been totally paralysing (what if we just stop and give all the money to oral rehydration salt organisations?) but most of the time it’s been my compass, a confronting reminder to hold ourselves accountable to the impact we’re trying to create.

Measuring impact is always hard.  Really hard.  When you’re looking at youth development, as opposed to malaria infections, maths marks or mortality rates, it’s incredibly hard.  One of the biggest challenges at enke was the most fundamental step: determining the number one change we want to create in the lives of the young people we work with.  We don’t simply want to reduce youth unemployment (although it’s an issue we work around and care about deeply, and measure against).  We aren’t actively aiming to increase Matric results (although it’s something we recognise as important for young people we work with).  Our intention isn’t to actively get more young people into and through universities (although, yes, we do consider this when measuring our impact).  So what do we care about?  We care most about young people developing a sense of social responsibility that allows them to contribute positively to society.  We care most about young people being successful by their own definition (whatever that definition may be).  Those things are slippery things to measure.

And so for a while we measured the number of young people trained, like everyone else does.  We measured how many projects were run by the young people we trained, what the impact of these projects was as measured by the number of people they worked with.  We’ve got some pretty impressive stats: over 1000 young people trained in under 5 years; from the 176 we trained in 2012, they started 118 projects that impacted 6490 people in 8 of South Africa’s 9 provinces.  They’re fun numbers to put down on paper,but we wanted to dig deeper.

In January this year, with support from the First Rand Foundation, we completed a 9 month research project that looked at 185 of our alumni (35% of all participants who had completed our high school program, the enke: Trailblazer Program).  You can read the full report here (upload and link).  We were looking at three main things:

  1. Was there a link between starting a project and developing critical attributes such as grit, social awareness, mindset or agency?  Was that link stronger if you completed your project?
  2. What types of support made the most difference for young people trying to set up and run their own projects?
  3. Where were our enke alumni now? Who was in university, employment, training?

Of all of them, the thing that I was most interested in was question #1.  As the self-confessed psychology nerd that I am, I get really excited by the theories behind each of the behavioral traits we looked at (I promise there will be another post JUST on those).  But more importantly, that’s the basis of the change we want to create the most on our programs.  Research suggests that these critical attributes are linked to being successful in your life, in being socially responsible.

We found that there was a link between running a project and stronger grit and mindset scores.  Interestingly, it didn’t get much stronger in participants that had finished projects.  Confusingly, we didn’t see the link we expected for agency or social awareness.

We still need to do a lot more digging to fully understand what these findings mean.  But it’s a fascinating start.  And we’re still going to keep measuring the number of projects started, the percentage of those that get completed, the ripple effect they create.  This is not just an inspiration for other young people but for all of us at enke HQ to know we’re on the right track.

We need to keep looking for the deeper meaning that is way below the surface.  That’s the only way that we can get the full picture of whether what we’re doing is worth the time, effort and money we have invested into it.  That’s the only way we can improve our programs.  In the interim, we take a lot of pride in making this journey with integrity and in the fact that the hundreds of young people we work with each year think it’s worth continuing.

You can help enke reach more young people by donating at their IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign here: http://igg.me/at/enkeMYM/x/828715 before May 9th.

* Regardless of the amount, GiveWell, one of the leaders in measuring effectiveness of any aid or development projects, cautions that most organisations dramatically under-state their cost-effectiveness in their own promo material.  However, this doesn’t change the idea that measuring impact is an important one.

Article written by: Pip Wheaton, CEO of enke: Make Your Mark


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