Interview Jo Gray – Director of Membership Services and Engagement Youth Business International

  1. Could you please briefly introduce Youth Business International (YBI)?

Youth Business International (YBI) leads a growing global network of 50 enterprise support organizations (our members with a passion for empowering underserved young people to start, scale and sustain their businesses. We work with our members to strengthen the capabilities and the quality of their delivery models to support young people into entrepreneurship. This can involve co-creating new solutions or developing existing approaches and scaling effective solutions. As the only global network focused on Youth Entrepreneurship, we draw on our shared knowledge and expertise to connect, collaborate and generate content to provide the global standard in inclusive economic programmes for young entrepreneurs.

  1. During the last 5 years YBI has joined the Young Entrepreneurs Succeed project, together with other partners across Europe, funded by the EEA & Norway Grants Fund for Youth Employment. What is YBI’s role in this partnership?

Our project is made up of Research, Implementation and Knowledge partners. YBI is a knowledge partner in the consortium and our role has been to support the implementation partners by introducing or sharing relevant products and services that could enhance or improve their programmes. For example, we have shared our mentoring programme design approach and worked with partners to develop their capacity to improve and adapt these programmes. We have done this online, via face-to-face workshops and have shared content via the Peer Learning platform that was created by the consortium.

  1. As Director of membership services and engagement you are very close to the entrepreneurship support organizations in Europe. What are their main challenges? How do you support them?

I think there are shared global challenges across our entire Network of 50 members. Accessing the funding required to not only deliver the quality programmes that are needed but also to ensure the organisations that run these are strong, sustainable and skilled. We are all working in volatile times and every organization I know has to be agile so that they can respond to the next global challenge that eventually impacts on economies and young people’s ability to create work and an income.

For Europe, I think we are all aware of the impact of conflict and climate change which has caused huge numbers of people to migrate to survive. Many of our European members have specific programmes that support refugees and migrants. This is not going away, and we work together to identify good practices to ensure effective programmes that help refugees and migrants become entrepreneurs in a new country.

We also work together to develop tools to support young entrepreneurs with a social or green mission for their business. We see more and more young people with a drive to make a difference in the world and we are keen to ensure they have the right support to be able to achieve that mission.

  1. How has the Covid pandemic affected the way you support the entrepreneurship support organizations and how they support young entrepreneurs?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we all had to embrace digital tools fast but at the same time, understand how to use them to support the work we were all doing. No one could just flip their face-to-face activities straight to online. So, beyond the tools it was around how you created a good learning experience through a screen, there is a real skill in this. We have supported ESOs to develop their facilitation skills in the online space so they could continue to deliver impactful support to young entrepreneurs remotely.

One of YBI’s great achievements was moving our face-to-face Soft Skills curriculum online. The belief was that trying to support young people to develop critical soft skills could only happen face-to-face. However, with no other option we had to innovate and experiment and the end result was a series of learning sessions that worked in that environment.

  1. Volunteer mentoring has been a key service to help young entrepreneurs to start and grow their businesses. Why is mentoring so powerful?

I have been involved in the world of mentoring for nearly 20 years and I have never seen a more powerful yet simple way to change lives. The impact of one person voluntarily giving their support and sharing their wisdom with another should never be underestimated. This type of generosity has no price tag.

When these relationships are part of a well-designed programme, that involves support and development for all participants, that truly understand that these are human relationships not transactional exchanges of information – really there are no limits to what can be achieved.

I am continually in awe of those that give their time to support a young entrepreneur. It is absolutely critical to business success and there is so muchevidence to support the impact it has on both the individual and the sustainability of their business.

  1. What have you learnt being part of the Young Entrepreneurs Succeed partnership?

I have been reminded of the power of diversity and difference and the value this brings to all that we do. We have shared a mission, but all bring different backgrounds, knowledge and experience. This has led to robust conversations! But ultimately delivered better results.


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