Is the intervention well positioned to drastically improve a large number of lives?
Many attempts to do good don’t have much reach. Our efforts are either too local and ad hoc, like giving change to a child you meet on the street, or too diffuse and costly to practically roll out at scale, like giving away a billion iPads. SAYes is built to positively affect the lives of hundreds of thousands of young people. We use a transition mentoring platform called TIL to train and support volunteers from every walk of life. Volunteers are matched with a vulnerable young person to give guidance, advocacy and support, one-to-one, for one hour a week, for nine months. Transition mentoring allows people everywhere to get involved and improve the impact of the many different programmes and services for young people. Transition mentoring is structured and bounded, and respects your desire to do good as one of the many valuable ways you want to use your time.
Does the intervention produce a valid and reliable (credible) difference in areas of impact predicted by experts?
Many attempts to help are driven by sentiment rather than evidence. Warm-glow initiatives feel good - but are they effective? Increasingly actors in the development sector are taking a hard look at what really works. We know it's difficult to criticise programmes that try to do good because it's important to acknowledge social change initiatives. But good intentions simply aren't enough. The best charities are orders of magnitude more effective than the rest, in ways that are objectively and reliably measured. SAYes is determined to test its theory of change as well as the projected outcomes of our interventions. If we don’t see improvements in areas we predict, like independence (more informed choices) and well-being (more healthy practices), then other positive findings aren't especially helpful. A scientific approach means testing your programmes in ways that allow results to speak directly to the theory of change. It also means acknowledging when you fail. We commit to doing both and to partnering with scientists to keep improving our explanations.
Is the social problem neglected, undervalued or overlooked?
Not all support is directed at the most pressing social problems. Often we are moved more by the plight in a personal story than by the known suffering of hundreds of thousands. This is a common and very human response, but it's not a good way to decide how to allocate support. SAYes identifies vulnerable populations that are objectively not receiving the support they need. We design evidence-based content for these groups and/or partner with other programmes that are doing the same. Then we train and support volunteer mentors to improve the impact of the programmes. This strategy ensures that we reach the most vulnerable and neglected groups, and that we direct the time of the volunteers to the most pressing social problems in their communities.
Is the intervention cost-effective, designed with sound business principles and of value to potential partners?
There will likely always be a role for donations in supporting public good initiatives, however we think charities can do much more to be sustainable. Cost-effectiveness is key, particularly as one goes to scale. SAYes employs qualified staff to support its volunteers and young people. Our per match costs are exceptionally low, especially given the level of support each mentor and mentee receives. We encourage mentors to contribute toward the cost of their match, either individually, through corporate sponsorship, or through crowd funding. Our programme management is cloud based so that we can easily deploy newly-designed interventions using existing digital infrastructure. This allows us to leapfrog over costly physical limitations on the ground, a principle at the heart of technologically inspired business. We also centralise and then crowd-source administrative functions for our Transition to Independent Living (TIL) platform services, relying on office support from all over the world to 'get things done'. We align with like-minded businesses to secure expertise for organisational functions like marketing and fundraising, as well as programme functions like job shadowing, resources and employment opportunities. This makes it easy for businesses to do good efficiently and effectively, while keeping to their core services and/or products. Finally we partner with other non-profits, allowing them to deliver their support on a shared and powerful mentoring platform.
Does the intervention reduce the social problem to manageable components?
Most of us in the development sector share the same goals. We care about poverty and inequality, we care about justice and education, we care about health and well-being. However any one of these goals, let alone all of them, is impossible to attain if we don't find ways to divide them into manageable parts and manageable undertakings. For example, despite the high number of young people in care in South Africa, we know only a small proportion are aging out (approaching the age at which government support stops). In the Western Cape this amounts to perhaps (at most) 400 young people a year. So with only 400 volunteers we can ensure that every young person facing this transition has a mentor by their side. That’s shaping a social problem into something we can solve. More generally, we know that the additional support of one-to-one mentorship goes a long way in understanding and therefore meeting the challenges on the ground, whatever the focus of programme or service.
If we don’t invest in the intervention what will it ultimately cost us?
We know that doing good costs time and money, but doing nothing adds to these costs indefinitely. This principle is particularly telling in working with young people, where failure to invest is known to have especially damaging effects later on. The value of the next generation is clear to all of us in South Africa. So should be the cost of failing to inspire, and to be inspired, by strong leaders of social change.