Elliot Costello: Changing the world 5 cents at a time
Elliot Costello is a social entrepreneur who, in 2008, co-founded YGAP: a not-for-profit organisation that believes a world without poverty is possible. When we first stumbled across YGAP, we were intrigued by the unique way they do fundraising. They find and support impact entrepreneurs; changing lives in some of the world’s toughest communities because they believe local leaders have the solutions to local problems.
To date, YGAP has significantly and measurably impacted the lives of 155,000 people living in poverty and aims to back 1,000 entrepreneurs and impact one million lives by 2018.
We thought this was a pretty incredible goal and wanted to find out more about how YGAP came to be and how schools can get involved. We know there are young leaders Australia wide who are keen to make an impact in the world, and Elliot has some awesome advice to share...
How did YGAP start and where did the idea come from?
YGAP was conceived by accident. In 2008, at the age of 23, a group of friends and I decided we wanted to combine our love of travel with our desire to volunteer abroad, but the reality was that most organisations charge exorbitant fees to partake in these volunteer programs.
With a strong social conscience and a determination to fulfill this passion of ours to volunteer abroad, my friends and I decided to fundraise within our own communities instead, where we channeled these funds into flying to Africa to help build classrooms for schools in need. The birth of YGAP stemmed from this trip. After realising that there was an appetite back home for the work we carried out abroad, I worked closely with our founding members to build YGAP.
What were some of the biggest challenges in starting up a not-for-profit?
There’s over 600,000 not-for-profits in Australia alone, so starting something new in the sector meant facing a very competitive market. I would say from experience that the biggest challenge for any NGO when they are starting out is the task of trying to establish a unique identity. YGAP sets itself apart by stepping away from traditional forms of fundraising, instead we own and run social enterprises and innovative fundraising campaigns.
Once you are established, you face a multitude of challenges, each and every day! Resilience is key to dealing with these trials and tribulations.
As a leader of your organisation, what do you think are the most important approaches to keeping your staff motivated and happy?
I strongly believe that communication is key in the workplace. The YGAP team meets regularly as a group to share our most recent professional highlights and challenges and this open communication allows us to connect with one another. For me, it is really important to take our staff/interns/volunteers on a journey and for them to know they are important and that their voices are heard.
If young people are interested in pursuing a career in as an entrepreneur, what would you say to them?
I would say, just start. Simple as that. A lot of people hesitate about throwing themselves into something; worried that they’re not ready, spend time talking to thousands of people about what they will do when all they are doing is procrastinating. I don’t think anyone is fully prepared when they start something. As long as you are passionate about what you do, just push through that first door open, the next door awaits. Don’t try control the future.
Coming up with an idea and making it happen can be hard. How do you work through that process?
Don’t be afraid to express yourself. If you believe in an idea, back yourself and communicate that idea to others. Even if some reject the idea, learn from it and continue to iterate. Personal conviction is infectious and usually results in others sharing in your vision. Importantly, don’t be afraid of failure. At YGAP, we recognise and celebrate our failures just as readily as our successes. When you stop taking risks and making mistakes, you stop learning.
If young people want to help YGAP alleviate poverty, how can they go about it?
Supporting good initiatives is a great way to get involved and start making an impact. Right now we are encouraging all Australians, including young people in schools, to get involved with the 5cent campaign.
We believe in a world where every child has access to a quality education and so we created the 5cent campaign. The idea was originally inspired by one of our passionate volunteers who believed we could achieve great things by putting value back into the five-cent coin. There are currently $150 million worth of five-cent coins in circulation and over four annual campaigns, 5cent has seen over $11 million of them collected to fund our work.
5cent inspires children in schools across Australia to help collect a handful of five-cent coins. Just $5 can help send a child to school! There are many ways for young people to fundraise in and outside of school. We want kids to be creative with their ideas and collect as many five-cent pieces as possible. Our three main fundraising initiatives, Art for Change, Dineamic Suitcases and Community Cinema Nights have been designed specifically with children in mind.
You cannot break the cycle of poverty without empowering people through education. Development simply has to start in the classroom so I’d say join us on this journey and let’s show Australia what it’s littlest coin can do!
To find out more and to register, head to 5cent.com.au