Elliot Costello is a social entrepreneur who, in 2008, co-founded YGAP. YGAP believes that a world without poverty is possible. A world where everyone receives a quality education, can earn a fair wage and live in a good home, free from violence and preventable disease.
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 139,529 people living in poverty and aims to back 1,000 entrepreneurs and impact one million lives by 2018.
YGAP raises funds through an entrepreneurial approach, owning and running profitable social ventures and fundraising campaigns to fund their work in the field. Elliot has been invited to speak at the United Nations (UN) in New York and at several UN and leading social enterprise conferences across the Middle East and Asia. He is a leading voice on youth issues, social entrepreneurship and innovative fundraising in Australia.
No entrepreneur, irrespective of industry will have a working week without a broad set of challenges. It’s part of business and part of life. It’s how you meet and respond to the challenges that makes or breaks you as a leader. Resilience is imperative.
Tell us a little bit about your idea and what made you decide to take the plunge and make it happen?
YGAP came about by accident. In 2008, myself and a group of friends wanted to combine our two loves of travel and volunteering, but faced the obstacle of exorbitant fees associated with most volunteer programs. We decided to cut out the middleman and fundraised within our own communities before packing our bags and flying to Africa to help build classrooms for schools in need.
After realising there was an appetite back home for the projects we carried out, I left by job as an accountant at PPB advisory to start YGAP. I have always had a strong social conscience and penchant for taking risks, so it was a natural move to make.
Can you explain your funding model for us?
To fund our work, we run profitable social ventures and fundraising campaigns while also partnering with incredible donors.
Our flagship social enterprise is our restaurant – Feast of Merit. We have just celebrated its second anniversary and have expanded to a rooftop bar and a function space next door. All profits from Feast of Merit are channelled directly into our impact work across Africa, Asia and Australia. To date, Feast of Merit has served over 250,000 customers and generated $5.8m in turnover.
Our two innovative fundraising campaigns are 5cent and Polished Man. 5cent asks every Australia to collect small change to drive big change and ensure every child can receive a quality education and an equal start in life. There’s over $150 million worth of five-cent coins in Australia and it only takes a handful of these coins to help a child go to school. The campaign is entering its fifth year and to date we have collected just short of eleven million coins and raised $546,985.
Our Polished Man campaign challenges men to paint one nail to end violence against children. The innovative campaign raises awareness and funds to support the 1 in 5 children who suffer physical and sexual violence before the age of 18. This is our third year of the campaign and to date, it has raised over $600,000.
How do you make ideas happen?
At YGAP we take risks. Some of them fail and others succeed and we celebrate our failures just as readily as our successes. We like to jump in the deep end and figure things out as we go, but there is certainly a place for strategy and as we grow, there is more room for this approach.
A great example of how we bring new ideas to philanthropy is our 5cent campaign. It started as an idea by one of our passionate volunteers, who thought more value could be put back into Australia’s smallest coin and that YGAP should do something about it.
Now, five years later, the campaign is going stronger than ever and we’re engaging students to see how they can raise funds to help the 124 million children around the world currently denied an education go to school.
What does your typical day look like?
I start every day with morning pages. I write three pages that help me set some clear intentions for the day ahead. Following this, I’ll often have a breakfast meeting or speaking engagement. If it’s a breakfast meeting it’s at the Feast of Merit (of course!) and I then head to meet the YGAP team at our headquarters in Richmond.
We touch base regularly as a group to ensure all projects are on track and support one and other. Then, another day could be totally preparing for a board meeting or spent travelling interstate or overseas, so there’s really no such thing as a typical day.
What challenges have you faced when starting or growing a business/organisation in Australia?
Every challenge you can imagine. Every day is a new challenge. No entrepreneur, irrespective of industry will have a working week without a broad set of challenges. It’s part of business and part of life. It’s how you meet and respond to the challenges that makes or breaks you as a leader. Resilience is imperative.
What is one idea you are willing to give away for free?
Read widely. On topics disconnected to your field. Understand mistakes of the past by learning about history, philosophy and theology.
What people, companies or organisations do you think are doing really cool stuff in your industry, in Australia at the moment?
We love Vinomofo. Their brand is very in touch with its audience and their business model is novel. We also have very strong ties with other not for profits in the sector, including Thank You Group, Collective Potential and 1 Giant Mind. We respectfully learn from each other.
We actually merged with our favourite not for profit, Spark International one year ago, joining forces to amplify our impact. It’s been a marriage made in heaven! More not-for-profits should do it.
What about internationally?
We back impact entrepreneurs changing lives in some of the world’s toughest communities so I would say they are my biggest daily inspiration. They know their communities and the challenges they face in dealing with poverty at the coalface never cease to amaze me.
Their courage and ability to innovate is so inspiring; so I would say the best work happening internationally is done by those we seek to support and empower.
What role do you think business can play in affecting social change?
We believe every business should be socially minded. At YGAP, we pride ourselves on making philanthropy accessible to everyone. Simply by choosing to dine at our restaurant or support our campaigns, people are changing the lives of people living in poverty and there’s huge power in that. I believe people want to be able to make ethical decisions and it’s our job to make that decision-making process an easy one.
Can you name 3 websites you would recommend to our readers?
- bom.gov.au (I think it’s important to know the weather)
- mashable.com (Good social commentary)
- bbc.com (Can’t have enough news)
Are there opportunities for people to get involved with your idea?
Our doors are always open for new volunteers or interns wanting to make a difference in the world. We welcome people from all walks of life and celebrate the values a diverse range of skill sets can bring to our organisation.
What’s your favourite bar/café/restaurant?
That’s easy, Feast of Merit! I eat there every single day. Our ingredients are all locally sourced, sustainable and seasonal and the menu, Middle Eastern inspired based on a slow cooking method.
Head chef Ravi Presser – previously Circa, Bar Lourinha and Cumulus Inc. – has developed a contemporary menu designed to honour the sacred concept of community and celebrate the future of the slow food movement. Eating and drinking for a good cause – what could be more fulfilling than that?