e-News Special Edition – Annual Letter from Youthprise President Wokie Weah
As I approach my 4th anniversary at Youthprise on March 21, I want to take this opportunity to express our appreciation to all the Youthprise partners – our investors, grantees, and partners – for collaborating with us to invest in the enterprise of youth. The last four years have been rich in discoveries and lessons learned. I marvel at how much things have changed over the last four years – and how much they have stayed the same. We remain committed to our mission to champion learning beyond the classroom so that all Minnesota youth thrive. And we continue to be grounded in a set of values that guide our work to accelerate leadership and innovation in systems building and youth engagement. Plus, we are always on the lookout for the new idea that will spark change with and for Minnesota youth.
As an intermediary, we see our role to be an incubator of new approaches, a facilitator of networks, and, when necessary, an agitator for change. We act as a relationship broker—working with community-based organizations, schools, funders, public agencies, youth and adults to align our common action so that together we “punch above our weight.” Through grantmaking, partnerships and field building, we invest in and seek to align efforts among various stakeholders to build a statewide ecosystem focused on changing the game for our young people.
Youthprise strategically combines funding, capacity building, policy advocacy, research, and modeling youth engagement to create efficiencies and maximize our impact. Throughout all our work, we elevate youth voice in decision-making about policy, research, systems and philanthropy and are driven to address disparities faced by youth of color and other disconnected youth.
Investing and supporting systems building remains central to the Youthprise mission. Since 2012, we’ve made investments to create and expand systems infrastructure in communities across the state. In partnership with Sprockets—Saint Paul’s OST Network, the Minneapolis Afterschool Network of the Youth Coordinating Board, and the Brooklyn Bridge Alliance for Youth, we are creating citywide teams that are working to gather and analyze data across the the Twin Cities region, improve program quality, and use resources more efficiently—all to deliver better results for our youth.
As part of these systems, we support 48 small- and mid-sized organizations that are reaching youth in new and creative ways. In addition to grants, we coordinate the delivery of technical assistance to help these organizations build their capacity to be effective nonprofits, improve the quality of their programs, and utilize expanded data collection to drive performance.
The Accelerator Initiative is our signature effort to build the capacity of youth-serving organizations to achieve greater impact. The initiative’s cohort-based model is a departure from typical capacity-building efforts that seek to build organizational bandwidth in isolation. The overarching goal is to help each cohort have greater impact on the youth they serve, focusing particularly on addressing the “opportunity gap” facing underserved youth from low-income communities and communities of color.
We are pleased to be a partner in Every Hour Counts, a national coalition of citywide organizations that increase access to quality learning opportunities. Every Hour Counts has produced a Measurement Framework that presents common outcomes at the youth, program and system levels. This Framework provides a blueprint for coordinated accountability and improvement, so quality practices lead to measurable, improved outcomes for youth. In Minnesota, Youthprise convenes a similar peer learning community of systems builders that includes representatives from Northfield, Moorhead, Itasca County and Burnsville in addition to partners in Minneapolis, Saint Paul and Brooklyn Park/Brooklyn Center.
We serve as the fiscal home for Ignite Afterschool, Minnesota’s statewide afterschool network and are a strong partner in their work to advance public policy. This spring, the Minnesota Legislature is considering a bill supported by Ignite that would restore state funding for afterschool programs. The bill has received bipartisan support and we are hopeful for victory by May. In addition to the work with Ignite, Youthprise advocates for public policy proposals that impact the lives of Minnesota youth. We are explicit that racial equity needs to be institutionalized in every policy and have adopted a racial equity assessment tool to guide our work and help other organizations examine their own policies and decision-making structures.
A crucial way that Youthprise accelerates innovation in the expanded learning field is by bringing youth voice to all aspects of our work. In partnership with the Minnesota Alliance With Youth, we’ve supported the expansion of the Minnesota Youth Council, which is now providing important leadership as advisors to the Minnesota legislature. Our Change Fellows initiative, now in its second year, incubates and showcases the big ideas of Minnesota youth and invests in their social and business enterprises. In January, we launched the first U.S. sites for YouthBank, an innovative youth-led grantmaking model that channels money into projects that improve the quality of life of local communities. As a member of YouthBank International, we’re encouraging and training young grantmakers as they develop essential life skills and increase their readiness for college and careers.
This year, we launched the Afterschool Nutrition Program. As a hub for the federally-funded Afterschool and Summer Meals Program, Youthprise coordinates, recruits, trains, and supports afterschool programs to participate in serving snacks and meals. The model utilizes our strength as an intermediary to eliminate barriers to participation among small to mid-size organizations, helping to address the 1 in 6 Minnesota children who live at risk of hunger.
Throughout all this work, Youthprise utilizes two unique approaches – youth Participatory Action Research (yPAR) and Design Thinking. PAR is an approach that involves the people most affected by a particular issue in conducting research and analysis and developing solutions for social, cultural, and/or political transformation. PAR places a high value on respect for individuals and community, reciprocity between researchers and research subjects, non-intrusive observation, deep listening, non-judgment, and honoring what is shared. We apply Design Thinking techniques to help groups – both adults and youth – resolve questions facing our field and create solutions, with the intent of an improved future result. Design Thinking helps a group focus on solutions – starting with a goal (a better future situation) instead of solving a specific problem. We’ve found through this process that sometimes it’s the wildest idea that can really make change happen.
- In our grantmaking, we take leveraged philanthropy approach that allows us to use all our resources – money, know-how and influence – to catalyze larger streams of funding that expand the resources for the field in a way that is commensurate with the challenges we face. This year, we have set aside $2 million for leveraging partnerships where we collaborate with other nonprofits, public sector partners and private funders to pool our resources for maximum impact. Ultimately, this will result in Youthprise making investments of $5.3 million in 2015, our largest annual investment to date.
- Advancing racial equity is foundational to the Youthprise mission. We are working to increase the internal capacity of our board and staff as well as influence and strengthen the practices of our grantees to better address the effects of racism and disparities on underserved youth. In our public policy advocacy, we apply a racial equity lens to our work by developing policy proposals in concert with the people most impacted and analyzing existing proposals to ensure that they explicitly promote racial equity.
- Working with intermediary partners in Minneapolis, St. Paul and Brooklyn Park/Brooklyn Center, we are aligning systems regionally in the Twin Cities to advance youth outcome measurement, data collection and analysis, and program quality. By fully integrating youth voice and youth-led research in our systems building efforts, we are building a “Minnesota Model” that can be shared on a national stage.
- Most importantly, building on the lessons learned from initial pilots, we are growing the youth role throughout our programs and governance, including expanding youth-led initiatives in research and philanthropy. Youth are—and will always be—central to the way we do business.
We are so grateful for the relationships we’ve built with innovative organizations and creative thinkers who are working hard to make this vision a reality. Thank you for your partnership. I also want to thank Tawanna Black for her leadership as board chair this past year and to welcome the leadership of Joe Stackhouse and Thompson Aderinkomi as our new board chair and vice-chair. They lead a diverse and talented board of directors that includes seven young people who serve as co-chairs of all board committees.
In 2015, we will focus our strategic investments on citywide intermediaries, small to mid-size organizations, cross-sector collaborations, and testing new ideas and taking them to scale. While the challenges facing young people are daunting, I am excited about what comes next and confident that our collective action to ensure better programs, stronger systems and thriving youth will yield promising results for our state. I hope this vision of investing in the enterprise of youth resonates with you.