Reflecting on 2019 and Beyond
In 2010, Youthprise was created with the formula YE2 + E = QR (Youth Engagement + Equity = Quality Results.) Since inception, we have valued access, quality, innovation, and sustainability. Our mandate was to elevate youth voice and racial equity. Nine years later, those values still guide us.
2019 has been a wicked awesome year; ushering in growth, change, challenge, and strategic shifts. After nine years of testing, piloting, learning, and innovating; 2019 delivered a clearer vision of our theory of change, more realistic goals, and the right board and staff to bring in the future.
The year taught us six important lessons:
It is critically important for youth development non-profits to take a holistic look at their work to craft a strong case for sustainability. Knowing this, Youthprise kicked off the year with a Strategic Planning Retreat that confirmed our values, energized our intention to tell our story well, and solidified our commitment to the three impact areas of Learning and Leadership, Economic Opportunity, and Health and Safety.
Maximizing impact requires a strategy that accounts for the dreams, visions, and solutions that young people bring to the table about the issues that impact them. Having a youth/adult board and staffing model has undoubtedly made Youthprise a stronger, more effective organization.
Partnerships with young people in 2019 have yielded the Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) and Design Thinking toolkits, the Disrupt Series, and the Youth Bill of Rights; four tools that can be scaled and replicated. We also learned that scaling up innovative ideas require close attention to evaluation, continuous feedback, and dedication to course correction.
Advancing new knowledge and advocating for change is more urgent now than ever.
Youthprise has always prided itself on doing things differently and doing different things. In 2019, Youthprise and systems partners Sprockets, The Brooklyn Bridge Alliance for Youth, Minneapolis Youth Coordinating Board, Northfield Healthy Communities Initiative developed the Equity & Innovation in Expanded Learning Systems report. The research report argues for layering the Wallace Foundation model of leadership, coordination, and data collection with a healthy dose of youth leadership and equity. The Executive Summary can be read here, with full report soon to come.
Youthprise will continue to deepen our focus on policy and lobbying as important elements to ensuring young people thrive.
General operating funding is direly needed, but there is no need to choose between investment into programming and strategic investments into general operation—we need to choose both. 2019 taught us that in an era of declining funding for youth development nonprofits, we can produce the most sustaining impact by mobilizing and reinvesting general operating funding into organizations that serve indigenous, low income and racially diverse youth.
However, we've seen that it is equally important to support organizations that agree with our philosophic approach to building a more equitable Minnesota with grants, peer learning communities, and leveraging partnerships. Youthprise’s strategy is to complement its general operating support with programmatic funding that promotes innovative initiatives that push the field to leverage youth voice, youth knowledge, and youth decision-making.
Relationships and trust are foundational to developing partnerships. The past year reinforced this important lesson in multiple ways: internally within Youthprise and externally with our partners. We also learned that the key to developing partnerships is to risk being vulnerable with each other and to value perspectives different from your own. Organizations committed to advancing equity must be equally committed to increasing their competence in this area.
One of the biggest lessons learned in 2019 is that organizational sustainability requires flexible resources, strong infrastructure, and the right leadership. Youthprise has begun to think strategically about mobilizing investments to ensure we remain a statewide resource for youth organizations and systems that impact youth for years to come.
Our 2020 Vision:
As we look to 2020, we are excited about building on each lesson learned. We anticipate launching a new Strategic Framework that clearly articulates our priorities, implementing a racial learning agenda, expanding our work to greater Minnesota, releasing the full Equity & Innovation research report, and deepening our impact in myriad ways. We look forward to working closely with our Board around business planning. Finally, Youthprise would love to extend a special thank you to all the stakeholders who have taken this incredible journey with us.
--Sincerely, Wokie Weah and Marcus Pope
President and Vice President of Youthprise