Investing in Youth as Agents of Change

Guest post by Wokie Weah

Xue Yang wants to transform his community by providing young people with opportunities to learn more about business and make local connections. Rachel Huss, a substitute teacher in Minneapolis Public Schools, plans to create a curriculum that incorporates Theater of the Oppressed in ESL/ELL classrooms and as a tool to combat gang violence. Edwin Gonzalez sees urban farming as a tool to educate and organize youth around food justice.

Change Fellows taking part in team-building activities at the start of the fellowship. Photo courtesy of Youthprise.

Change Fellows take part in team-building activities at the start of the fellowship. Photo courtesy of Youthprise.

These are just a few of the big ideas from the first class of Youthprise “Change Fellows”—think Shark Tank with a social innovation twist. Launched this past summer, the Change Fellows program was designed by the Youthprise Innovator Collective. This group of eight worked to redefine philanthropy as a collaborative process in which young people, driven by their love for others, lead the allocation and redistribution of resources—whether time, talent, or funding—toward the just and authentic enrichment of their peers.

Acting on recommendations from the Collective, Youthprise invested in 10 fellows between the ages of 16 and 25 who are stirring up currents of change in their communities. We know that some of the most interesting innovations happen on the margins of fields by new players, and are betting that the Change Fellows will foster the kind of collaboration, dialogue and ideas that could stir up system-wide change.

In the next year, Change Fellows will receive financial support and grow their networks to ultimately activate their “big idea” and launch an out-of-school program. They will join a professional networking cohort through Studio/E, a local incubator for entrepreneurs, in which they will meet leading Twin Cities’ business professionals in fields ranging from health care to banking. Partnerships like these allow executives to benefit from the insights of young people, while enabling those young people, in turn, to learn from adult role models in their fields.

Xue, Rachel and Edwin are just three examples of what happens when you invest in young people as agents of change in their communities. While incremental changes will always be helpful, they will not solve the basic out-of-school time issues of access, sustainability, and quality. We need to take an innovative leap forward. Xue, Rachel and Edwin are ready to jump.

Wokie Weah is President of Youthprise, an out-of-school time intermediary organization based in Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN.

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