The Women’s Foundation of Minnesota (WFMN) announces new investments in its fourth cohort of WFMN Innovators – 25 young women and gender-expansive people whose leadership, ideas, and solutions advance key recommendations in the Young Women’s Initiative of Minnesota (YWI MN) Blueprint for Action. Each WFMN Innovator was awarded a one-time $2,500 grant, representing a total investment of $82,500. Since the inception of the WFMN Innovators program in 2018, WFMN has made 105 grants totaling to $262,500 to 83 young women and gender-expansive youth, ages 16 to 24.

“At the Women’s Foundation, we know that young women are leading today, and we’ve seen how early investments in their leadership lead to lasting change and additional investments to increase equity,” said Lulete Mola, WFMN’s chief strategy & innovation officer. “Centering and engaging those most impacted by barriers is the only way to create long-term solutions. Through the Young Women’s Initiative of Minnesota, we are investing directly in their ideas and vision as an equity strategy for whole community well-being because when young Black, Indigenous, and young women of color thrive, all young women, families, and communities thrive.”

WFMN partners with Black Visions to facilitate quarterly convenings, which are integral to the Innovators’ technical support and leadership development. Each Innovator pairs with a professional mentor of their choosing; they meet three times a year for professional coaching and development. Through video and written submissions, WFMN Innovators were selected through an intentional process based on articulation of project proposal, community voice, lived experiences, and commitment to community-building and leadership. WFMN engaged a participatory grantmaking committee that included Young Women’s Cabinet members. Cabinet members on the committee received training, reviewed proposals, and recommended awards for applicants that best represented the mission, goals, and values of the Young Women’s Initiative of Minnesota.

During the recent virtual WFMN Innovators kickoff facilitated by Kandace Montgomery from Black Visions, the new cohort members introduced themselves, shared their project plans, and learned about the “Bey-sics” of project management through Beyoncé lyrics. When Kandace asked the cohort why it was vital for leaders like them to vision, the responses reflected the tenacity, energy, and leadership amongst the group. Tomi, a returning Innovator shared, “For me, vision gives hope. A vision is the mental picture of the future you desire. More than just a goal, a vision is the embodiment of our hopes and dreams in a particular area; the picture of what has not yet happened, but what the future may hold.”

The Young Women’s Initiative is on a mission to create a Minnesota where every young woman thrives. By building pathways to economic opportunity, improving safety and well-being, and promoting young women’s leadership, the Young Women’s Initiative centers the leadership and solutions of young women facing the greatest barriers in Minnesota. Launched in 2016, the Young Women’s Initiative of Minnesota is a multi-year, multi-million-dollar investment and public-private partnership with the Governor’s Office of the State of Minnesota to achieve equity in opportunities with and for young women of color, American Indian young women, young women from Greater Minnesota, LGBTQ+ youth, and young women with disabilities.

In total, the Women’s Foundation has granted $2.5 million through the Young Women’s Initiative of Minnesota since 2016.

WFMN Innovators:

Salma Ahmed-IbrahimSalma Ahmed-Ibrahim
(she/her/hers)
Roseville, MN
Blueprint recommendation:
#3: Reframe Harmful Narratives

Salma will use the funds for a current organization project to support the incarcerated community through letter writing, mutual aid, advocacy, and re-entry services.

Essence BattsEssence Batts
(she/her/hers)
Minneapolis, MN
Blueprint recommendation:
#5: Enhance Career Pathways

Essence’s project holds sacred space for the community to assist in healing and empowerment by teaching holistic methods not only to reduce stress but also to find alignment by identifying root issues, such as generational trauma. Essence is shifting structures by helping people in her community align with their purpose through holistic practices that help them to navigate life, systems, and change more effectively.

Monali BhaktaMonali Bhakta
(she/her/hers)
Shakopee, MN
Blueprint recommendations:
#9: Develop Young Women Leaders
#3: Reframe Harmful Narratives

Monali will be the editor-in-chief of an anti-colorism and body positivity campaign for and with South Asian women in Minnesota. The goal of the campaign is to raise awareness about the problematic Eurocentric beauty standards imposed on South Asian communities. Monali seeks to reframe harmful narratives to ensure that all South Asian women feel the self-worth to lead confident, happy lives. The campaign includes an advocacy fellowship for young women between the ages of 16 and 24 who identify as South Asian. Monali identifies as a person whose ancestry is from Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, and Maldives, and she is determined to redefine mainstream beauty while building agency with South Asian young women and gender-expansive people in Minnesota.

Yamileth Carachere FloresYamileth Carachere Flores
(they/them)
Minneapolis, MN
Blueprint recommendation:
#3: Reframe Harmful Narratives

Yamileth will support a virtual series of listening sessions for undocumented/DACA folks around mental health and shifting harmful narratives.

Alisha ChaudhryAlisha Chaudhry
(she/her/hers)
Rochester, MN
Blueprint recommendation:
#3: Reframe Harmful Narratives

Alisha will continue her work as a returning WFMN Innovator by expanding the virtual reality platform she created for community members to access comprehensive and inclusive sexual health education.

Annie ChenAnnie Chen
(she/her/hers)
Rochester, MN
Blueprint recommendations:
#5: Enhance Career Pathways
#9: Develop Young Women Leaders

Annie will implement a climate justice curriculum in the Rochester Public Schools and bring more climate-related resources and books to the district. Rochester has one of the largest gender disparities when it comes to STEM careers/technical jobs that are outside of the medical field. Annie is working to increase women in STEM and prepare them for future studies.

Ling DeBellisLing DeBellis
(she/her/hers)
North Oaks, MN
Blueprint recommendations:
#9: Develop Young Women Leaders
#3: Reframe Harmful Narratives

As a former Young Women’s Cabinet member and a young woman of color who identifies as a person with a disability, Ling will produce screenplays that center the narratives of diverse young women, particularly those with disabilities, who work on climate change. With stories inspired by real life, these narratives will highlight lived experiences and encourage conversation about issues of inequity and solutions in STEM and beyond.

Dieu DoDieu Do
(she/her/hers)
St. Paul, MN
Blueprint recommendation:
#9: Develop Young Women Leaders

Dieu will continue developing the curriculum for the Future Leaders of Local American Government Fellowship, which uses a trifold model consisting of education, networking, and policy engagement.

Andrea Duarte-AlonsoAndrea Duarte-Alonso
(she/her/hers)
Worthington, MN
Blueprint recommendation:
#3: Reframe Harmful Narratives

Andrea will continue to deepen Stories from Unheard Voices, her platform that shares the stories of immigrant women in rural Minnesota. In her second year as an Innovator, Andrea will host workshops that bring in guest storytellers and will expand the project to first- and second-generation immigrants in Greater Minnesota.

Daratu ElemoDarartu Elemo
(she/her/hers)
Minneapolis, MN
Blueprint recommendations:
#9: Develop Young Women Leaders
#3: Reframe Harmful Narratives

Darartu will create a safe space for Muslim women to develop healthy practices and behaviors. Recognizing that women in the East African Muslim community are not as physically active compared to other demographics, Darartu seeks to promote positive self-identity and increase the physical strength of participants so they can be strong and able to protect themselves.

Jenika HowardJenika Howard
(she/her/hers)
Minneapolis, MN
Blueprint recommendations:
#9: Develop Young Women Leaders
#3: Reframe Harmful Narratives

Jenika, along with Innovator Kaija Long Crow, will raise awareness about climate issues and their connection with many Indigenous communities’ traditions and cultures. Through a series of workshops on urban agriculture, food sovereignty, and climate justice, Native youth participants will learn about how Indigenous people have played and continue to play a critical role in preserving and protecting the earth’s biodiversity. While learning about the significant ways the environment has supported Indigenous peoples’ livelihoods and cultures, the workshops will build connectedness within the community and cultural renewal with the goal of creating a brighter future and an environmentally sustainable way of life for generations to come.

Aisha KimbrougAisha Kimbrough
(she/her/hers)
Worthington, MN
Blueprint recommendation:
#5: Enhance Career Pathways

Raised in rural Minnesota, Aisha witnessed the ways in which economic and financial discrimination in her community not only create wealth gaps and class stratification but hinder marginalized communities from optimizing and investing in their financial futures. This experience inspired her to ask: What can be done to establish equitable spaces for women of color in the world of finance and the market economy? Her project includes completing a microeconomics course, a four-part community-based education initiative called Invest in Your Future that will engage 10 young women of color on methods to invest, save, and budget for their academic and professional lives; and a Business 101 project that will engage young women on how to open their own business in Worthington. She will work with the Chamber of Commerce business education committee, local business owners, and economists who are people of color to share diverse journeys and experiences in economics, finance, and business.

Aisha KimbrougKaija Long Crow
(they/them/she/her)
Minneapolis, MN
Blueprint recommendations:
#9: Develop Young Women Leaders
#3: Reframe Harmful Narratives

Kaija, along with Innovator Jenika Howard, will raise awareness about climate issues and their connection with many Indigenous communities’ traditions and cultures. Through a series of workshops on urban agriculture, food sovereignty, and climate justice, Native youth participants will learn about how Indigenous people have played and continue to play a critical role in preserving and protecting the earth’s biodiversity and the significant ways the environment has supported Indigenous peoples’ livelihoods and cultures. The workshops will build connectedness within the community and cultural renewal with the goal of creating a brighter future and an environmentally sustainable way of life for generations to come.

Nokomis HenryNokomis Henry
(she/her/hers)
Minneapolis, MN
Blueprint recommendations:
#9: Develop Young Women Leaders
#3: Reframe Harmful Narratives

Nokomis will collect stories of murdered and missing indigenous women (MMIW) and create new stories of resistance and strength by remembering Native women who have been lost.

Ana Mendoza PackhamAna Mendoza Packham
(she/her/hers)
Minneapolis, MN
Blueprint recommendation:
#5: Enhance Career Pathways

Ana will continue the work of the Women for Political Change Mutual Aid Program, which has already redistributed $500,000 to young women and gender-expansive people in Minnesota. In this second year of funding, Ana will develop engagement strategies to engage with Native people in Greater Minnesota. Part of this grant will also be used to continue building Ana’s Spanish speaking skills as well as learning Quechua.

J NguyenJ Nguyen
(they/them)
Minneapolis, MN
Blueprint recommendations:
#3: Reframe Harmful Narratives
#17: Prevent Violence Through Healthy Relationships

J will create a space for queer and trans Black, Indigenous, and people of color to reflect on healing and speak their truth to power in regards to gender justice and queer issues.

Oluwatomini OlaOluwatomini Ola
(she/her/hers)
Inver Grove Heights, MN
Blueprint recommendation:
#17: Prevent Violence through Healthy Relationships

Oluwatomini will deepen her work around safety after attending the World Childhood Foundation Summer Institute as a Carlson Scholar to raise awareness about child sexual abuse, exploitation, and violence by educating and engaging African immigrant and refugee youth as part of the solution to address this growing epidemic. This year, she will expand her project convening and engage survivors of child sexual abuse, exploitation, and violence to include Black boys as well as Black girls to talk about healthy relationships and gender-based violence.

J NguyenAbby Peake
(she/her/hers)
Minneapolis, MN
Blueprint recommendations:
#9 – Develop Young Women Leaders
#3 – Reframe Harmful Narratives

Abby will collect stories of murdered and missing Indigenous women (MMIW) and create new stories of resistance and strength by remembering Native women who have been lost.

Iyonna RiddleyIyonna Riddley
(she/her/hers)
Minneapolis, MN
Blueprint recommendation:
#5 – Enhance Career Pathways

Iyonna will open an entertainment space that can house art forms, such as dance, photography, videography, and music. The project creates a safe space for youth in North Minneapolis to spend after-school hours and enjoy learning and creating masterpieces of their own. She hopes to eventually expand her programming to include young adults.

Alma SilverAlma Silver
(she/her/hers)
Minneapolis, MN
Blueprint recommendation:
#3 – Reframe Harmful Narratives

Alma will continue the work of her capstone project that focused on the intersections of disability and other identities. She will conduct a series of interviews with women and gender-expansive people in the disabled community and create a website to present this storytelling project to local audiences, while raising awareness of underrepresented narratives. Representations of disability within mainstream media continues to be dominated by privileged positionalities. Alma’s focus on interviewing women and gender nonconforming people in the disability community will address the need for a more inclusive framework of disability identity and culture.

Ambersky StevensAmbersky Stevens
(she/her/they/them)
Minneapolis, MN
Blueprint recommendation:
#5 – Enhance Career Pathways

Ambersky will continue building her Native crafting business, which includes crafting, beading, and sewing as a way to remain connected to her Indigenous cultural identity. She will continue her leadership role on the All Nations program at South High School in Minneapolis and the American Indian Youth Council for Minneapolis Public Schools, which focuses on making schools a better learning environment for Indigenous youth.

Sarah SwedburgSarah Swedburg
(she/her/hers)
Willmar, MN
Blueprint recommendations:
#3: Reframe Harmful Narratives
#5: Enhance Career Pathways
#9: Develop Young Women Leaders
#17: Prevent Violence Through Healthy Relationships

Sarah will continue building and developing young women leaders in Greater Minnesota. Her project focuses on completing the website while developing a toolkit that uses a trainthe-trainer model for civic leadership training.

Afiya WardAfiya Ward
(she/her/hers)
St. Paul, MN
Blueprint recommendations:
#9: Develop Young Women Leaders
#3: Reframe Harmful Narratives

Afiya will lead the planning and production for a two-day Young Women’s Leadership Retreat at Lake Marine on St. Croix, in partnership with ARTS-Us, a youthserving organization in St. Paul. The retreat is designed for young women between the ages of 14 and 20, and will include workshops led by women leaders in the community. The goal is to create a space for women to share and gain insight as leaders and future leaders using the power of the arts to change minds, hearts, and systems.

Destiny WigginsDestiny Wiggins
(she/her/hers)
Bemidji, MN
Blueprint recommendation:
#5: Enhance Career Pathways

Destiny will continue her use of media to spotlight her community in Bemidji, MN. She will use her platform in broadcast media to share the stories of young women of color entrepreneurs and leaders in her community. She also plans to collaborate with various organizations to host events aimed at giving back to the local community and women of color community members.

Sarah ZalangaSarah Zalanga
(she/her/hers)
St. Paul, MN
Blueprint recommendation:
#5: Enhance Career Pathways

To increase mentorship and development opportunities for Black women in the field of medicine, Sarah will create a networking group of Black women interested in medicine. She plans to target young high school and college-aged Black girls in her network.

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