33 WFMN Innovators Represent the Foundation’s Direct Investment in the Leadership and Innovative Ideas of Young Women

The Women’s Foundation of Minnesota (WFMN) announced new investment in the WFMN Innovators – 33 young women, ages 16-24, 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. This investment represents a 50 percent increase in grantmaking to the WFMN Innovators program, launched last April.

Each quarter, the cohort meets at WFMN to engage in leadership development, advocacy opportunities, and community building to scale their leadership and project impact. Through video submissions, WFMN Innovators were selected through a competitive process based on articulation of project proposal, community voice, lived experiences, and commitment to community-building and leadership. WFMN engaged a grantmaking review committee comprised of Young Women’s Cabinet members. 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. 

“At the Women’s Foundation, we know there is only equity in outcomes when there is equity in design. We believe in centering and engaging those most impacted by barriers to create solutions,” said Lulete Mola, WFMN vice president of community impact. “The WFMN Innovators are leading change in their communities now. They are fierce, brilliant, and connected. Through the Young Women’s Initiative of Minnesota, we are investing in their solutions to increase economic opportunity, safety, and leadership so that all young women can thrive.” 

The goal of the Young Women’s Initiative is to create a Minnesota where every young woman thrives. By building pathways to economic opportunity, improving safety and well-being, and promoting a state of respect and leadership with and for young women, the Young Women’s Initiative centers the leadership and solutions of young women facing the greatest barriers in Minnesota. 

This fall, WFMN will award grants to community-led organizations working in the intersecting areas of economic opportunity, safety, and leadership with and on behalf of young women and girls to advance key Blueprint for Action recommendations. Released in 2017 with the Governor’s Office of the State of Minnesota, the Blueprint for Action comprises 20 recommendations for achieving equity in outcomes, access to equal opportunities, and safe, prosperous lives for all young women in Minnesota. The statewide action plan was created in partnership with young women from eight communities and informed by WFMN Listening Sessions. 

Launched in 2016, the Young Women 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 $1.24 million through the Young Women’s Initiative of Minnesota since 2016. 


WFMN Innovators:

Rayaan Ahmed
Fridley, MN
Blueprint recommendations:
#13 – Ensure Community Spaces and Conversations
#16 – Increase Mental Health Support
#17 – Prevent Violence through Healthy Relationships

Rayaan will create healing circles that are open to young women and members for the LGBTQ+ community as they are communities that are disproportionately affected by sexual violence. During the meetings, individuals will have the opportunity to learn from speakers and mental health professional in a safe space.

Ariadne Barrera
Worthington, MN
Blueprint recommendations:
#13 – Ensure Community Spaces and Conversations
#20 – Facilitate Holistic Mentorship

Ariadne wants to deepen the impact of her project to compete in the Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America competition, for which she is creating welcome kits for new students (predominantly people of color and immigrants) in her school. She is creating a resource handbook about the city of Worthington that will be included in the kits, along with school supplies.

Nashel’ Bebeau
Deer River, MN
Blueprint recommendations:
#4 – Build Gender and Community-Orientated Financial Literacy and Life Skills
#5 – Enhance Career Pathways
#18 – Increase Access to Childcare

Nashel’ will create a babysitting group network and train young women in her community in the skills they need to be certified childcare providers. This will answer the need for reliable childcare in her community.

Nina Berglund
Minneapolis, MN
Blueprint recommendations:
#3 – Reframe Harmful Narratives
#13 – Ensure Community Spaces and Conversations
#14 – Respect and Teach Multiple Languages

Nina will host the Ikwewag/Winyanpi Empowerment project, a two-day retreat in northern Minnesota for 12-18-year-old Native women from the White Earth Nation. During the two days, participants in the retreat will learn about traditional teachings of their tribe, arts and crafts, storytelling, and spiritual knowledge.

Brianna Carey
Brooklyn Park, MN
Blueprint recommendations:
#3 – Reframe Harmful Narratives
#11 – Build a Better Post-Secondary Pipeline
#13 – Ensure Community Spaces and Conversations

Brianna will continue the Pan African and Ally Student Summit that she founded as a student at St. Cloud State University. The summit serves as a catalyst for students to become“the change we want to see” by gaining an understanding of African history, identifying barriers in the Black community, and ensuring a greater future for descendants of Africa to follow. Brianna will also expand her BrInspired media platform to motivate Black women to reach their fullest potential.

Aurin Chowdhury
Woodbury, MN
Blueprint recommendations:
#1 – Build on Assets
#5 – Enhance Career Pathways
#9 – Develop Young Women Leaders

A returning WFMN Innovator, Aurin is planning the Women of Color and Indigenous Women Summit, with WFMN Innovator Cheniqua Johnson, for women of color and Indigenous women who are interested in policy work. 

Za’Nia Coleman
Minneapolis, MN
Blueprint recommendations:
#13 – Ensure Community Spaces and Conversations

Za’Nia will create an art showcase in St. Paul, and will secure a space for an open mic and art display. Following the event, she will create a zine to show the work of the participating artists.

Alex Exum
Hopkins, MN
Blueprint recommendations:
#5 – Enhance Career Pathways
#8 – Increase Access to Women’s Health Care

A returning WFMN Innovator, Alex will continue education in nursing and use the funding for entrance exams to a nursing program. She would also like to participate in doula training in preparation for her role as a midwife. She will continue her work at The Link hosting a health and healing group for LGBTQ+ identified individuals.

Montana Filoteo
Minneapolis, MN
Blueprint
recommendations:
#1 – Build on Assets
#2 – Disaggregate Key Data
#3 – Reframe Harmful Narratives

A returning WFMN Innovator, Montana will create a dynamic and critical research handbook to distribute to state agencies so they can create critical and relevant research that looks at the intersections of different identities.

Khadra Fiqi
Minneapolis, MN
Blueprint recommendations:
#1 – Build on Assets
#3 – Reframe Harmful Narratives
#13 – Ensure community spaces and conversations

A returning WFMN Innovator, Khadra will use the learnings she gained from her trip to Cuba through the Witness for Peace organization. She will focus her project on grassroots organizing in the Somali youth community in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood.

Milka Gamino
Edina, MN
Blueprint recommendations:
#3 – Reframe Harmful Narratives
#13 – Ensure Community Spaces and Conversations
#15 – Increase Access to Women’s Health Care

Milka will further her work with her after-school cooking class at El Colegio High School. Her class promotes healthy eating, exploration of cultural foods from across Latin America, and inspires youth entrepreneurship.

Shiranthi Goonathilaka
Minneapolis, MN
Blueprint
recommendations:
#1 – Build on Assets
#4 – Build Gender and Community-Oriented Financial Literacy and Life Skills
#7 – Expand housing options

A returning WFMN Innovator, Shiranthi will continue her work with her Black youth cooperative fund and complete the first funding stream for a space that will be purchased and transformed into a youth safe(r) center.

Estefania E. Navarro Hernandez
St. Paul, MN
Blueprint recommendations:
#4 – Build Gender and Community-Oriented Financial Literacy and Life Skills
#16 – Increase Mental Health Support
#20 – Facilitate Holistic Mentorship

Estefania’s project will focus on Nepantla Healing as she continues her journey of reclaiming traditional and ancestral healing practices by attending an herbal studies class and conducting interviews with the People’s Movement Center and Brujitxs del Barrio. She will then host a community event to bring her teaching to the Latinx, queer, and immigrant community of the Twin Cities.

Hope Hoffman
Champlin, MN
Blueprint recommendations:
#1 – Build on Assets
#9 – Develop Young Women Leaders
#13 – Ensure Community Spaces and Conversations

Hope will be using the funding to publish her autobiography, with which she will share her lived experiences with physical disabilities and journey through amputation. After publishing her book, Hope will host statewide discussions to engage young women with disabilities and create community.

Lynn Hu
Minneapolis, MN
Blueprint recommendations:
#8 – Increase Services for Survivors of Violence

Lynn will become a certified Body Adapt coach and lead a healing support group for survivors of domestic violence through Asian Women United. The purpose of the group is to help survivors regain their strength and help them process the trauma that is in their body.

Cheniqua Johnson
Worthington, MN
Blueprint recommendations:
#1 – Build on Assets
#5 – Enhance Career Pathways
#9 – Develop Young Women Leaders

A returning WFMN Innovator, Cheniqua is planning the Women of Color and Indigenous Women Summit, with WFMN Innovator Aurin Chowdury, for women of color and Indigenous women who are interested in policy work. 

Sey Lee
St. Paul, MN
Blueprint recommendations:
#13 – Ensure Community Spaces and Conversations
#15 – Increase Access to Women’s Health Care

Sey Lee would like to teach Hmong women about their bodies through health education videos. She plans to create a nonprofit called Noyb Zoo health, which translates to “hello health.” She will engage a network of health experts in this project to provide evidence-based information.

Melinda K. Lopez
Truman, MN
Blueprint recommendations:
#1 – Build on Assets
#3 – Reframe Harmful Narratives
#9 – Develop Young Women Leaders

Melinda will expand her impact as a leader in the Minnesota Nursing network. She would like to host a summit to inspire first generation college students to work toward their goals.

Teighlor McGee
St. Paul, MN
Blueprint recommendations:
#1 – Build on Assets
#9 –  Develop Young Women Leaders
#13 –  Ensure Community Spaces and Conversations

Teighlor will continue expanding their project, The Black Disability Collective, an online media campaign that educates and creates spaces for black folks with disabilities.

Khadra Mohamed
Columbia Heights, MN
Blueprint recommendations:
#15 –  Access to Women’s Health Care

Khadra will host a group called Hooyo and Me, which translates to “Mom and Me.” This family-based intervention program encourages mothers and daughters to engage in physical activity through a culturally specific curriculum focused on strengthening familial bonds and encouraging physical activity in the Somali community.

Kowsar Mohamed
Minneapolis, MN
Blueprint recommendations:
#7 – Expand Housing Options
#13 – Ensure Community Spaces and Conversations

Kowsar will hold community conversations to explore the question: “How does urban planning impact the daily lives of the Somali community?” She will create a plan for urban planning for the Somali community in the city of Minneapolis.

Muna Mohamed
Columbia Heights, MN
Blueprint recommendations:
#3 – Reframe Harmful Narratives
#13 – Ensure Community Spaces and Conversations

Muna will engage Muslim girls who participate in sports and use photography and film as a tool for community building and narrative shifting. She wants to show that Muslim women and girls can develop their athletic skills while respecting their cultural and religious practices.

Alexis Murillo
Minneapolis, MN
Blueprint recommendations:
#5 – Enhance Career Pathways
#9 – Develop Young Women Leaders
#13 – Ensure Community Spaces and Conversations

Alexis will enhance her skills and training in public speaking and begin the first phase of her public speaking business. She plans to travel and speak to women in agriculture, specifically women of color, as well as low-income, first generation college students, and other marginalized communities. She will continue to develop workshops, events, and public speaking focused on helping others advocate for and achieve their goals.

Felicia Philibert
St. Paul, MN
Blueprint recommendations:
#1 – Build on assets
#4 – Build gender and community-oriented financial literacy and life skills
#9 – Develop young women leaders

A returning WFMN Innovator, Felicia will use the grant to support a Restorative Justice Healing training for the staff at Women for Political Change, the organization she co-founded, and pursue certification in project management in order to build her capacity.

Rosesam Smith
New Hope, MN
Blueprint recommendations:
#1 – Build on Assets
#3 – Reframe Harmful Narratives
#13 – Ensure Community Spaces and Conversations

A returning WFMN Innovator, Rosesam will expand and deepen the impact of the Educate and Encourage Growth Mentorship Program that she began last year.

Mica Standing Soldier
Minneapolis, MN
Blueprint recommendations:
#3 – Reframe Harmful Narratives
#13 – Ensure Community Spaces and Conversations
#14 – Respect and Teach Multiple Languages

Mica will expand her multilingual and multimedia company to connect, amplify, and distribute content made for millennials and Generation-Z people of color. She wants to give Black, Indigenous, and people of color the mic and turn up the volume with her project.

Celisia Stanton
Minneapolis, MN
Blueprint recommendation:
#13 – Ensure Community Spaces and Conversations

Celisia will organize and host a benefit event to honor, support, and highlight women and girls in the high school debate community. The benefit event will raise funds to support scholarships for the week-long debate camp that she founded.

Maya Tackaberry
St. Paul, MN 
Blueprint
recommendations:
#5 – Ensure career pathways
#15 – Access to women’s health care

A returning WFMN Innovator, Maya will invest in her research project involving young women and mothers with disabilities. Her research will culminate in a community-focused solution prototype.

Angela Vang
St. Paul, MN
Blueprint recommendations:
#3 – Reframe Harmful Narratives
#13 – Ensure Community Spaces and Conversations

Angela will create an individualized learning plan to develop her skills in media and audio storytelling. Her project will culminate in a podcast addressing the lives of young women across different communities in Minnesota. Her project will help reframe the narrative that Minnesota is not diverse, that women are not powerful, and that communities do not have the power to speak their truth.

Moira Villiard
Duluth, MN
Blueprint recommendations:
#1 – Build on Assets
#13 – Ensure Community Spaces and Conversations

Moira will build on her project called Goodynight by creating a promotional documentary on the artists involved. Goodynight is an artistic storytelling experience that creates a platform for people of diverse backgrounds to be in community with one another.

Rochelle Vincent
Plymouth, MN
Blueprint recommendations:
#15 – Access to Women’s Health Care

A returning WFMN Innovator, Rochelle will invest in her birth and doula services business, Lotus Body Works, by taking business and management courses to grow the capacity of her business and her role as manager.

Lia Yang
Minneapolis, MN
Blueprint recommendations:
#16 – Increase Mental Health Support

Lia Yang is invested in amplifying the importance of mental health in the Hmong community and beyond. Lia will work with youth through the University of Minnesota and the Twin Cities YMCA and create a mental health awareness campaign that includes mental health kits with resources for individuals.

Elizabeth Zalanga
St. Paul, MN
Blueprint recommendations:
#3 – Reframe Harmful Narratives
#6 – Increase Awareness of Violence Against Young Women
#3 – Ensure Community Spaces and Conversations

Elizabeth will expand her video series and create a documentary highlighting gender-based violence through a race lens.

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