On a Saturday in August, the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota (WFMN) Innovators gathered to engage in leadership development, advocacy opportunities, and community building as part of their quarterly work together as a cohort. WFMN Innovators are the 22 young women who have been awarded one-time $2,500 grants for projects that advance key recommendations in the Young Women’s Initiative of Minnesota (YWI MN) Blueprint for Action. For their second convening, Innovators reflected on the progress they have made in their projects, continued building relationships, and gained practical leadership skills.

The Relationship Between Small and Large

The theme of the day was scaling change beginning with the individual. Kandace Montgomery leads the convenings of the Innovators program, bringing expertise in local and national community organizing to support Innovators in managing their projects. Innovators began the day providing brief updates on their projects, then moved into an exercise examining systems of change. The group discussed Emergent Strategy by adrienne maree brown, which argues that greater transformation begins with oneself.

Innovators were asked to consider how the actions they make at the small scale set the patterns for systems change. “Even though what I am doing is local and small, it does have a huge impact and it trickles down,” said Atlese Robinson, of her work teaching playwriting classes to young black women and exploring the canon of black theater. Other Innovators concurred, expressing how affirming it was to think about their projects as a part of a greater system of change. Maddie Thomas, who is working on a project to increase mental health support to middle school youth, explained the reverberating effect of change: “a water droplet causing a ripple for you could be a wave for someone else.”

 

Building Connections

Relationship-building was another focus of the morning. Innovators discussed the importance of connecting with others outside their project work in order to stay rooted in a shared sense of humanity. Felicia Philibert shared, “It’s not just having human relationships to organize, but also helping others acknowledge their inner identity.” Puma Saballos, who is taking courses to become a healing practitioner of Flower Essences added, “there is an ask for more openness, and widening your vision for the fullness of the people around you, a stretch for more intimacy and vulnerability, and creating connections because we are human.”

Harnessing Skills

The afternoon shifted into skill-based learning on storytelling and project management. Innovators explored the many roles storytelling has in building movements for social change, from creating empathy and sharing truths to catalyzing action. “In order to learn and connect with one another, we have to be able to tell stories and to build intimacy between individuals,” said Tamika-Jo Andy, a sexual health and community advocate using an Innovator grant to attend the 16th National Indian Nations Conference hosted by the Office for Victims of Crime. As Innovators shared their visions for change, they built connections and shared the power of storytelling with one another.

The day ended with a discussion of several project management tools and practices to keep Innovator projects organized. Kandace outlined the major steps to managing a project, including reflecting, clarifying your vision, executing, monitoring, and evaluating, and shared tools to aid Innovators in their organization.

As Innovators continue work on their year-long projects, the convenings provide opportunities to discuss their processes and build on their commitment to change culture through community-building and leadership. In a shared space, the vitality and leadership of these young women demonstrate that the work they are building with communities and the Young Women’s Initiative signal a promising future for a more equitable Minnesota.

By Ruby Oluoch, Communications Project Manager

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