Last month, the inaugural class of WFMN Innovators joined together for the last time as a cohort. It was the final of four quarterly gatherings Innovators attended in the past year to develop their leadership skills and connect with one another about the progress of their projects. The last convening was a special celebration of all the milestones and learning Innovators have accomplished during the grant period. Innovators spent the day delivering presentations on their projects that celebrated successes, shared lessons learned, and looked ahead to how they will continue their work as change-makers.

Celebrating Milestones and Learning from Challenges

As part of the grant applications, each Innovator had to identify key recommendations from the Young Women Initiative of Minnesota’s (YWI MN) Blueprint for Action that they would advance with their funded projects. Their final presentations highlighted specific outcomes each Innovator reached to advance the Blueprint recommendations, and were an inspiring display of the depth and diversity of leadership skills within the cohort.

Aurin Chowdhury, appointed DFL State Director in 2018, used her project to advance the Blueprint recommendation of developing young women leaders. Her grant funded travel and mentorship opportunities to develop her capacity for political and civil leadership. “What I found is that many people do not want young women of color to be in positions of major voting power,” Aurin reflected, “so it is important that now we build a pipeline for young women of color, and trans and non-binary people of color, in political organizing.”

In addition to her DFL appointment, Aurin managed the campaign for Minnesota House Representative Aisha Gomez, served as organizing director for Hennepin County Commissioner Angela Conley’s campaign, and continued her work in advocating for youth in politics with Women for Political Change, an organization founded by fellow Innovator Felicia Philibert.

Scene from Hilal’s Henna & Hijabs commercial.

Innovators also used entrepreneurship and the arts to move Blueprint recommendations forward. Hilal Ibrahim used her grant to fund the creation of a commercial for her business, Henna and Hijabs, which advances the recommendations to reframe harmful narratives and ensure community spaces and conversations. Although she encountered several obstacles throughout the commercial’s creation, Hilal learned from the process. “The most profound lesson I learned was that it is okay for our ideas to evolve and change so long as we are meeting our goals,” Hilal shared.

Innovators received certificates and celebrated with cake baked by Innovator Kayla Davis.

Other Innovators used their grants to improve safety and well-being for young women. Rochelle Vincent grew her birthing and natal services business, Lotus Birthworks, with her grant award. The funds helped her complete additional schooling, provide postpartum support for free to low-income families, and mitigate unexpected business losses. Molly Dane advanced the same recommendation by creating a financial sustainability tool that support centers for reproductive justice. Molly’s tool was so valuable and effective that a national association adopted a full-time worker to implement the tool with additional clinics. 

Bringing More to Minnesota 

From expanding their businesses, to providing care and healing services, to using theater, film, and photography to spark positive social change, the leadership and vision of this group exemplify the strong impact and momentum of the Young Women’s Initiative. We know that these young women are not only the leaders of tomorrow, but also the leaders of today, and we are proud to invest in their leadership now.

What’s next for the WFMN Innovators program? We look forward to announcing the next cohort of WFMN Innovators soon. In addition to announcing 22 new Innovators for a second year, we will also welcome 11 returning Innovators to receive additional funding and to step into leadership roles to support the new class. The inaugural class has set the bar high for innovation and impact, and we can’t wait to introduce the next group of Innovators bringing more equity to Minnesota!

By Ruby Oluoch, Communications Project Manager

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