The Women’s Foundation of Minnesota (WFMN) announced new investments in its third cohort of WFMN Innovators – 23 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 $2,500 grant, representing a total investment of $57,500. Five Innovators from the current cohort are receiving the grant for the second time, deepening the impacts of their projects through multi-year investment. In total, the Women’s Foundation has granted more than $2 million through the Young Women’s Initiative of Minnesota since 2016.

Through a transformative model, the Women’s Foundation amplifies the leadership of young women through direct investments in their ideas for maximum impact and momentum. Each quarter, the cohort convenes virtually to engage in community-building with one another, facilitated by Black Visions. To further develop their capacity for leadership, WFMN invests in individual leadership coaches representing YWI MN’s target communities to mentor the Innovators through one-on-one coaching on project management, process, and professional and leadership development. After two years, the Innovators program was being replicated by other women’s foundations across the country, highlighting the innovative power in direct and early investments in the young women leading change on the ground today.

“The time is now to invest in the vision of young women,” said Lulete Mola, WFMN vice president of community impact. “Since launching the WFMN Innovators program in 2018 we have seen monumental impact and a return on our investments. In this moment of social transformation, Innovators are leading change on the frontlines and in their communities to address long standing injustices and disparities across systems that must shift. Often, these young women are rendered invisible, not taken seriously, or not given the respect they deserve. The Women’s Foundation of Minnesota through the Young Women’s Initiative of Minnesota believes in the power of young women, particularly young women of color living at the intersections of many identities. We are investing directly in their ideas and solutions, following their leadership, and adapting to what they need in this time of COVID-19 and racial justice uprising. It is our equity strategy for whole community well-being because when young women of color thrive, all young women, families, and community thrive.”

Through video 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 in February, 2020. 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.

About WFMN’s Young Women’s Initiative

The Young Women’s Initiative of Minnesota is on a mission to create a Minnesota where every young woman thrives. Launched in 2016, the Young Women Initiative is WFMN’s 7-year, $10 million statewide initiative that centers the leadership and solutions of young women of color, American Indian young women, young women from Greater Minnesota, LGBTQ+ youth, and young women with disabilities between the ages of 12 and 24. Co-led with the Governor’s Office of the State of Minnesota, it is the first statewide initiative of its kind in the nation aimed at improving equity for young women through economic opportunity, safety, and leadership.  

For a state that consistently ranks highly in quality-of-life, educational attainment, and workforce participation, Minnesota has some of the worst racial disparities for girls of color at the intersections of gender, race, age, and geography. Consequently, young women from eight communities – African American, African Immigrant, American Indian, Asian American and Pacific Islander, Latina, Greater MN, Disabilities, and LGBTQ+ youth – face the greatest barriers.     

As a public-private partnership between WFMN and the Governor’s Office of the State of Minnesota, we use a collective impact model to bring corporations, researchers, nonprofits, and higher-education institutions together to catalyze large-scale change.   

Innovator projects and ideas align with one or more of the Blueprint for Action recommendations that was created in partnership with young women from eight communities and informed by WFMN Listening Sessions. 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. Innovator projects reframe harmful narratives, enhance career pathways, develop young women as leaders, and prevent violence through healthy relationships.

The Women’s Foundation defines woman as anyone who identifies as a woman and/or girl, inclusive of transgender and gender expansive people that experience gender-based structural harm.

Alisha Chaudhry – WFMN InnovatorAlisha Chaudhry
Rochester, MN
Blueprint recommendation:
#3: Reframe Harmful Narratives

Alisha will facilitate “Sex Ed for Us,” a platform that engages young people in comprehensive and equitable sexual health education through virtual reality experiences to explore narratives that are inclusive of sexual identity, gender, race, and socioeconomic status.

Za'Nia Coleman – WFMN InnovatorZa’Nia Coleman
Minneapolis, MN
Blueprint recommendation:
#3: Reframe Harmful Narratives

As a returning Innovator, Za’Nia will grow the work of her Tangible Collective, an art and performance showcase, to include a four-part series focused on Black femmes. She will also continue her own leadership development.

Andrea Duarte-Alonso – WFMN InnovatorAndrea Duarte-Alonso
Worthington, MN
Blueprint recommendation:
#3: Reframe Harmful Narratives

Andrea will continue leading Stories of Unheard Voices, an online oral-storytelling platform that highlights immigrants’ and children of immigrant’s storytelling. Andrea, an alumna of the Young Women’s Cabinet, will host three workshops for young women around storytelling in Worthington and surrounding cities. After the workshops, the women will return to their communities to record and create stories with individuals, which will be produced and published online. This project will bring light to the stories of struggle and triumph for the many immigrant and refugee communities in Southwest Minnesota.

Dieu Do – WFMN InnovatorDieu Do
Saint Paul, MN
Blueprint recommendation:
#9: Develop Young Women Leaders

Dieu will convene young transgender women and nonbinary individuals from cities across Minnesota to learn and build their capacity for political and civic engagement. Over the course of Fall 2020 and early winter, Dieu will host convenings in Dakota, Rice, Wadena, Crow Wing, St Louis, and Beltrami county. Learning will take place by connecting in community with elected officials who are also women, transgender women, and nonbinary individuals, and with other young women and youth interested in advocating for their rural communities.

Hope Hoffman – WFMN InnovatorHope Hoffman
Champlin, MN
Blueprint recommendations:
#3: Reframe Harmful Narratives
#9: Develop Young Women Leaders

Hope, a returning Innovator, will continue the work of DISrupt, a 501(c)4 organization that she incorporated in February 2020. It is a collective of self-advocates, partners, families, and allies calling for a systematic disruption of discrimination against people with disabilities.

Kitana Holland – WFMN InnovatorKitana Holland
Minneapolis, MN
Blueprint recommendation:
#5: Enhance Career Pathways

Kitana will engage in leadership development as a health and fitness coach for communities of color. Her goal is to promote and create accessibility to health and wellness in communities so people feel liberated, inspired, and transformed as they learn to be present and aware of the needs of the mind, body, and soul.

Miles Jamison – WFMN InnovatorMiles Jamison
Minneapolis, MN
Blueprint recommendation:
#3: Reframe Harmful Narratives

Miles, a music producer and songwriter, will work with Innovator Kamilla Love to produce a studio-recorded album that focuses on the experiences of trans Black women and reframes harmful narratives around the choice to physically transition. Through this artistic collaboration, Miles and Kamilla intend to show how choosing the path of medical transition as trans Black women is not only a validating experience but empowering and liberating.

Melinda Kassandra Lopez – WFMN InnovatorMelinda K. Lopez
Truman, MN
Blueprint recommendations:
#3: Reframe Harmful Narratives
#5: Enhance Career Pathways
#9: Develop Young Women Leaders
#17: Prevent Violence Through Healthy Relationships

Melinda, a returning Innovator, will continue her project, “Women as DREAMS” (Driven, Resilient, Empowered, and Accepted Minnesotans) by traveling around Greater Minnesota to speak with diverse audiences on how to navigate male-dominated fields.

Kamilla Love
Minneapolis, MN
Blueprint recommendation:
#3: Reframe Harmful Narratives

Kamilla, an audio engineer, photographer, and visual artist, will work with Innovator Miles Jamison to produce a studio-recorded album that focuses on the experiences of trans Black women to reframe harmful narratives about the choice to physically transition. Through this artistic collaboration, Miles and Kamilla intend to show how choosing the path of medical transition as trans Black women is not only a validating experience but empowering and liberating.

Teighlor McGee – WFMN InnovatorTeighlor McGee
Minneapolis, MN
Blueprint recommendation:
#3: Reframe Harmful Narratives

As a returning Innovator, Teighlor will continue the work of The Black Disability Collective, an online platform Teighlor began in 2019 to reframe mainstream narratives and depictions of disabilities within the Black community. Innovator funding will also be used to continue distributing and coordinating medical aid to protesters in the Twin Cities.

Ana Packham – WFMN InnovatorAna Mendoza Packham
Saint Paul, MN
Blueprint recommendation:
#5: Enhance Career Pathways

Ana, the development director at Women for Political Change (WFPC), will create an ethical fundraising and development framework within a structure that creates significant economic barriers to all people experiencing marginalization, including young Black women, young women of color, and Indigenous young women. WFPC invests in the leadership and political power of young women and trans and non-binary folks, and since the killing of George Floyd, has expanded their mutual aid program to support community members on the frontlines, especially Black youth and their families.

Nadia Mohamed – WFMN InnovatorNadia Mohamed
Minneapolis, MN
Blueprint recommendation:
#9: Develop Young Women Leaders

Nadia is the first Somali American and Muslim elected to St. Louis Park’s city council in 2019. She ran for office when she realized how much her voice and the voices of other young women of color are needed in leadership positions. Her project, the African Empowerment Group, will focus on nurturing the civic engagement and self-advocacy of young women of color who are students at St. Louis Park High School.

Alexis Murillo – WFMN InnovatorAlexis M. Murillo
Minneapolis, MN
Blueprint recommendations:
#3: Reframe Harmful Narratives
#5: Enhance Career Pathways
#9: Develop Young Women Leaders
#17: Prevent Violence Through Healthy Relationships

Alexis, a returning Innovator, will continue the work of Cultivate You, the business she began using her first year of Innovator funding. Her project will grow to host events and create products under her name as she continues to build working relationships and further her professional development.

Amai Muse – WFMN InnovatorAmal Muse
Minneapolis, MN
Blueprint recommendation:
#9 – Develop Young Women Leaders

Amal, a Young Women’s Cabinet alumna, is joining a delegation trip to Colombia to learn about climate justice issues. She plans to work with Sisterhood Boutique, a fashion resale boutique she co-founded, designed and run by East African women ages 14-23 who reside in and around the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis to host workshops for young women around geopolitics and ecotourism.

Gayatri Narayanan – WFMN InnovatorGayatri Narayanan
Minneapolis, MN
Blueprint recommendation:
#9: Develop Young Women Leaders

In partnership with Innovator Tatyana Nelima, Gayatri will build a team of 10 young women of color from Brooklyn Park to lead community projects that monitor local ecology, understand urban planning, and articulate their needs as advocates for environmental sustainability. This project was created to address how young women of color across class backgrounds engage with green spaces.

Sonia Neculescu – WFMN InnovatorSonia Neculescu
Minneapolis, MN
Blueprint recommendation:
#9: Develop Young Women Leaders

Sonia will engage in leadership development, network building, and increasing organizational capacity through her role as political action director at Women for Political Change (WFPC), a Young Women’s Initiative grantee-partner. Sonia was one of the founding members of WFPC alongside WFMN Innovator alumna Felicia Philibert. WFMN was an early funder of both WFPC’s leadership team and the organization, which holistically invests in the leadership and political power of young women and trans and non-binary individuals throughout Minnesota.

Tatyana Nelima – WFMN InnovatorTatyana Nelima
Brooklyn Park, MN
Blueprint recommendation:
#9: Develop Young Women Leaders

In partnership with Innovator Gayatri Narayanan, Tatyana will build a team of 10 young women of color from Brooklyn Park who will lead community projects to monitor local ecology, understand urban planning, and articulate their needs as advocates for environmental sustainability. This project will address how young women of color across class backgrounds engage with green spaces.

Janet Nguyen – WFMN InnovatorJanet Nguyen
Minneapolis, MN
Blueprint recommendations:
#3: Reframe Harmful Narratives
#17: Prevent Violence Through Healthy Relationships

Janet will create a digital magazine and community resource highlighting the work of queer people of color and organizations working to end gender-based violence in Minneapolis during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Oluwatomini Ola – WFMN InnovatorOluwatomini Ola
Inver Grove Heights, MN
Blueprint recommendation:
#17: Prevent Violence Through Healthy Relationships

Oluwatomini will build “Eyes on the Lens,” a photography project accompanied by talking circles focused on deconstructing relationship problems and advocating for healthy dating relationships in the African immigrant community and Black community. These talking circles will happen virtually as will the dissemination of the photography project. As part of her leadership development, Oluwatomini will participate in the inaugural Childhood Summer Institute as a Carlson Scholar This summer program will equip future leaders with knowledge about the global epidemic of child abuse and exploitation.

Miiskogihmiiwan Poupart-Chapman – WFMN InnovatorMiiskogihmiiwan Poupart-Chapman
Minneapolis, MN
Blueprint recommendation:
#3: Reframe Harmful Narratives

Miiskogihmiiwan will make a series of online video tutorials on Native regalia and Native dance to continue passing down cultural knowledge. Miiskogihmiiwan is Bear Clan from Lac du Flambeau, Wisc., and is an Anishinaabe and Dakota woman. Remembering her culture is one way that Miiskogihmiiwan reframes harmful narratives and stereotypes of Native American people.

Sarah Swedburg – WFMN InnovatorSarah Swedburg
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 convene young women in Willmar to discuss how young women in Greater Minnesota can make an impact in their communities. The convenings will provide leadership development and training through presentations by community leaders.

Cydi Yang – WFMN InnovatorCydi Yang
Oakdale, MN
Blueprint recommendation:
#3: Reframe Harmful Narratives

Cydi will convene a small group of Asian women as part of the Damn You’re Beautiful Asian Women Performative Spoken Art Cohort. This group will provide a healing space for Asian women to hold difficult conversations and find support to address the expectations they feel connected with their identities and roles.

Nelsie Yang – WFMN InnovatorNelsie Yang
Saint Paul, MN
Blueprint recommendations:
#3: Reframe Harmful Narratives
#9: Develop Young Women Leaders

Nelsie will organize for climate action and build shared power among women of color in the climate action movement. Nelsie is also the first Hmong woman and the youngest St. Paul City Council member sworn into office. In her role, Nelsie is tackling housing, climate action and justice, and funding community centered solutions.

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