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What It Means to Be An Innovator

Image courtesy of Women for Political Change (WFPC). Sixth grade students participate in a WFPC Friends Who Write workshop.

What happens when we invest directly in young women who are creating change now? The Women’s Foundation of Minnesota (WFMN) believes that directly funding the vision and leadership of young women of color brings us closer to creating a state where all people can thrive. As a WFMN Innovator, I used WFMN’s investment in my leadership to implement and scale my work of increasing political engagement with young women and trans and non-binary individuals. 

2018 Innovator Project: Launching Women for Political Change  

2018 and 2019 WFMN Innovator Felicia Philibert
2018 and 2019 WFMN Innovator Felicia Philibert

In 2015, I co-founded the student group Women for Political Change at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities to create a space for young women to talk and learn about politics, organizing, and the overall political process. In 2018, using the WFMN Innovator grant, Women for Political Change (WFPC) was incorporated as 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) sister nonprofits: our WFPC Education & Advocacy Fund and WFPC Political Action Fund. 

Our mission? Holistically invest in the leadership and political power of young women and trans & non-binary individuals throughout Minnesota. 

Our existence is politicized long before we reach the legal voting age, and our journey as political agents extends far beyond the moment we decide to attain a college degree. Within our Education & Advocacy Fund, for which I serve as executive director, we have been able to greatly expand our youth programming using the WFMN Innovator grant. 

Part of the Young Women’s Initiative of Minnesota, the WFMN Innovators program provides one-time $2,500 microgrants directly to young women and non-binary folks of color (ages 16-24) to support their leadership as they implement solutions that advance various recommendations in the Blueprint for Action. In 2018, the program’s pilot year, 22 grant recipients (including myself!) were given the opportunity to turn ideas into equitable reality. We met for four cohort gatherings throughout the year. There, we brainstormed for the future, developed our leadership and professional development skills, and connected on a close-knit, familial level. 

Some projects were one-time occurrences, like attending a conference or traveling. However, many others were ongoing projects, programs, organizations, or businesses that had no end in sight. Well, we all know systemic change cannot fully take place in just a year. 

Building Political Power with Youth 

In December 2018, Women for Political Change launched our pilot program of Friends Who Write, a middle school creative writing program hosted in partnership with Friendship Academy of the Arts. Our first run of the program, which we see as the beginning of our activist leader pipeline, provided 25 sixth-grade students with the tools necessary to begin their leadership journeys, including exploration of identity and other aspects of self using personal artistic narrative. We believe that understanding yourself and the world you live in is critical to effectively getting involved in the formal political process and creating change in your community. 

Augsburg University Chapter of Women For Political Change

We have also been able to expand our high school and college level programming to four student chapters at the U of M, Augsburg University, St. Olaf College, and Spring Lake Park High School. Our chapters are self-governed and host meetings and events on campus to promote political engagement and social justice advocacy. Post-graduation, chapter members stay connected to our growing coalition via the nonprofit organization. 

Seeing the impact that we all were cultivating through our projects, WFMN understood that continuous investment would be necessary. So, they rolled out round two of the program! In addition to the 22 new WFMN Innovators, 11 returning Innovators have received grants in 2019 to continue the work we have been doing to influence our communities. As a returning Innovator, I will continue to participate in cohort meetings and develop this network of brilliant young people who are challenging historically oppressive systems and institutions, as well as expand on the work I began with my first WFMN Innovator grant. 

2019 Innovator Project: Cultivating a Strategic & Sustainable Organization

This year, I will be using the funds for a couple different projects related to Women for Political Change. First, I aim to obtain healing and transformative justice training for our organizational leaders. We have identified through our strategic planning processes that we need knowledge of these skills and theories to truly develop a sustainable organization rooted in equity, healing, and empathy. This is especially important to me as I finish up my degree and pursue a career at the intersection of healing justice, social work, organizing, and nonprofit management. Secondly, I will be pursuing my Project Management Professional (PMP) Certification from the Project Management Institute to better understand how to champion initiatives within my organization. 

As a 22-year-old entrepreneur, I am reminded daily of the systemic barriers put in place to prevent the justice and liberation work I intend to facilitate. Economic access is one the most glaring obstacles. The Young Women’s Initiative of Minnesota and WFMN Innovators program is contributing directly to a Minnesota which prioritizes the voices and success of young people of color. I am so grateful to the Women’s Foundation for the work they have done and continue to do for us. 


By Felicia Philibert

Felicia Philibert is an activist, returning WFMN Innovator, and the co-founder/Education & Advocacy Director of Women for Political Change. She is currently pursuing a degree in social work at Augsburg University and is passionate about prioritizing healing & wellness in political, nonprofit, and other organizing spaces.

This post was adapted from LinkedIn

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