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Investing in Young Leaders Fuels Change

What does it take for women and girls in Minnesota to thrive?

Young women don’t come to the table alone. A young woman’s economic opportunity, safety, and leadership has a ripple effect in the well-being of her whole family over generations. When young women of color thrive, families and communities thrive.

Young women work session

Interested in Becoming an Innovator?

The Innovators program provides direct investments to young women and gender-expansive people (ages 16-24) and supports their leadership development with quarterly convenings.

Applications to become an Innovator will open again on May 20, 2024. For questions about this program, contact Erika Idrovo-Cuesta at or 612-236-1814.

About the Program

Young Women are Leading Today

Through the Innovators program of the Young Women’s Initiative of Minnesota, we amplify the leadership, solutions, and strategies of young women through direct investments in their ideas, a transformative cohort model, and coaching to maximize their impact.

Innovators ages 16-24 receive microgrants of $2,500 to implement their ideas and scale their innovations. To strengthen their development, the program is enriched with supportive, cohort-based learning and individual leadership coaching.

Since the inception of the Innovators program in 2018, the Women’s Foundation has made 105 grants totaling to $262,500 to 83 young women and gender-expansive youth from the eight communities of the Young Women’s Initiative: African American, African Immigrant, American Indian, Asian American and Pacific Islander, Latina, Greater MN, LGBTQ+, and Disabilities.

Innovator grants fund projects that advance gender and racial justice by visionary young women who are leading within their communities from the intersections of their identities and experiences.

Microgrants Resource the Vision & Ideas of 15 Young Leaders

Early investments seed lasting change. To build their power for creating transformational change, Innovators pair with a professional mentor of their choosing and meet three times a year for professional coaching and development.

“ The Young Women’s Initiative of Minnesota and the Innovators program is contributing directly to a Minnesota which prioritizes the voices and success of young people of color.” 

Felicia Philibert, WFM Innovator

Innovators Lead on the Frontlines

Kitana Holland

In Healing

As an Innovator, Kitana Holland engaged 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. Today, Kitana is owner and founder of BELITGETFIT and identifies movement as a form of radical self-care and activism.

Monali Bhakta

In Narrative Change

As editor-in-chief of an anti-colorism and body positivity campaign for and with South Asian women in Minnesota, Monali Bhakta is raising awareness about the problematic Eurocentric beauty standards imposed on South Asian communities. Monali seeks to reframe harmful narratives to ensure that all South Asian women feel the self-worth to lead confident, happy lives. She is determined to redefine mainstream beauty while building agency with South Asian young women and gender-expansive people in Minnesota.

Hilal Ibrahim

In Health Care

In 2018, Hilal Ibrahim used her Innovator grant to source materials and create handmade hijabs and henna by and for Muslim women. Working as a phlebotomist, Hilal was able to identify a need for high-quality hospital-grade hijabs and is now working with hospitals across the world on healthcare hijabs. In 2020, her business, H&H, launched a COVID-19 response by donating their sanitary, breakthrough hospital hijabs to more than 700 Muslim frontline healthcare employees in the Minneapolis/St. Paul Area. Hilal continues to scale her business and in 2021, H&H collaborated with Nordstrom for a first-of-its-kind partnership to bring quality, fashionable hijabs and headscarves to Nordstrom stores.

Dieu Do

In Policy

A two-time Innovator, Dieu Do convened young transgender women and nonbinary individuals from cities across Minnesota to learn and build their capacity for political and civic engagement. Dieu hosted convenings in Dakota, Rice, Wadena, Crow Wing, St Louis, and Beltrami county and connected elected officials who are women, transgender women, and nonbinary individuals with other young women and youth interested in advocating for their rural communities. She developed the curriculum for the Future Leaders of Local American Government Fellowship, which uses a trifold model consisting of education, networking, and policy engagement.

Nelsie Yang

In Activism

Nelsie Yang is the youngest and first Hmong American woman to be elected to St. Paul’s City Council. As a first-year Innovator who started the Women of Color Climate Initiative, Nelsie connected with 20 women of color to learn why and how they got involved in climate work. Nelsie found that organizers in and out of state were fighting to stop construction of Line 3, a pipeline in northern Minnesota that violates Indigenous rights and would carry the pollution equivalent of 50 coal power plants through the treaty territory of Anishinaabe peoples. The Innovators program has helped Nelsie become more courageous and execute her vision.

Za'Nia Coleman

In the Arts

As a two-time Innovator, Za’Nia Coleman grew the work of her Tangible Collective, an art and performance showcase, to include a four-part series focused on Black femmes.

“Since starting out in the Innovators program, I now have a fully operational nonprofit and have been able to fund my projects and community programs.”

Ingredients for Impact

In addition to grants, Innovators are a part of a supportive learning community that meets quarterly to strengthen their leadership as they launch nonprofits, create community programming, and grow their businesses.

The Women’s Foundation partners with Black Visions to facilitate quarterly convenings, which are integral to the Innovators’ technical support and leadership development. Each Innovator pairs with a professional mentor of their choosing for professional coaching and development.

To select each cohort of Innovators, we engage a participatory grantmaking committee that includes Young Women’s Cabinet members. Cabinet members on the committee receive training, review proposals, and recommend awards for applicants that best represented the mission, goals, and values of the Young Women’s Initiative of Minnesota.

Read More About All Cohorts of Innovators