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Frequently Asked Questions
· What is the Innovation Center?
We strengthen communities by connecting them with their young people. And we strengthen young people by connecting them with their communities.
We train, consult and develop materials that help community organizations and foundations work more effectively.
· How do we work?
We look at what's working in small, grassroots, organizations then create national models based on those successes. We then bring these models to other organizations where they are further strengthened and shaped as they are used. Ultimately, we take what we learn and turn it into concrete training programs and manuals that all organizations can use.
· Can you give me an example of how this process works?
We worked with twelve local activist organizations to study how young people benefit from becoming activists. We learned that young people involved in social change organizations built strong relationships with adults, learned how to be organizers and leaders, and became more involved in their communities. Now we are developing training programs and print materials to help organizations, funders and researchers incorporate these findings into their own work.
· How do you work with communities?
The most important thing we do is make connections.
For example, Brenda Patterson, president of the Hopi Pu'tavi Project on the Hope reservation, was struggling to run an organization with chronic staffing and management problems. She didn't get much support from the community and didn't have peers from whom she could get advice or support. She went to India through our International Youth Development Exchange program to trade ideas and strategies with Indian colleagues. She returned home inspired and renewed, and was able to create a stronger board, find adequate office space, and get nonprofit status for her organizations.
· What else do you offer community organizations?
We connect struggling organizations with colleagues they can learn from and with.
For the Kellogg Leadership for Community Change project we brought together diverse youth and adults from five different communities to learn from and with each other about crossing boundaries, collective leadership and youth-adult partnerships.We set up creative and safe spaces for them to share their challenges and successes and provided customized technical assistance and training for them in areas they requested.
· How do you work with young people?
We help young people and adults work together as true and equal partners. They can achieve better results together than either could alone.
For example, a group of young people and adults in Waupaca, Wisconsin wanted to make their community more responsive to young adults. We helped them figure out how to do it. They began by conducting research on what the young people of Waupaca felt they needed. Based on this research, they persuaded the town to build a skateboard park so that kids would have a safe place to skate. They held a resource fair, which connected community organizations with sixth graders at a local school to offer volunteer opportunities for kids. They even got young people appointed to the Waupaca City Council.
· You work with several foundations. What do you do?
We connect foundations to small grassroots organizations that are doing the kind of work that they want to fund. We also show them how they can incorporate the wisdom of young people into the research and development phase of their projects -- not just connect with youth as end users. It results in programs that truly reflect and respond to young people's and communities' genuine needs and goals.
For example, we helped the Kellogg Foundation create the vision and plan for phase II of their Kellogg Leadership for Community Change project focusing on youth-adult partnerships and collective leadership.Then we assisted them in recruiting diverse applicants from across the country, screening proposals, and designing and implementing technical assistance plans. All the while the goal was to make sure the foundation was hearing from and incorporating the cutting edge voices of youth and communities.
We also worked closely with the Ford Foundation to design and manage a three-year project on youth and community activism. From the start we made the project a partnership between Ford and its grantees. We helped Ford identify and work with local groups such as a Native American group on the Tohono O'odham reservation in Arizona and an African American youth group in Selma, Alabama . We facilitated meetings, provided training, evaluated proposals and monitored progress. It enabled Ford to work with a number of small organizations, something that is typically difficult for a large foundation to do.
· How do you connect foundations to young people?
We help foundations work with young people as partners to craft youth-related initiatives.
We worked with the Time Warner Foundation to create a youth advisory board that does more than hold token meetings. Time Warner recognized that that the future of their company depends on young people. We started by talking with staff to help them figure out how to involve young people in serious strategic planning. Then we formed an advisory board of ten young people who were regular kids, rather than the cream of the crop. These kids weren't afraid to ask the tough questions. They didn't stand on ceremony. Time Warner staff members were amazed at how well these young people understood the foundation's work and could guide its efforts.
· Why should I support you?
The Innovation Center is making real change in the way that foundations, youth organizations, and community groups do business. We don't come in with a few preset ideas or programs and leave. We nurture small organizations and help bring their best practices to funders, academics and other nonprofit organizations. It creates a powerful ripple effect that extends way beyond the original project.
We worked with a frontier community in Nebraska where small farmers were losing their farms to corporate ranchers and parents were losing their kids to out-of-state jobs. We led them through our Building Community process. They identified their community's strengths and developed a community vision. One thing they decided they desperately needed was training in technology in order to stay up to date on cattle prices, connect with other communities and help local businesses stay up-to- date. We helped them to get that training. They were so pleased with the results of the Building Community process that they reached out to other counties in Nebraska . Now, most of the state is using this process to identify their strengths and work collectively to achieve specific goals like purchasing new farm equipment, starting new programs for kids and using computers to increase the efficiency of their farms.