Introducing The Skillman Visionary Awards

2022, we’re ready for you

Over the past few years, we have been building our internal practice and muscle to be a highly developed learning organization. When we launched the Opportunity Agenda for Detroit Children, that commitment took center stage; knowing that systems change work required an effortful dynamic approach to soliciting insights, we created time for shared syntheses and sense-making across different perspectives.

The Foundation has taken many different swings and approaches to our year-end review and planning process. In 2021, we tried something new: we made a formal effort to solicit feedback from several of our grant partners, engaged an outside evaluator to conduct confidential interviews to ensure some safe space for real and honest feedback, and compiled themes to underline collective and complementary wisdom.

Our partners’ insights are invaluable to our work. They’re more proximate to the needs of young people and have a powerful perspective on what’s shifting in the landscape. They specifically shared ideas about young people’s evolving needs and how we can work better in our three impact areas: K-12 education, afterschool, and college and career pathways.

Below is a summary of what we learned from our partners in 2021 and how we plan to use those lessons to be better champions of Detroit children in 2022.

What we heard from our partners in 2021:

Children are struggling with the ongoing pandemic. Young people and the adults who support them are navigating unprecedented tolls on their mental health and well-being. Nevertheless, they are not defined by the trauma they have faced. Young people know what they need right now, and adults must give them the space to share their voices, leadership, and brilliance.

Staffing shortages affect children. Teachers are burnt out and leaving the profession. Competitive compensation for nonprofit staff is harder to come by in a tight labor market. The demands and worries on youth development professionals are exhausting. These professionals have demonstrated resilience, but they also require relief and support.

Relief money is coming—knowing where it can go is difficult. Our partners, many of whom have engaged in advocacy and decision making around the tremendous stimulus investments in our schools, city, county, and state, are working in partnership to ensure their perspectives are heard. It is crucial that funding gets to the places and people who need it most. Still, these funds are temporary. If we fail to support what is fragile now, it will be all that much harder to make our communities whole in the coming years.

Trust is paramount. Funders have adopted new practices that focus on general operating support, reduced reporting burden, and prioritized sustainable funding. However, partners are worried that these practices will shift back to pre-pandemic models. They want us to continue reducing reliance on quantitative impact data and to take more risks in funding and partnerships to support innovation from the people working closest to Detroit children.

Neighborhood-based community development organizations have increased momentum in their power-building work. They not only provide important resources and supports to residents; they are uniquely positioned to inform and shape issues important to their constituents because they are proximate and trusted. We and our partners rely heavily on their work and insights to guide our strategies.

Imperative for racial justice and healing. The pandemic has laid bare and amplified the trauma and harm caused by racial inequities. Coupled with racial reckoning, COVID-19 has intensified the impatience for change—a “fierce urgency of now.” Communities and leaders of color have carried a disproportionate burden. There must be a greater focus on intentional space and support for healing and care. Especially with a new leader at the helm, there is an opportunity for the Foundation to bring a fresh eye to what has worked well, what could use improvement, and why.

Ready for 2022

As a program team, we are finalizing our grantmaking plan for the year ahead. The feedback and insights from our grant partners have shaped and confirmed our thinking.

For the Foundation, 2022 will be a year of continued evolution. We will invest time in-house and with our Trustees to map a forward plan and will continue to share our thinking as it evolves, in consultation with key stakeholders and partners. We will pivot where we need to do things differently.

We are thinking deeply across the organization about how we walk our mission: how we do our work, interrogating our internal practices; how we can more fully share power; and how we might take a different approach to measurement and accountability.

Angelique—our new CEO—outlined seven steps for 2022 and beyond for us to walk our mission and advance youth power, racial justice, and systems change. Our Program Team contemplated these seven steps and took to heart what our partners have shared. As a result, our Program Team is entering 2022 with the following commitments.

(Steps are listed in no particular order)

1. A racial equity audit to track where and how every dollar—from grantmaking, expenses, and operations—is spent in our city.

2. Better understand how racial justice fits in our current work and how we can better embed it in our future work.

  • Be more explicit about our focus on educators and leaders of color. Principals and teachers have voiced what they need this year. Now, it is time to act, especially for educators and leaders of color. Investing in people, not just programs or organizations, is essential to foster trust and change systems.
  • Lean into the tensions required to move policy and systems change. There are important windows of opportunity for policy change and increased investment that will require agitators, orchestrators that build bridges and connect ideas, and innovators to dream up new ways.

3. Honor and amplify youth power to make key decisions and share their voices around the issues that matter to them.

  • Explore how to amplify youth organizing and build youth power with our partners. We must do everything we can with our partners to best position young people to lead in our city and our country.
  • Work with our President’s Youth Council to continue to get their insights. They have already proven their clout as grantmakers and influencers in our work, and we will continue to ask them where and how we can give our grant dollars to best benefit Detroit kids.

4. Firm up our place in systems change efforts to change the odds for Detroit kids.

  • Deepen our team’s and partners’ understanding of system change so we have more ways to learn and make sense of what’s happening, why, and what might be possible.
  • Sharpen our work in high schools to adapt to the realities of the pandemic and ensure systems support young people. We will work with students, educators, and other partners to help Detroit students transition from high school to college and career success.
  • Support high-quality and emerging out-of-school time providers and spaces. Afterschool providers are dedicated, but we can do more to support them in providing safe, welcoming, and enriching environments for our children.
  • Foster more connections between early childhood and K-12 schools and educators. The pandemic has an outsized impact on our youngest learners and needs intentional focus and innovation.

5. Ensure we use our role and leverage to be better partners across sectors.

  • Listen carefully alongside our new CEO on her listening tour. We have a tremendous opportunity to examine and consider where and how our strategy should evolve together.
  • Continue learning from our partners. We will keep listening to you, working with you to make sense of the data and insights we collect, sharing our learnings with you, and shaping and reshaping our work based on what we hear from you.

6. Share power by making sure those impacted by our work help steer it.

  • Resource more power-building partners and enable them to advocate for issues important to young people. We must think about how to resource organizations to be stronger and bolder advocates for their communities and how we can help.
  • Be okay with funding different approaches to the same problems. There are no silver-bullet solutions, and no organization, initiative, or sector can accomplish systemic change alone. We will back an array of approaches to drive change.

7. Hold ourselves accountable to Detroit kids, as they are the center of our work.

  • Champion data that tracks child well-beingand reconsider how we measure our work and that of our grant partners. We’re dedicated to being a trusted partner and to shifting power to those most impacted by broken systems. We know this means we must carefully assess our role and our impact in the community.
  • Amplify our focus on youth and adult well-being through our Wellness Works initiative. More than ever, it is vital that we provide supports that foster health and healing for our young people as well as for the adults who care for them, including educators and out-of-school providers.

These priorities are top of mind as we step into 2022, resolving each day to be a better partner and advocate. As we continue to learn from our partners, Detroit children, and the community at large, we will demonstrate flexibility and dedication to ensure young people can achieve their greatest aspirations.

We want to hear your feedback on our work and strategies. Please consider taking this short survey.

Comments (1)

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  • Lisa Crawford -

    “They want us to continue reducing reliance on quantitative impact data and to take more risks in funding and partnerships to support innovation from the people working closest to Detroit children.”

    This is a powerful, important shift for those receiving the grants. The practice of many foundations in not allowing funds to go towards general operating costs, requiring nonprofits to create new programs with the stipulation they show quantitative impact data, was inhibiting to those who do one thing and do it well. If they don’t have the money to operate, they can’t provide their valuable services to the community.

    Thank you for having the vision to see the bigger picture and for taking the time to not only listen, but to incorporate the feedback of those who receive your funds.

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