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Catalyzing Change by Embedding Youth Voice in Philanthropy

This blog was first published by the Council of Michigan Foundations. Read the original post.

Youth voice in philanthropy is a necessity. Without it, we limit community sustainability and impact. 

Jeremiah Steen

Many foundations and individual philanthropists provide resources to key funding areas such as education, health care, arts and culture, and community and economic development with the goal of supporting youth-centered programming, but many of them fail to seek advice or consultation from youth. The lack of youth presence when planning and funding youth-centered work strips youth of their ability to create a community that reflects their interest. By centering youth in the planning of this work, it ensures it’s informed by youth voice and creates a collective vision for the future.

There is a need for more foundations, individual philanthropists, and community organizations to provide equitable opportunities for young people to lead giving initiatives and programming. 

Youth also hold a level of responsibility in ensuring their voices are heard. Youth must organize and create opportunities to amplify their voices. What does this look like? A few examples are youth-led grassroots organizing, developing a youth advisory group or forming a coalition of youth groups under an aligned mission. The combined effort of youth agency and adult support in philanthropy—especially when the goal is to serve a youth population—is not only a more ethical approach, but it ensures that youth remain at the frontline when addressing issues that impact them.

In 2018, I concluded an experience as the youngest participant to date in the Jane Goodall Roots & Shoots Fund II National Fellowship. I returned home filled with hope, ready to create change in my community. While thinking about the most effective way to bring change, I remembered Jane Goodall’s sage advice: “Every individual matters. Every individual has a role to play. Every individual makes a difference.” This quote, coupled with my awareness of the lack of youth agency in philanthropy, led me to develop the Steen Foundation. 

The goal of my operational foundation is to increase the organizing capacity of youth, promote strong inquisitive thinking amongst youth and support youth in broadening their view of community through a creative perspective. The Steen Foundation provides internships, fellowships, scholarships, and grants aimed at ensuring young people have the skills necessary to earn jobs based on their interests. The Steen Foundation will continue growing and providing more opportunities that center the interest of youth by having them lead the way from start to finish.

Youth-led giving initiatives are already creating change in communities. The Skillman Foundation President’s Youth Council—of which I am a member—just provided $105,000 in unrestricted funding to 15 community organizations. This opportunity provided us with the chance to research local organizations, advocate for those we saw making the greatest difference, and direct dollars to support them. When youth are given the opportunity to create change, trusted to make ethical decisions, and are supported by innovative adult changemakers, the possibilities are limitless.

When youth agency and philanthropy are combined, community impact becomes boundless. It is time to open the door to the future of sustainable youth-led giving and create long-standing global change. What will you do to be a part of centering youth voice in philanthropy?

Jeremiah Steen

Jeremiah Steen is a member of The Skillman Foundation’s President’s Youth Council

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