Introducing The Skillman Visionary Awards

Gen Z Design Sessions: A Year Later

With time comes change. Organizations, institutions and public systems must be continually recreated to meet the prospects and possibilities of the future. Doing this successfully takes understanding and involving the future generations–our young people.

The current generation of youth, Gen Z, is intentional about the future they want for themselves. We hosted Gen Z Design Sessions in partnership with Detroit organizations to learn from youth input and to reimagine what could be. When organizations listen to and work with youth the impact can be powerful.

Learning to Listen, Listening to Learn

Three members of The Skillman Foundation President’s Youth Council presented at the 2022 Mackinac Policy Conference. At 19-22 years old, they were the first young people to take the stage in the conference’s 40+ year history. They urged the audience of government, business, and community leaders to engage young people in building the future of Michigan, putting out a call to action to engage Gen Z as consultants in strategic planning. 

To facilitate this call to action, The Skillman Foundation began organizing the Gen Z Design Sessions where youth strategists built connections with organizational leaders, sharing direct feedback on strategic questions and offering fresh ways of approaching stubborn issues. 

Six organizations participated in the Gen Z Design Sessions between November 2022 to February 2023. Now, a year later, we followed up with organizations to hear about organizational changes that were made in response to the young strategists’ input. Below are the highlights.

Detroit Youth Ambassador Program 

City of Detroit Department of Neighborhoods staff talk with Gen Z Strategists about how they can engage youth in their work.

After meeting with the youth strategists, the City of Detroit Department of Neighborhoods went home impressed and eager to work with youth more deeply. The youth strategists urged the Department of Neighborhoods that in order to engage youth in community programming they need to have youth on their staff. DON did just that, opening up five mayoral fellow positions in the summer of 2023. Out of those five positions, two were filled by youth strategists and Skillman President’s Youth Council members who they met in the Gen Z Design session, Shamere Duncan and Willyne Smith. 

This cohort of DON mayoral fellows designed a Detroit Youth Ambassador Program to “build a pipeline for young people” to engage in city government. The mayoral fellows presented this program plan to Mayor Mike Duggan and earned the enthusiastic support of their program. The Detroit Youth Ambassador program will now be piloted under the leadership of Shamere Duncan.

Youth Align to Advise 

Life Remodeled staff take notes while listening to Gen Z Strategists discuss their programs and supports for youth.

Youth strategists’ meeting with representatives from Life Remodeled, an organization working to provide Detroiters with innovative spaces for job opportunities, community resources, and youth programs, highlighted the need for greater youth involvement in decision-making and also innovative transportation solutions. 

Life Remodeled Director of Youth and Community Engagement Stepha’N Quicksey spoke about how learnings have been implemented through an eleven student Durfey Innovation Society Youth Alliance which meets once weekly after school at Durfey Middle School to plan youth and family events for the entire community. The youth are compensated for their time with stipends and summer employment through Grow Detroit. A transportation needs analysis will also inform resolutions for those facing transportation barriers.

From Intentional to Entrepreneurial

Gen Z Strategist, Lindsay Keener, shares insight with Connect Macomb staff.

The Gen Z youth strategists implored representatives of the Sterling Heights Regional Chamber of Commerce (SHRCC) to prioritize intentional messaging and concentrate on improving their marketability with local youth. In response, the Chamber made a major shift towards emphasizing “the needs of the next generation of business entrepreneurs”. The Chamber, now rebranded as Connect Macomb, currently directs its efforts heavily toward planning for future generations of business owners and entrepreneurs in the greater Macomb County communities.

Computer Science Education Grounded In Youth

We caught up with Kapor Center Project Director Kalisha Davis about how the Design Sessions helped to reify the Kapor Center’s goal to increase access to and participation in rigorous and culturally responsive computer science education. 

The Kapor Center, a foundation focused on the intersection between racial justice and technology, is working to develop a coalition of adult leaders in technology to support policy change. While Kalisha and team already had intentions for a youth advisory board, suggestions made by Gen Z youth strategists included ensuring youth autonomy and diversity of experience. They encouraged messaging to highlight how computer science relates to other youth interests, which would help youth see computer science as an option for growth and development. 

Kalisha shared that the sessions proved that the Kapor Center’s work was “bigger than putting young people in tech jobs.” She stated that with so much adult representation in the coalition, it was “great to be grounded in the youth.”

Read more about the Gen Z Design Sessions and what advice the youth strategist offered. 

What excites you about Gen Z involvement in addressing community issues?

The Skillman Foundation

The Skillman Foundation is a grantmaking organization established in 1960 by Rose Skillman. We have granted out more than $730 million and have served as a vocal advocate to strengthen K-12 education, afterschool programming, child-centered neighborhoods, youth and community leadership, and racial equity and justice.

We are in the process of developing a new strategic framework, co-designed with Detroit youth and their champions.

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