Strengthening A Nascent Field: Lessons from the Building Leadership and Organizing Capacity Initiative

Publication date: 
August, 2023

Over the past five years, the need for – and power of – young people’s leadership and action in the civic sphere has been palpable. Whether challenging the criminalization of youth of color in schools and communities, advancing the rights of immigrant and undocumented youth and families, or mobilizing to challenge current gun policies, young people have disrupted the status quo, advanced a bold vision for equity and justice, and held those with governing power, from city councils and school boards to the halls of Congress, accountable in order to change unjust laws and policies.

Philanthropy must be held to account as well. Young people have long been the “beneficiaries” of charitable largesse. But providing philanthropic support to “help” young people without addressing underlying policies and systems is tantamount to using one’s fingers to plug the holes of a dam.

In 2012, the Perrin Family Foundation (PFF) shifted its mission and strategy to focus on supporting youth-led social change. A New Role for Connecticut Youth: Leaders of Social Change, a field scan which PFF published in 2013, found that youth organizing in Connecticut was a nascent field and documented numerous obstacles facing youth-led social change groups, including the historic underinvestment in youth and community organizing and leadership of people of color in Connecticut. The scan also made clear that our desire to support youth-led social change in Connecticut would require a commitment to more than just a grant strategy.

Over the past six years, we have begun to see tangible shifts in our state’s social change landscape. The number of youth organizing groups across the state is growing, and they are securing local and statewide campaign victories. Youth organizing groups are networked and connected to each other and collaborate across issue areas. Local and statewide coalitions of youth groups are emerging in order to develop and advance shared agendas. Racial justice has become more central in the analysis of groups working for social change, and the philanthropic support for youth and community organizing work across Connecticut is slowly beginning to grow...

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