Grantmaking by and for young people has gone global: from the Mott Foundation

By Maggie Jaruzel Potter, Communications Officer, Charles Stewart Mott Foundation

  • YouthBank is by young people and for young people
  • Grantmaking programme challenges and teaches
  • Participants can come from different races, religious backgrounds, and social classes

Universally, youth leadership programmes typically seek to develop a set of skills — self-confidence, problem-solving, team-building, goal-setting, project-planning and decision-making and the like.

YouthBank, however, goes beyond that. It aims to equip young people with these same skills, plus the additional training and resources needed to be good grantmakers, says Vernon Ringland, YouthBank Coordinator at the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland (CFNI).

Vernon Ringland, YouthBank Coordinator, CFNIFor nearly two decades he’s been working with young people in many countries. In the past 10 years, Ringland has focused his time and energy on establishing YouthBank programmes worldwide.

He says many student leadership organizations emphasize discussions on important topics but YouthBank is different in one key way.

“Who actually puts money into young people’s hands and trusts them to do something good with it?” Ringland asked.

Worldwide, approximately 200 YouthBanks do. In the U.S., dozens of Youth Advisory Committees (YACs) do the same. These two young grantmakers programmes started in the early 1990s — first in the U.S., then in Europe a decade later after Ringland visited the Council of Michigan Foundations to learn more about YACs.

Today, YouthBank’s popularity is growing around the globe while improving the way people view teenagers and young adults, all of which is keeping Ringland busy responding to requests for consultations, training and materials from places as diverse as Mozambique in Africa, Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia, Egypt in the Middle East and Brazil in South America.

His expansion work is partially funded with a two-year, $200,000 C.S. Mott Foundation grant to CFNI, and it is done in partnership with many current and former Mott grantees. Among others, the organizations that fund YouthBanks are:

Additionally, the Global Fund for Community Foundations has funded YouthBank initiatives at small community foundations internationally to determine its effectiveness as a tool for civic participation.

With grantmaking at the core of YouthBank programmes, participants are taught both how to identify the needs of local young people and how to address them. Additionally, YouthBank participants actively fundraise to meet the financial matches if required by partner groups supporting the programme; partners often are other youth organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), community foundations, and public, private or corporate funders.

“YouthBank provides a pathway for young people to learn an enormous amount of practical skills,” Ringland said. “YouthBank helps young people speak out on issues that are important to them, so they are influencing local funders and decisionmakers, and also having an impact on the practices of local organizations.”

One such group, the Association for Community Relations (ARC), based in Cluj-Napoca, Romania’s second most populous city behind Bucharest. After learning how YouthBanks were changing lives and communities in Northern Ireland, ARC staff committed to developing the programme throughout Romania. The first was created in ARC’s hometown of Cluj in 2006; ARC now oversees YouthBanks in 11 cities, which are scattered throughout 10 of the country’s 41 counties, says Adina Ana Cristea, ARC’s YouthBank coordinator.

YouthBank Cluj, RomaniaCommunity foundations in Romania often host YouthBanks, but not always, she says, with youth associations sometimes playing that role. Regardless of the hosting group, they all seek participants who are diverse in age, location, and national background, such as Hungarians, Romas and Romanians. The intentional diversity provides opportunities for young people from different backgrounds to interact, including those from groups that have had longstanding prejudices and conflicts, says Cristea, adding “we have seen many breakthroughs.”

For her, working with YouthBank students is invigorating.

“These are high-calibre, beautiful young people with a unique DNA,” she said. “All young people have potential, but those in YouthBank allow it to be shaped, and sometimes under pressure, especially when a project doesn’t turn out the way they had planned.”

Ioana Stupariu, a founding member of the Cluj YouthBank, attends law school full time but gladly volunteers her free time to train YouthBank advisers and participants.

It’s her “moral responsibility” to give back, she says. Stupariu says joining the YouthBank committee in ninth grade was one of the most important decisions she ever made. She stayed in the programme until her high school graduation, and during that time she learned how to be responsible and respectful of others’ opinions.

She remembers surveying the community to determine what the needs of young people were — and then holding fundraisers to meet those needs by awarding grants ranging in size from $300 to $1,000, she says. Among the projects for which Stupariu’s YouthBank committee awarded grants were concerts that pulled the community together, services for young people with disabilities and shows for young artists to display their work.

“YouthBank is a part of who I am,” Stupariu said. “It taught me how to be flexible; how to adapt to different kinds of situations and different kinds of people. I totally believe in the programme.”

Read more about Mott-funded programmes that are helping to develop the next generation of leaders in the U.S. and around the world.

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