A long journey's first steps

Incorporating voices and experiences from the beginning
Image from cover of fall 2017 MNSights magazine showing people sitting around a table

Entrepreneur and magazine founder Malcolm Forbes said, “It’s so much easier to suggest solutions when you don’t know too much about the problem.”

At the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundations, it is not our practice to visit solutions upon communities. We believe active members of the community are in the best position to articulate their own priorities and provide actionable solutions to their challenges.

The Foundations have changed how we partner with the community and have a keen interest in how community solutions are developed and who is a part of that process. We developed the Informs. Forms. Benefits. ideology to ensure that members of the community are involved in the development of programs that affect them. We believe their voices and experiences must be incorporated from the beginning in informing and forming those programs.

In keeping with our strategic priority of advancing racial equity and our role in fostering a community of engaged change agents, The Foundations have committed $1 million a year over a three-year period to create the African American Futures Initiative, a partnership with more than 20 African American-serving and led organizations. The funding targets specific goals and opportunities related to housing stability, education, economic opportunity and mental health and well-being for African American youth and men ages 11–32. Our research identifies African Americans who reside in Saint Paul as experiencing significant disparities in these areas, males in particular.

To ensure the success of this initiative, we partnered with a cohort of sustaining and larger non-profit organizations serving and led by African American youth and men. This group already possessed the infrastructure that allowed them to participate in this initiative while building upon their existing work.

This ground-breaking initiative is important because it provides community members both the voice to identify and resources to solve problems in their community. It also advances a network of community leadership, helping them work together in a consequential manner. The result of their efforts is a solid cohort which members of other communities can learn from and leverage to affect change within their own communities.

At the Foundations, we recognize that we have the ability to generate solutions to community issues, but unless those who stand to benefit from our work also shape it, sustainable change will not take place.

We also understand that we have opportunities and challenges to address in every community and intend to use our Informs. Forms. Benefits. ideology to determine how we will build the capacity of other communities to address their needs. This is just the first step in a long journey.