Capacity Building for Youth-Led Social Change

P. Catlin Fullwood
January 1, 2006

culture and context
book two:
by P. Catlin Fullwood and the Programs of the
Collaborative Fund for Youth-Led Social Change
Edited by Ami Nagle
About the Ms. Foundation for Women
The Ms. Foundation supports the efforts of women and girls to govern their own lives and influence the
world around them. Through its leadership, expertise, and financial support, the Foundation champions
an equitable society by effecting change in public consciousness, law, philanthropy and social policy.
Our work is guided by our vision of a just and safe world where power and possibility are not limited
by gender, race, class, sexual orientation, disability or age. We believe that equity and inclusion are the
cornerstones of a true democracy in which the worth and dignity of every person are valued.
About the Collaborative Fund for Youth-Led Social Change
Launched in 2000, the Collaborative Fund for Youth-Led Social Change (CFYS) grew out of an effort
of funders and youth practitioners to support work at the intersection of youth development, youth
organizing, and gender. The Ms. Foundation was known for understanding the importance of gender
in the lives of young women and men. It was one of the first foundations to promote the merging of
youth development and youth organizing strategies. And, it was ready to learn and share stories about
how youth organizations were combining youth development, youth organizing, and gender-based programming
in their work.
CFYS included a five year cycle (2000-2005) of grantmaking, capacity building, networking and learning.
CFYS raised $2.8 million and engaged 12 youth organizations (represented by staff and youth
leaders) and 20 donors in this collaborative partnership. Grantee partner organizations received threeyear
grants, with additional in-kind assistance for capacity building, networking, and an annual meeting
to advance learning among staff and youth of grantee organizations and donor partners.
CFYS was a national partnership representing diverse organizations and people including:
m Grantee Partners – adults, youth, and organizations and programs that represent diversities in
identity, location, and type of social change work.
m Donor Partners - individuals, women’s funds, community foundations, family foundations, and
corporate and independent foundations that represent the breadth of philanthropy.
m Ms. Foundation Staff and Consultants - experts in program development, research, capacity
building, communications, and development.
The Collaborative Fund for Youth-Led Social Change worked to demonstrate the power and possibility
of young women and men to create positive change in their lives and their communities. As a national
partnership representing a range of diversities including race, class, gender, sexuality, age, immigration
status, location, and type of social change, CFYS supported organizations that promoted gender and
identity-conscious youth leadership and social change in local communities and beyond.
culture and context
Book TWO: Capacity Building for Youth-Led
Social Change
Ms. Foundation for Women
Collaborative Fund for Youth-Led Social Change
by P. Catlin Fullwood and the Programs of the
Collaborative Fund for Youth-Led Social Change
Edited by Ami Nagle

Table of Contents
1_ ____ Introduction: Charting New Territory
2_ ____ Capacity Building for Youth-Led Social Change
12_____ Effective Capacity Building—Lessons from the Field
1. Lessons from the Field: Focus on Multi-Level Strategies
2. Lessons from the Field: Recognize Key Elements of Capacity Building
culture and context
At a time when the youth development field is strong in
theory and practice, and youth organizing is emerging as
a powerful approach, it is critical that youth practitioners
and funders understand the importance of combining
strategies from the two fields. The Collaborative
Fund for Youth-Led Social Change (CFYS) sought to
chart new territory by bringing these fields together
to explore the strength of their union, making explicit
efforts to address issues of gender, race, and age, and
identifying key approaches to successful efforts.
Central to this work was the integration of identity in
effective youth-led social change. Identity—for youth
and staff, organization, and community – emerged
as a critical link. CFYS introduces the term Cultural
Context to represent these multiple identities. This report illustrates how understanding the impact of cultural
context on youth development and youth organizing efforts has led to new approaches to youth-led social
Culture and Context: Stories and Lessons from the Field synthesizes the effort’s key findings. The report is
divided into three books:
m Book I: Stories and Lessons from the Field identifies themes and knowledge gained from the project
and outlines recommendations for the field and donors. The book describes CFYS and offers
lessons for the field and those working with youth-development or youth-organizing groups. This
work builds on Power and Possibilities, the first report summarizing the efforts of the Collaborative
Fund for Youth-Led Social Change, published in 2003.
Critical to Book I are the Ideas in Action examples contained therein. Raising the voices of youth
and adult program partners was critical to this work and thus central to understanding the impact
of CFYS. Ideas in Action are examples provided by our grantee partners that illustrate key points.
m This book, Book II: Capacity Building for Youth-Led Social Change, describes the intensive capacitybuilding
effort undertaken by CFYS partners and offers key suggestions for the field on structuring
supportive capacity-building.
m Book III: Voices from the Field, contains stories authored by our grantee partners. Voices from the
Field are first-hand accounts from West Virginia, Milwaukee, Denver, San Francisco, and Oakland
that describe the core issues faced by organizations working at the intersect of youth development,
youth organizing, and gender. Like the Ideas in Action found throughout Book I, these examples are
critical to any true understanding of the impact of CFYS.
“…with struggles come resilience— the ability
to become stronger due to hurdles. People here
do this through a sense of humor, a connection
to the land, firm ties to family and friends, and
spirituality. In addition, creativity and creative
solutions are embraced here where voice takes
many shapes and resistance many forms.”
— Michelle Gaines,
Appalachian Women’s Leadership Project.
Taken from “Voices from Appalachia:
Telling the Stories of Class, Poverty,
and Pride in Rural West Virginia.”
Introduction: Charting New Territory
Often we think of capacity building as a
checklist of organizational skill areas — does
the program/organization have a fiscal plan, a
fundraising plan, clearly delineated board roles
and responsibilities, and a strategic plan? But
capacity building focused on helping grow and
sustain these organizations is about more than all
of these fundamental details. Capacity building
also is about understanding and helping to
support the work by putting in place structures
and processes that shore up the core values of
the organization’s approach to social change
The Collaborative Fund for Youth-Led Social
Change (CFYS) sought to better understand the
continuum and cycle of social change. In order to
understand this process CFYS focused on the
cultural context in which change happens in these
programs and communities; how it is influenced
by and influences the development of youth as
activists, critical thinkers and
organizers. Youth, programs,
and communities
culture and context
Capacity building is done program-byprogram
and peer-to-peer in ways that
have meaning for the participants within
the cultural context of their lives – whether
that be family, race, gender, neighborhood,
orientation or expression based.
— P. Catlin Fullwood
Capacity Building for Youth-Led Social Change
are interconnected by cultural characteristics,
identities and challenges, and those connections
define the way we build programs, grow youth,
organize, and make change. The capacity building
work done with these programs was guided
by this belief.
Efforts to create programs and organizational
models that reflect values are a challenge. The
non-profit community based organization has
often come to be defined as hierarchical in its
structure; funding responsive in its program; and
not accountable to community constituencies.
Too often these efforts embody the basic
imbalances of power and stereotypes they
seek to overcome. Programs that are trying to
do things differently have few models for nonhierarchical,
multi-cultural, intergenerational,
financially sustainable organizations. These
efforts are going against the tides of the service
based model, the over professionalization
of services, and the belief that community
constituencies need to have outside systems
decide what is best for them.
Capacity building is what strengthens the
organization and builds the work from the inside.
Making an organization strong and able to weather
storms but also a place that cultivates creativity
and innovation requires: resources, planning,
time for reflection and evaluation (individual
development and program impact), and ensuring
and supporting leadership of youth.
The following pages tell the story of how the
CFYS capacity building work was done to meet
the needs of these unique programs endeavoring
to do their social change work not based on some
tried and true “template for change,” but with a
new vision and style meant to embrace all of the
complexities of youth’s lives and to put their ideas
and thinking at the core not just of their programs
but of the organization as a whole, from collective
leadership models to youth on boards, etc.
CFY S Capacity Building Approach
The CFYS approach to capacity building was
designed to reflect the same values and to engage
in the same kind of critical analysis as the programs
themselves. CFYS positioned the program and
its constituents at the core — realizing that their
experience and knowledge should determine the
approach so that the training or consultation could
be integrated into the ongoing developmental
work of the organizations, and sustained for as
long as it proved relevant for the organizations.
The capacity building work of CFYS included
technical assistance, one-on-one meetings,
convenings, access to Ms. Foundation for Women
staff and consultants, peer-to-peer learning,
oral histories, and connections to donors. It
was focused on areas meant to further develop
and support the leadership of youth; and the
transition of real power within the organizations
that were combining youth organizing and youth
development with identity-based work. For
organizations at this juncture of development the
needs are varied. They require different types of
assistance and support as they engage youth
in setting direction and carrying out organizing
efforts, in defining the content and methods of
learning, and engaging in critical thinking about
culture and context
issues that affect the lives of young people within
their communities.
Realizing that all of the factors outlined above
called for a multi-faceted approach to capacity
building, CFYS came to the process with an
open mind, maximizing all the resources and
opportunities at its disposal. CFYS engaged the
expertise of foundation staff, consultants, donor
partners, program staff, and youth participants
in the process of learning from one another
– both about challenges to the work and new
approaches to social change. It was important
that youth voices be heard in this process as well
as the voices of the adult staff – incorporating their
experience and expertise as part of the capacitybuilding
work with and between programs. To
ensure that assistance mirrored organizational
values, capacity building was designed to provide
multiple levels of support, including:
Support and Planning — Ms. Foundation for
Women staff identified individual and crossorganizational
themes and provided capacity
building support to address these needs during
the course of CFYS.
Assessments of individual programs
to identify needs, areas of growth and
accomplishment, ongoing challenges, and
Consultation with program partners during
program implementation.
Communication regarding financial planning,
grant objectives reporting, and planning for
the unexpected.
Oral histories and story telling with programs
to elicit their experiences and knowledge
gained through the course of the CFYS.
Capacity Building Technical Assistance
and Consultation — On-Time Consultants,
spearheaded by Catlin Fullwood, provide an array
of support throughout the course of CFYS. Many
of the examples and learning described in this
Book came from Ms. Fullwood’s consultation.
Individual and group trainings based in
popular education - offering a process
for learning that positions the experience
and knowledge of the program and its
participants at its center, building outward
by adding new ideas and experiences in
order to arrive at a shared analysis and plan
for action.
Consultation with staff and with directors
to do problem solving and thinking through
specific issues and challenges inherent
in creating organizational cultures that
deal with new ideas, multiple levels of
constituencies, and multiple strategies and
approaches to social change work.
Support for project staff as they try to build
organizations that offer balance and equity
for youth as they grow in their awareness
and ability to make change in themselves,
among their peers, with their families, in their
communities, and in the systems that affect
their lives.
Strategic and critical thinking with adult
and youth staff about their organizations
from the inside, and the roles they play in
social change in their communities and with
systems – from schools to juvenile detention.
Annual Convenings of Program and Donor
Partners — Because we know that much learning
happens peer-to-peer, annual convenings of
program staff, youth participants and donor
partners were central to CFYS support.
Program staff, youth and donor partners
participated in convenings designed to
further capacity building and shared learning
among groups, sharing information and
experiences on the how-to’s of building
organizational models to support the work,
conducting popular education based
learning, developing campaigns,
implementing different
models for
defining social
Core Technical Assistance Areas
The core technical assistance areas were both
organizational and programmatic in nature. The
topics and approaches used are grouped below
to illustrate the efforts to tailor the assistance to
the cultural context and phase of development of
the youth organizations and programs.
Leadership Development — How to
operationalize leadership development while
framing and defining it within the principles
and processes of the program; integrating
constituency-building work into every aspect of
program building and development. For some
programs that meant helping to define and
operationalize leadership development as a
means of constituency building. For others, the
focus was on building capacity for organizing, for
research, or for systems work that incorporated
youth in planning and implementation in
meaningful ways that built skills and developed
core competency areas with youth and adult
The Content
Guidance on how to operationalize leadership
through training, supervision, support
and evaluation of youth and adult staff.
Using the Spheres of Influence* as a theory
of change model for understanding the
relationship between individual development
and community and institutional change work.
Technical assistance on developing
organizational structures (e.g., staffing,
board, resource development, etc.)
necessary to support and enhance the
ability of youth-led work.
culture and context
Assessment of management styles and skills
necessary to support and develop different
types of leadership.
Technical assistance on systems and types
of communication within the organization
and how they enhance and impede the work.
* Spheres of Influence is a theory of change model that illustrates
the interrelationship of influences on individuals by social
networks, community and institutional forces; and the need
to affect change in each of these spheres in order to affect
change for the individual.
Leadership Transitions — All programs face
leadership transitions. Youth-led programs face
the complexity of youth leaders and founders
aging out of the program. These programs
struggled with how to address and prepare for
leadership development and transitioning within
programs – both in transitioning girls into staff
and board positions and for key staff moving out
of the organization. These transitions affected all
aspects of the organization, including: staff, board,
program members, parents, other community
stakeholders and allies, budget, fundraising,
internal and external communication. Preparing
for changes in leadership and developing new
leaders at the same time called for different
approaches in technical assistance, including:
The Content
Training on operationalizing leadership
development into management structures
in ways that reflect the different skills and
support necessary to develop different types
of leadership.
Assessment of program components and
the leadership development opportunities
currently existing and how those could be
Planning for transition – discussion
questions about organizational areas
necessary for realigning staff roles and
identifying developmental needs (including
skills building and support) to meet those
new roles.
Training on board/staff roles and
responsibilities and the evaluation of Boards
within community-based organizations.
Ideas in Action:
Management, Leadership,
and Social Change
For the Young Women’s Project in Washington, D.C.,
the site visit had a number of discreet but interconnected
components. YWP was interested in exploring additional
management styles that could lend themselves to working
with teen staff and incorporating leadership development into
the process of supervision and program oversight. Issues
included: how does everyone get heard in the organization;
how to balance accountability and accommodation; dealing
with “adult-ism” and “youth-ism” to build partnerships across
age gaps; and how to tailor management to the type of
leadership you are trying to develop. This desire was tied
to an exercise that examined different types of leadership
and what they required in order to be further developed
(for example, what skills did the manager need to have in
order to develop this type of leadership?). Each manager
also completed an interview about what it means to be a
manager as a self assessment of their management styles
– including areas of strength and challenge. This, in turn, led
to a discussion of communication and decision making within
and between programs. And this led us full-circle back to a
discussion of power and inclusion within the organizational
structure. As a result of these discussions the teen and adult
staff have clarified roles, communication, and decision making
processes so that they are transparent to all.
Ideas in Action:
Organizational Culture
and Leadership Transition
For the discussion with the Center for Young Women’s
Development in San Francisco, CA, we began with an
exploration discussion of how to operationalize leadership
development with the cultural context of the life and work
of the Center, and how to incorporate these activities and
values into all aspects of program. Participants examined
the elements of leadership – in terms of the skills,
qualities and characteristics needed – and the type of
organizational culture necessary to support different types
of leadership. We discussed each of the programs and
the current leadership development activities and what an
enhancement of those would entail. We identified a number
of themes across programs, such as the importance of
one-on-one connections; the need for phased-in leadership
with realistic and clear expectations; the importance of a
cultural connection for working with women of color; the
need for coaching and mentoring; the need to create a
culture of mutual accountability among members and staff;
the importance of having opportunities for putting learning
into practice; and the need for time
and space for healing. We
applied these themes to
the core values of the
organization – social
justice, personal
sisterhood, and
– in order to
where leadership
development fit into
the overall vision for
the Center.
Incorporating Gender, Race and Class Analysis
— How to incorporate political education on
gender, race, and class into the organizing and
other program work in ways that are generative
and non-blaming? For some programs this meant
addressing issues of identity conflict among
youth, between youth and staff, and between
youth and family/community. Addressing issues
of oppression is always challenging, but most
challenging when all the parties are present. For
instance, addressing sexism in mixed-gender
programs, homophobia in programs with gay and
non-gay youth, and racism in programs with white
youth and youth of color.
It is difficult to develop and understand an
analysis of oppression based on privilege and
access when everyone feels powerless for one
reason or another. Male youth of color may have
gender privilege with patriarchy on their side,
but what they feel most is the effects of racism
and economic disenfranchisement based on
their race and age. Programs have worked hard
to develop dialogue and interactive exercises
that help youth articulate their experiences of
oppression without blaming one another. It
involves developing critical thinking skills and
an understanding of the interconnection
of all oppressions and how they impede
social change.
One unintended consequence of
political empowerment can be a
period of disconnection with all that
has been familiar. As young people
develop political consciousness they
often begin to question and analyze,
not just the world around them, but
the programs in which their voices can
be heard. This can lead to conflicts that
culture and context
can rock a closely knit organization to its very
foundation and cause tremors that reach into the
communities and families of the youth involved.
Technical assistance can help organizational
leaders identify ways to work with youth as they
struggle with these questions, build processes
and structures that value and incorporate youth
voice, and reward youth development and
The Content
Consultation on how to address political
education regarding gender in relation to
other issues of oppression.
Training with youth on using evaluation as a
critical thinking tool to apply in everyday life.
Consultation on managing the daily crisis
of lives of youth impacted by poverty,
racism, gender discrimination, ageism, and
Ideas in Action:
Building Equity and Justice
in Organizational Culture
For Khmer Girls in Action in Long Beach, CA, the process of critical thinking and analysis was integrated into the program as
part of the work with members and staff, and with the community. The site visit with the staff focused on communication and
team building, and how the political analysis work around equity and justice are integrated into the organizational culture. KGA is
staffed primarily by girls who have come up through the program and as such have learned the importance of using their voices
to effect change. It also means that for some, it is their first work experience and the place where they received their political
The first exercise we did with the staff was a self assessment of their social change work in which they talked about the role they
play in their communities, the ways in which their organization affects social change, how their feelings about race and class and
gender and age affect their work, what they do to change the world for women and girls, and what they want people to say about
them at the end of their time with KGA. The staff all talked about wanting to make an impact on people’s lives and encourage
others to care about social change, with more girls and women speaking out for their rights as a result of their efforts; wanting to
be a part of history; sharing power and access to information; having a love for their work; and giving support to other women in
whatever way they need. This led to a number of critical conversations centering around communication and power sharing, and
how to operationalize the values that we hold dear for our communities within our organizations, so that we can successfully “walk
the walk” of social justice internally and externally.
KGA Cultural Programming builds on the tradition and legacy of other women of color movements, which recognized the
connection between cultural production and power. KGA believes that community empowerment lies, in part, in a community’s
ability to control and disseminate their own images and stories that reflect their realities, experiences, history, priorities, and
concerns. Since 1998, KGA has aimed to use the transformative nature of the creative process to facilitate Khmer young
women’s examination of the root causes of conditions in their communities and reframe those issues from a grassroots,
community perspective.
Planning — How to develop processes for
planning that are dynamic and live and grow with
the organization – creating and keeping processes
that are accessible and inclusive of youth and
community constituencies. For some programs
this meant preparing for relevant strategic
planning as they move into a new stage in their
organizational life in which they need to develop
structures for staff and board.
The Content
Assistance in defining the program elements
of social change work – examining within
each of these elements the roles of youth
and adults and the different types of skills
needed and developed in the process.
Exploring organizational values and priorities
for planning work in order to ensure that
the process reflects shared values and
vision among a variety of organizational
Defining constituencies and different types
and levels of involvement in program and
organizational life and communication
systems necessary to ensure feeling of
inclusion and ownership.
Power, Control, and Empowerment — How to
deal with issues of power and control and develop
organizational structures that are reflective of
authentic intergenerational partnerships. For
some programs the issues were focused on how
to create safe space beyond the confines of the
program – within the schools, in the community,
among peers. For others it meant creating evolving
programs for youth that are developmentally
appropriate; that keep the programs current with
the political and developmental dilemmas that
youth face as they move through teenhood and
toward activism and full civic participation.
Ideas in Action:
Organizational Model
and Strategic Planning
For the Appalachian Women’s Leadership Project in Hamlin, West Virginia we used the Spheres of Influence as a model to
depict how AWLP is configured. Staff, board and youth participants drew concentric circles to represent their work with individual
girls and boys who are members of AWLP; the surrounding circle represented their work with peers and families of members;
the next circle represented their work in the community with other youth groups, businesses, community health centers and
mentors; and the outside circle their work with institutions like school districts and state government. In this way they were able
to capture the interrelationship of their work to effect change at multiple levels – from leadership development for youth to policy
change with local government on issues of school consolidation. These drawings of the model provided an elegant description of
their work that made sense to them, and helped them to realize the multiple constituencies with which they were working. These
drawings formed the basis for our discussions about strategic planning for the organization, including a discussion of board and
staff roles and responsibilities, and the types of leadership development necessary to support work in each of the Spheres.
culture and context
Ideas in Action:
Power and Organizational Structure
In the Pearls for Teen Girls in Milwaukee, Wisconsin site visit, our major emphasis was on power: how it is perceived, who
holds it (in the organization and in society), how it can be achieved and used wisely. Recognizing that power is tied to privilege
and identity in society, we began with a “Who am I” exercise that allowed people in the group – staff and girls – to self identify in
terms of experience, descriptions, and values, including naming the “3 essential values that I bring from my cultural identity to my
work.” We looked at these values and how they frame and influence expectations for the work of Pearls, and how power plays out
in Pearls and in the broader society.
After looking at the ways power is distributed in society, the group spent time discussing the Pearls organizational structure and
culture, and how they see themselves as participants in the development of those elements of organizational life. The group
metaphor was of Pearls as a house – with the inherent gifts of girls and their ability to lead, the support relationships, and the
possibilities of girls and staff making changes in the world as the foundation. The roof of the house was the ideology – the
mission and the vision. The walls of the house were the facilitators, staff and girls on one side, and the activities, opportunities,
and leadership compass on the other. The windows signified openings for collaboration and learning from outside, and the
front door signified access and reality. The floors of the house were the Board and resources, with values and communication
the environment of the interior of the house. On the roof stood a chimney from which poured the assets and outputs of the
organization. Using the house as a metaphor we were able to discuss the places which feel stable and supported and those parts
of the house that feel that they might give way at any moment. This provided a “safe” way to talk about organizational power
differentials that led to a frank discussion among staff, facilitated by youth who are graduates of Pearls.
The Content
Training on power and how it is held and/or
shared in society and within programs
– defining and deconstructing ageism and
the ways it gets played out in programs.
Consultation with staff on how to share
power with youth and create management
processes and structures that reflect that
power sharing.
Consultation with staff on making changes
within institutional structures to reflect new
ways of thinking about leadership based on
the typology of leadership developed as part
of the Ms. Foundation’s Healthy Girls/Healthy
Women Collaborative learning project.
Organizational Models and Change — How
to define and refine organizational models that
represent the multi-level, multi-strategy change
work being done by the program. For some
programs this meant exploring their organizational
infrastructure in terms of communications
systems within and between projects, program
development and implementation, and time
management. It also involved training on
community organizing and the various approaches
and – taking the best of what different models
have to offer and incorporating it into new models
– that fully engage a diversity of young people and
reflect organizational and community culture.
Ideas in Action:
Capacity Building and
Organizational Culture
In working with One Nation Enlightened in Denver,
Colorado, it was essential to work within a construct that
captured the cultural context in which they do their work.
Social change is defined by this group as a process that is
youth-led and youth-defined – one which includes power
analysis and critical thinking; deep education and mobilization
with the community; coalition building and collaborative
alliances for change and influence; and envisioning and
actualizing a better world. Organizing is operationalized
through deep education within a community and is led by
youth. The actions are defined with the community, forging
a collective voice through canvassing, engaging in dialogue
with community members, formulating demands for change,
and holding systems accountable for those changes. Utilizing
the Spheres of Influence and the Program Planning Matrix
provided a theoretical model and planning structure that
could reflect this ideology and capture the multi-level,
multi-constituency nature of their social change work in an
organized fashion. It was helpful in providing a frame for
reflective thinking about program strategies, roles of youth,
staff, and board within the organization, and ways to clarify
the interrelationship of program strategies.
The Content
Using the Spheres of Influence and Program
Planning Matrix as tools for capturing and
planning or multi-level work – defining
strategies in terms of assumptions,
domains, goals, objectives, and outcomes
– incorporating inquiry in the formative
process of understanding issues critical to
youth and to communities.
Assistance on incorporating Participatory
Evaluation Research (PER) into the
organizing work of the program – using PER
as a tool for including various constituencies
in the political analysis and planning
necessary to create programs relevant to
youth and other adult constituencies in the
culture and context
The Collaborative Fund for Youth-Led Social
Change undertook an ambitious and extensive
capacity building effort. This work helped to
crystallize what we knew to be essential support
for organizations and to expand our understanding
of what these organizations need to be successful.
What we learned has implications for those
seeking to strengthen the youth development
and youth organizing fields
and can be divided into
three broad areas:
focus on multilevel
recognize the
key elements
of capacity
building, and
understand the
challenges of
building a youth
Lessons from the Field:
Focus on Multi-Level Strategies
Cultural context — the intersect of individual,
community, and organizational identity — affects
the way programs approach the work of social
change. Organizations use strategies to affect
change at multiple levels and need capacity
building that recognizes the supports necessary
for work in these different domains.
Individual development programs work to
build skills, knowledge and efficacy which
youth and staff use to build stronger and more
relevant programs. Effective programs require
organizational infrastructure that is able to
support dynamic change and organizational
cultures that reflect the philosophy and direction
of the programs. These organizations can exist
within communities in which there are partners
and allies who share a vision and the work of
making social change. Much of the work of social
change is influencing institutional forces that are
restrictive or exclusionary of oppressive for youth
and adults, and it requires all the resources of the
individuals, the program, the organization and
the community to affect lasting change in policy
and practice.
The capacity building work done with groups
needs to be able to address each of these levels
and to focus on the place in which change is
possible in the life of the organization. This is often
a staged developmental process beginning with
the individual and program and expanding into the
organization and community, with the focus on
institutional change coming when the others are
“Our work is all about building youth power
and youth-driven organizing, and has to be
multi-issue and happen at multiple levels
– individual, program and community – all
the time building credibility and ability for
youth who do not come in with an inherited
credibility. Capacity building is what I call
our work.”
—Michelle Gaines
Appalachian Women’s Leadership
Effective Capacity Building—Lessons from the Field
feeling strong. Sometimes when programs jump
to institutional change without base building their
efforts are undermined by a lack of foundation
and buy in at all the other critical levels.
Individual Level: At the individual level the
support offered through capacity building technical
assistance and consultation should focus on
program efforts to develop the skills and the
efficacy of youth and staff, parents and program
stakeholders, understanding that transformation
of the self is part of the collective process of
making change. This includes assistance in:
Developing critical thinking skills and an
ability to go to the root cause of an issue
and understand its significance in the lives
of individual participants;
Engaging in political education that is based
in popular education so that the analysis
is created based on the experience and
understanding of the participants;
Developing youth-defined leadership
that includes skill building, providing new
opportunities for experience and learning,
and the support to take advantage of those
Program Level: At the program level, capacity
building should provide support to program
efforts to bring clarity and balance to strategies
and activities by assisting in:
Developing programs based on participatory
evaluation-based inquiry that engages youth
as the researchers and designers of program
in partnership with adults;
Finding balance of personal support for
individual growth and development; crisis
management for the daily challenges of
young people’s lives; and building systems
of accountability for the work;
Creating and maintaining a safe space for
growing and learning new ways of thinking
about the world and the role of the individual
and the collective in making change.
Organizational Level: At the organizational
level, capacity building should be structural and
procedural in nature – providing consultation and
assistance in creating environments in which
growth and change can flourish by assisting in:
Building infrastructure to support the
work that balances dynamic change with
consistency and accountability between
program participants and staff, and between
the program and community stakeholders
(e.g., parents, other youth, institutional allies,
Creating transition plans for youth staff
within the organization, and planning for
the succession of leadership as founding
directors prepare to move on;
Creating intergenerational partnerships that
allow for passing on skills and organizational
knowledge about fundraising, organizational
development and management, and
community organizing and building;
Developing board structures that make
sense for the different stages and
philosophies of organization; working with
boards to provide a voice for the community
in the organization and for the organization
in the community.
Creating new management structures that
build skills and work habits of new workers
– prioritizing staff development as a critical
element of organizational growth.
culture and context
Institutional Level: At the institutional level,
capacity building should be focused on
influencing systems that affect the lives of young
people by helping to develop strategies for:
Creating alliances and partnerships to
expand the safe space of programs into the
systems that affect the daily lives of youth
from schools to juvenile justice and child
Developing youth voice and ability to
articulate complex issues that affect their
lives, their families and their communities in
order to initiate and make concrete change
in systems.
Community Level: At the community level,
capacity building should be relational and
participatory and include providing consultation
and assistance in:
Building partnerships with other progressive
individuals and organizations to create a
shared political vision and agenda that makes
institutional and systemic change possible;
Creating safe space throughout the
community – through building allies and
supporters and giving youth skills to take
with them to different spaces within the
Identifying and developing new leadership
among constituency groups (e.g.,
parents, youth,
and other
Lessons from the Field:
Recognize the Key Elements
of Capacity Building
From the capacity building site visits, the
three convenings and multiple consultations
and interviews with programs and donors, we have
developed an initial compilation of “learnings” to
guide us in understanding what youth programs
need to create and sustain programs that
integrate elements of youth development, youth
organizing, and identity based work. One of the
frameworks for the knowledge gained is defined
within the “eight elements of capacity building”.
This is not meant to be a finite list, but these were
the elements identified – with the programs – as
being at the core of their ability to grow from the
inside. The elements include:
creating balance within an organization;
providing clarity to the vision, purpose and
method of the work;
building equity and power sharing into
the internal and external processes of the
using inquiry as a process for developing
and evaluating the program and its effect on
individuals and communities;
providing time and tools for reflection
on individual development and program
encouraging creativity in expression and
facilitating the transformation of the
program and its participants; and
creating structures to sustain the effort in
the long run.
In order to increase and strengthen the capacity of
an organization to take on the long-term, complex
work of social change, there are a number of critical
elements identified by programs as being at the
heart of the work. Building an organization from
the inside with youth and adults in partnership is
a challenging and rewarding endeavor. This, from
the program’s perspective, is what it takes:
Creating structures and processes that are
youth-led and integrate intergenerational
efforts by youth and adults working
together and thinking together to develop
inclusive solutions that can be owned by all
participants. This requires that facilitators
and participants find a balance between
structure and flexibility that encourages
creativity and allows for accountability, and
a dynamic process of growth and change.
Creating staffing structures that bring youth
into the work of organizational development
and movement building. For example, the
grassroots fundraising campaign is led by
the girls and young women in the program.
Dealing with day-to-day survival issues
and allowing time for creative thinking and
expression as a part of program activities
and the work of making change.
Valuing fun as well as work as key
ingredients in a successful program effort.
Realizing that taking advantage of
opportunities requires people to take
risks and to go outside their comfort zone
– for this they need support and affirming
guidance through the process.
Recognizing the need to reclaim the
work by going back to the basics of the
philosophy and principles that brought the
people in the program to social change and
empowerment as the work. For example,
Sista II Sista has decided to return to their
roots as an all-volunteer collective of women
and girls.
There is a need for healing and ritual to mark
and celebrate transitions and transformation
as youth and adults move into new
phases of their lives and their work. This
acknowledgment of pain and celebration
of new joy is critical to our ability to make
change. For example, the Center for Young
Women’s Development incorporates holistic
healing into the work of the organization.
Developing the ability to clearly articulate
mission and program ideology and intention
– why we do what we do, how we do it, and
what the impact of it is for the participants
and the communities in which we live and
work. CFYS used the Spheres of Influence
exercise to focus organizational leaders on
mission and approach.
Developing the ability to think strategically
about our work and the environment in
which our programs and the youth involved
are endeavoring to make change.
Taking the time to plan and think critically
about why the world is the way it is – who
benefits and who pays – is all part of the
development of social consciousness that
fuels the work of social change.
culture and context
Building for liberation by creating internal
structures and practice that foster
and support equality and that engage
participants in new ways of doing things.
Creating opportunities, structures, and
processes within the organization for sharing
power – between adults and youth, across
gender, race, and class.
Provide new skills and opportunities for
involvement in organizational development
for youth including fundraising, decision
making and governance, program evaluation
and development, as well as program
implementation. For example, the teen staff
at the Young Women’s Project are engaged
in development and training opportunities as
part of their jobs – so that they are growing
their skills as they do the work.
Provide resources for peer work in the form
of salary, stipends, or opportunities for
education or exposure to national advocacy
and change work.
Growing staff and participants in the work
and preparing them to move into the
community (and into the world beyond walls
of program) to live and work as free and
critical thinkers committed to social change.
Creating principles and culture within the
organization that value the process of critical
thinking and strategizing about the work
– through this process building internal
accountability into external change work.
Using participatory evaluation and action
research with youth to explore issues of
concern to them and develop strategies that
are based on what the youth are learning.
For example, the Asian Immigrant Women
Advocates youth conducted extensive
research in developing and implementing
their “I have something to Say” Campaign.
Using oral histories with community
elders as a way to build intergenerational
relationships and connections for youth
and adults in the community. For example,
Blocks Together is developing an oral history
project that will bring girls in the program
together with community women to share
stories and experiences of their lives. CFYS
technical assistance included a strong focus
on helping organizations learn to tell their
stories and translate experiences.
Providing time for reflection on program
activities and the meaning that they have on
the lives of participants, their families, and
Developing systems for determining
effectiveness of strategies, testing
assumptions upon which programs are
based so that they stay current with issues
as defined by youth, and documenting
both intended and unintended outcomes of
program strategies.
Creating program constructs (like logic
models) to describe how the work unfolds
from strategy to outcome. For example,
Pearls for Teen Girls has been developing
and implementing an outcome based
evaluation process to capture and
document their work and the development
of individual girls.
Ensuring that as the program grows from
the inside it expands – making more room
for the youth and adult members and
staff to expand as well – learning and
implementing new skills in the program, in
the community and nationally.
Developing an organizational capacity
for listening and ensuring that everyone
involved understands what is going on
and what the purpose is. This requires
that we explore our internal belief systems
and determine what skills and information
are needed to fully participate and
providing those for all who are interested.
For example, the Girl Scouts of Greater
Milwaukee have made tremendous strides in
bringing the voices of girls into the local and
national planning arenas.
Exploring language and messages and
education through the arts – using art
to tell the truth of youth in their words
and language, visual expressions, and
performance of life as they see it.
Using spoken work to build expression for
political and emotional growth, and as a
means of showcasing the talents of youth
and gaining support of friends, family and
the community for their work. For example
the Khmer Girls in Action have published
three books of poetry that capture their
experiences as immigrant girls growing up in
the Long Beach community.
Using theatre of the oppressed techniques
to bring real life problems into public venues
so that people react and think about what’s
going on around them. For example, Sista II
Sista uses theatre and dance on the streets
of Bushwick to engage residents in thinking
about issues of violence against women.
Fostering and supporting leadership that
is sustainable, continually developing and
growing as youth and program staff grow,
and leadership that people take with them
when they move on.
culture and context
Building this kind of leadership is a process
and a journey and we need to make sure no
one who wants to participate is left behind;
there are opportunities for youth to grow
in the process of doing the work, and to
be part of creating the vision and making it
In order for this to work sustainable
activism must be built into the structure
and process of the organization so that the
values of accountability and responsibility
are built into the way the program operates
internally as well as the way it works in the
Supporting institutional stability even as
youth and adult leaders transition to new
roles or out of the organization.
Institutional change takes time and the
ability to focus energy and resources
for the long haul – adjusting focus
from development, to advocacy, to
implementation over time – with an
organizational structure to support that long
term work.
Capacity building is the keystone to development.
It is a complex process to have the program
doing what it does, at the same time dealing with
funding, staffing, communication, setting clear
expectations, fostering team and cohesiveness,
and continuing to grow at the same time. Capacity
building is the work we do to sort out and build
these individual pieces and develop the vessel
that will hold them dear – “like building a boat
in the middle of the ocean while sailing to a new
Lessons from the Field: Understand
the Organizational Challenges of
Building a Youth Movement
Each of the programs engaged in CFYS is heroic
in its efforts to create new types of programs
and organizations that listen to and follow the
lead of youth and community members, that
share power and decision making between youth
and adults. These programs are creating new
structures and opportunities for involvement of
youth in all aspects of the organization. Affecting
this type of organizational change is not without
its challenges, nor opportunities – and often they
are the same. Capacity building and technical
assistance have to keep pace and continue to
acclimate to the new needs arising from building
organizations engaged in authentic multicultural
work that includes dealing with gender and race
and sexual orientation and class in ways that are
inclusive and participatory.
The challenges of doing capacity building work
with grantee partners over the past three years
were numerous and exciting. Each organization
was at a different place in its development,
programmatically and organizationally: they were
employing a number of different approaches in
doing their work, they were working within different
cultural contexts, and at different points along the
continuum of social change work. Some were
more focused in youth development, others in
youth organizing, several combined elements of
both disciplines – all dealing with understanding
identity as a critical factor in how youth can work
together, and with adults, to envision and develop
their active participation in society.
Ideas in Action:
Youth Organizing and Financial Support
For the youth involved in One Nation Enlightened
in Denver Colorado, organizing
and empowerment leads to
full participation. And full
participation means making
a monetary commitment
to the work of social
change and community
change. Grassroots
fundraising is a critical
component of their
movement building
work. They celebrate
each campaign “win”
with a house party, and at
the house party they make
a pitch for money for ONE. For
these youth, organizing work is
fundraising work.
The challenges faced by these efforts were
numerous. However, several merit special attention
in a capacity-building strategy:
Effective Management Structures:
One of the opportunities/challenges lies in
creating management structures that allow
for working with youth staff who have come
up through the program and transitioned
into staff positions. This internal process of
leadership development presents a whole
set of personnel, staff development, conflict
resolution, intergenerational power sharing
issues for programs that many “adult only”
organizations have not mastered.
Engaging Youth in Organizational
Management: Some groups were
challenged in getting youth to want to be
involved in structures and processes that
are dull and seem either compromising or
like a waste of time (i.e., sitting on boards of
directors, writing reports or grants, meeting
with funders who patronize them or try to tell
them what their programs should be doing).
These tasks often seem tedious to adults
as well, and part of the capacity building
challenge of these groups is in making the
activities that are critical for organizational
development and survival more relevant,
and perhaps questioning the importance of
the rest.
Ideas in Action:
Youth Leadership and
Organizational Management
Girls participating in Sisters in Action for Power, located in
Portland, Oregon, are included in all levels and aspects
of organizational life through a process that
begins with the Girls in Action for Power
program and culminates in graduation
from the program into internships
within the organization. Through
these internships, girls develop
organizational development
as well as organizing skills.
For Sisters, running an
organization is directly
tied to working for social
change. It is driven by the
same values and principles as
their social justice work – small
is good, deeper is better – with
the ability to think critically and
search for truth serving as their greatest
programmatic and organizational imperative.
culture and context
Working with Disenfranchised Youth:
For many of the programs the challenges of
working with youth who are disenfranchised
by their gender, their race, their
circumstance, and place in the economic
substructure of the U.S. is an ongoing
issue of creating balance for programs.
Staff struggle to figure out how to work
with youth staff and participants who are
constantly confronted with the many issues
in their personal lives that have to do with
race and class and oppression and the
spoils of disenfranchisement – arrest, drug
issues, parents in crisis, with siblings and
parents caught up in systems that define the
parameters and quality of their lives.
Creating New Organizational Models:
It’s not just a question of articulating and
defining new models for organizing, it’s
also the challenge of creating new types
of structures for that work to happen in.
Is the work to teach youth to function in
adult defined structures; or in creating new
structures? That is the real work and the
real challenge of capacity building. These
programs are leading the learning curve
on working within a cultural context where
multiple identity issues influence the agenda
and dictate the approach, in a new kind of
community organization building.
Ideas in Action
At Young Women’s Project (in Washington, D.C.) we want
to ensure that not only we identify ourselves as a youthserving
and youth empowering organization, but that the
community also identifies us as the same. More importantly,
we want any youth or adult staff to identify with our mission,
goals, and values, both collectively and individually. Without
this consensus, our organizing efforts will simply be matters
of self interest and not for the good of the youth, organization,
and communities we serve.



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