Jun 13, 2022 - News

Listening to youth could change giving for Skillman Foundation

Illustration of a microphone made out of a kids alphabet block.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

A listening tour could change how the Skillman Foundation does philanthropy.

Driving the news: CEO Angelique Power is on a yearlong quest after she joined the 62-year-old youth-focused nonprofit in September.

  • The Detroit-based organization expects to make $23 million in grants this year.

Why it matters: "If we are not emerging from a global health pandemic and racial justice awakenings without looking at every institution and how it contributes to inequitable systems and what we can change … then we did not understand the assignment," Power tells Axios.

Details: Skillman has been hosting around two group listening sessions per month to hear from Detroit youth about what they need — plus teachers, principals and other adults who know them well.

  • Through those sessions, Power's team has learned that after-school workers need higher wages, teachers need time for self-care and youth want to learn more pragmatic life skills.

Between the lines: Power says that as a result of the listening tour, Skillman is building a new framework for its grantmaking.

  • One way the input may change nonprofit's giving is through more of what's called "participatory grantmaking," where grant decisions shift from the grantors to the community itself.

Context: The rate of Detroit children living in poverty was 50.2% as of 2019, more than double Michigan's 19.9%, according to Data Driven Detroit.

  • Other challenges affecting youth wellbeing range widely from the impact of the long-troubled and underfunded school system to lack of internet access, trauma from the pandemic and lack of affordable housing.

The intrigue: The foundation convened a 13-member youth advisory council, according to Power. Members meet with the foundation and were tasked with directing $100,000 in grants.

What they're saying: "In so many spaces, adults are consistently planning things without youth advice," Jeremiah Steen, a 21-year-old member of the council and University of Detroit Mercy student, tells Axios.

  • "(That) decreases youth participation in most cases because youth feel so disconnected from the work that's happened."

What's next: The process, which Power calls "deep listening mode," wraps up this fall. Skillman expects to follow it with a more concrete community "design" phase.


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