What's with the name?
We hear a lot that our name is a real mouthful. At the same time, it reflects our history. In 2009, the Laidlaw Foundation began leading a sea change in the funding world: focusing on characteristics of good youth development processes over rigid outcomes. They even wrote an influential report on it. Over 5 years later, this is the core of our identity: creating the invisible supports that help young people take the good things they do in their communities to the next level. You can read more about these values here and the story behind them here.
What's the need that you're addressing? What's your solution?
This is an important question. Because we are a self-organized network, we suspect that each of our members would answer a bit differently. What we hear most often is that, while young people and adults working for change in Ontario are proud of the work they do, they often feel stuck.
They feel stuck treating symptoms when they want to address root causes. Stuck within hierarchical institutions that don't value their full selves or difference-making contributions. Stuck when they don't have the words to describe a better way. Stuck working as individuals when what they know makes a difference is collective wisdom and action. Sometimes young people are taken advantage of in the labour market. Each motivation reflects our unique identities and experiences.
What we know is that young people across Ontario are already finding innovative responses to get themselves and their communities "unstuck" from these constraints. This is what we call youth-led organizing. What we offer is venues, skills and relationships to learn from each other in this work, to grow stronger as a network and community, and to take our contributions and innovations to the next level of impact.
You guys seem cool. But what do you actually do?
Our first handful of years were a time for experimentation in what worked for our community. We offered trainings in innovative youth-friendly facilitation practices, held gatherings to connect and heal the barriers between diverse communities, and held smaller "core team" meetings where we shared learnings and breakthroughs. We were building a new community.
Today, we have identified the important practical pieces of what we do:
- Convene diverse organizers: Bringing together diverse stakeholders who care about supporting youth-led development and organizing through regular regional and provincial gatherings.
- Connect in participatory ways and Cultivate shared vision: Offering training and regular hands-on practice in youth-friendly engagement practices and learning-oriented evaluation skills, all within a framework that respects the role of creativity, indigenous knowledge and critical thinking.
- Support local organizing: Providing intensive staff support to create local hobs or "nests" for young people to practice new skills for building community and learning together.
What have you achieved? What exists now that wasn't possible before?
From the outset, we knew that our impact would be hard to "prove". One early publication described how the intended outcome of our innovative practices was to "focus on the process of creating a space for new relationships to form, inter-generational dialogue, and a platform for the field to voice emerging ideas and issues." We also have a long list of accomplishments that you can read here.
The continued popularity of our meetings and gatherings, the strong presence of diversity in our meetings, and the devotion of our long-time volunteer members all tell us that we are delivering on the promise of our process. We know from the stories we hear that our practice is rippling outwards to our community members, as documented by the Ontario Trillium Foundation.
We are currently working to be more intentional about tracking our impact, because we recognize this is important to continue making a difference. The reality is that, for most of our existence, we did not have any paid staff. Through our development evaluation process, we are working to weave a focus on impact into our ongoing work.
How are you structured?
The ysi collaborative is not a formal organization or registered non-profit. This has been, throughout our history, an important measure to remain equitable, inclusive and non-hierarchical. We do, however, have a trustee organization that provides an administrative framework for our team: Children's Mental Health Ontario (since 2012) as well as Motivate Canada (from 2010-2011). We acknowledge and appreciate these important contributions.
Who makes decisions?
Our volunteer Core Team members work together with the support of a lean and dedicated staff team who to coordinate our collaborative initiatives. Membership in the Core Team is open, non-hierarchical and in a constant state of renewal. People step in and step out depending on their own interests, availability and what is happening in the Collaborative. We operate on a consensus basis with those who are able to step into the Core Team. Our staff team provides "backbone" administrative supports, including network communications and hosting of meetings, while our long-time members steward our core values for how to be in relationship together.
Who is a part of your community?
The full network includes over 200 grassroots youth-led initiatives, youth-serving organizations, and youth-friendly funding bodies from across the province, representing a range of sectors, cultures and geographies. Our members are innovators in a variety of youth-serving fields, including mental health, physical activity, anti-poverty, and anti-discrimination (such as homelessness, racism, gender inequity). You can find a list of some of our current core team members here.
How do I join?
This is our favourite question of all! The short answer is, whatever way works best for you! You are happy to chat with you, so please get in touch.
At the moment, we are making efforts to widen our circle and renew our community through our provincial Collaboration Camp from Nov. 28-30, 2014. We invite any and all to attend, even if you don't have time to commit afterwards.