Young people in Ontario are riddled with problems. Or so we’re told. We at ysi have never seen it that way.
Our emerging moment
From 2009 to 2013, the YSI collaborative experimented as a self-organized network with a whole new pattern and process for how grassroots and professional voices come together for social justice.
We know from our members and evaluation work that we have helped to transform the programming, organizational structures, governance and engagement practices of our member organizations, while opening up important venues for collective healing and cooperation between previously divided communities.
In 2014, we made a more intentional and strategic effort to clarify our practice into four core areas. Today, we continue to offer collaborative environments for grassroots and professional voices to co-conspire in our efforts to make Ontario's communities better places for young people to live, work, create and play.
We have also learned more about where we need to go. We continue to see the toll that social justice work can take on the emotional, physical, financial and spiritual health of young and old. We know that our gatherings offer a safe harbour, but our experience in Algoma and our Collaboration Camp in Fall 2014 tell us that we must deepen our capacity to catalyze local supports.
Looking ahead to 2015, we will be using our Young Spirit Circles to improve our practices around supporting Spiritual connection as a form of community healing and grounded local organizing supports. If these next steps speaks to you, we invite you to join our core team or apply to be a paid facilitator for this upcoming project!
We first began to articulate our founding ideals in the mid-late 2000s, with the coming together of three foundations -- the Ontario Trillium Foundation, the Laidlaw Foundation and Tides Canada Initiative. This initial group of adults gathered together around an exciting observation -- that youth-led grassroots innovations were bubbling up in dozens of communities across Ontario. In response, they convened a conversation among 50 youth organizers and adult allies to feed this emerging wave.
What emerged was a self-organizing, inter-generational platform for giving voice and support to the emerging ideas and initiatives of young people and adult allies -- to amplify and accelerate the exciting work that was already underway.
The next few years led to a fluid series of local trainings, province-wide gatherings, intergenerational dialogues and emerging collaborations. This was an important era of experimentation in a whole new pattern and process for how grassroots and professional voices come together for social justice.
What we were learning was how to be a community: to listen to one another, to learn from one another’s experiences, to appreciate diverse experiences and perspectives, and to shift the values behind how give grants, evaluate outcomes and understand the nature of change.
This spirit of a community learning and acting together has informed our current period of renewal.
Since our early days, the collaborative has sustained itself as a regenerating movement and community of practice that has directly engaged over 500+ people in the youth sector through small and large gatherings, workshops in participatory facilitation methods, peer-to-peer and mentoring relationships, as well as networking opportunities. Our achievements include:
- Three province-wide stakeholder gatherings: From 2009-2013, we brought together over 100 youth sector grantees and adult allies from policy, funding, service provider and grassroots bodies for generative, system-wide conversations.
- Training in participatory leadership: Our experienced stewards have trained over 100 youth and adult organizers in a participatory leadership approach called the Art of Hosting Conversations that Matter.
- Self-organized governance: In November 2010, we successfully shifted our leadership from the Laidlaw Foundation to a self-sustaining Core Team of volunteers, which was renewed in 2012.
- Regular member engagement: We only hold meetings that come with a specific call from our community, who respond based on their interest and capacity. Though the rhythm of our engagement is fluid, we average at least 10 core team meetings a year.
- System transformation: A brief evaluation by the Ontario Trillium Foundation in Fall 2012 found that Core Team members were transforming the programming, organizational structures, governance and engagement practices of their home organizations to mirror the work of the YSI Collaborative -- such as promoting youth engagement across the mental health system through The New Mentality.
- Piloting a regional "nest" structure: Our Northern coordinator has developed a "nest" of supports that bring together Indigenous and non-Indigenous young organizers in the Algoma region of Northern Ontario, including a regional gathering of 40 youth and adult leaders.
- Developmental evaluation (DE): In 2014, our core team is taking our learning culture to a new level with three experiential training sessions by DE practitioner Marc Langois.