Blog: Pathways to Aspen – Four Takeaways from the OYIF Fall Convening

In our final entry, Steve Patrick, the executive director of the Aspen Forum for Community Solutions, shares with us his key takeaways from the Fall 2014 OYIF Convening:

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Friends and Colleagues,

This past fall, the Aspen Forum for Community Solutions gathered its Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund (OYIF) grantees, strategic partners, funders, and guests for the Fall 2014 OYIF Convening in Aspen, Colorado, to share the emerging lessons and strategies in reconnecting opportunity youth to education and employment using the collective impact approach to community collaboration.  I would like to thank all of our guests, but in particular our guest bloggers, who over the last four months have offered us an array of perspectives and lessons learned from the convening, while also capturing the spirit of collaboration that helps drive our efforts.

I have reflected a great deal on the momentum and lessons learned from the Fall 2014 OYIF Convening. For me, the key takeaways are:

From Some, to Many, to Most:

We have real consensus across the OYIF communities that the work taking place on the ground in support of opportunity youth is about moving some out of school and out of work youth through pathways to real family sustaining jobs. But, that is not enough! Even as our sites pilot and begin to scale a few pathways, they continue to convene across multiple systems, including the private and nonprofit sectors, to achieve the long-term goal of reconnecting most opportunity youth to jobs and careers.

Our communities are optimistic about aligning systems for this goal, and at the convening they embraced the idea that we must progress from some youth getting back on track, to many youth, to most youth, and ultimately to all young people in their communities (and in the country) achieving jobs in family-sustaining career fields. This optimism is contagious.

In it for the Long Haul:

It’s going to take a while to get all opportunity youth in jobs and on a path to economic independence. In order to get there, we need to take the long view. This means supporting cross-system collaboratives for a period of time that transcends most foundation initiatives and short-term grant cycles. Indeed recently at a convening of funders that the Aspen Forum for Community Solutions pulled together in partnership with Neighborhood Funders Group called “Towards a Better Place” there was a great deal of consensus that this kind of deep systems alignment and systems change work requires at least a decade of investment, not a couple of years. And while the OYIF is probably too short of an investment (4 years), many of the funders at the Better Place meeting coalesced around the long haul investment idea and spoke to the need to “think beyond initiatives” and beyond short-term grantmaking.

Leverage is Everywhere:

I was struck by how enthused the local OYIF sites were by both learning from and replicating emerging innovations from models like the Tulane University Learn and Earn program, as well as the way some sites have elevated youth voice – while also showing equal enthusiasm for leveraging the many national pathways models that were featured at the OYIF convening. For example, since we gathered in Aspen in October, we have heard about our communities reaching out to learn form, and in some instances replicate, national pathways strategies ranging from YouthBuild USA to Gateway to College National Network and the National Guard  Challenge program – just to name a few.

Employers are No Longer the Missing Link:

We have heard from JP Morgan Chase and Starbucks and from the National Fund for Workforce Solutions and Clinton Global Initiative, that the gap between the supply of opportunity youth who have been in pathways and reconnected,  and the demand from the labor market, is about to close. Other members of the OYIF Leadership Council, like Annie E Casey Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation have been working diligently on aligning supply (trained youth) and demand (entry level jobs as part of a career path) and we witnessed amongst our grantees a strong commitment to “backwards map” their pathways by starting with where the labor market opportunities are in their communities. The moment for employer engagement has arrived for the opportunity youth movement!

These are just four of the many key themes that resonated with me at the Fall 2014 OYIF Convening. I have to conclude with one final theme:  Hope. I cannot remember having ever been surrounded by so much optimism in the face of the daunting challenge of historic inequity in the US and the existence of nearly 7 million opportunity youth in our country. This hope comes from the local work on the ground, the policy opportunities coming out of recent WIA reauthorization (WIOA), the call to action coming from the tragic deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner – along with the President’s call to Action through My Brother’s Keeper, and from the many young people who came to Aspen and spread their own message of grit, tenacity and triumph. Our hope comes from all of these themes that we were able to lift-up at the convening and so much more. Ultimately, our OYIF communities and partners continue to inspire and to pave the way for more opportunity and for more hope for opportunity youth!