Youth-Led Granting: A Participatory Approach in Action

February 2022

In the fall of 2021, the Greater Saint John Community Foundation decided to flip our traditional granting process on its head by launching a $25,000 granting cycle that supported youth-oriented programs. If this were a normal granting cycle, we would have an open call for applications from organizations that support young people (often led by adults) and have our Community Investment Committee (who are mostly adults) review and select what they believe is the most needed program for young people. The missing ingredient in this whole process is, of course, young people themselves. We decided to pilot a participatory grant making process that would be directed and led by young people from our community, giving them decision-making power over issues that affect them.

This approach was inspired by a Vital Conversation we convened with students from Harbour View High School in March of 2021. We decided to build on that momentum and invite the same crew of ten students back to participate in the granting project.

We divided the work into two sessions. During the first session the ten youth were guided through an Appreciate Inquiry process. During the Discover phase they were asked to share stories that they felt represented the best a ‘community’ can be. Using these stories as a guide, the Dream phase encouraged them to explore what they would like to see more of in our community. They collaborated during this process to share ideas in small groups, identifying common themes, and selecting their top priorities. During the Design phase, they were tasked with brainstorming project ideas that could address the priorities identified. These innovative approaches were grouped into four main categories, and finally during the Destiny phase, they voted for their project approach. The clear favorite was to support projects that foster youth-led social justice: by building up the collective skill set of young people to address social and environmental issues, they felt this would have the furthest reaching impact.

After the first workshop, the youth committee tasked the Community Foundation staff with identifying an organization that would be best positioned to action their idea. After speaking with potential organizations, it was determined that the Teen Resource Centre (TRC) was hoping to launch a youth-led social action branch of programming they were calling ‘Willow Youth Projects’. For the second session, the TRC were invited to pitch Willow Youth Projects directly to the youth. During the interactive hour-long pitch, the committee members were invited to help co-create project values and approaches. Once completed, the committee convened to decide if this project reflected the priorities they had identified. After some rich and detailed conversation, they came to the collective decision that the project aligned well with their idea but suggested additional considerations they wanted integrated in the grant agreement.

During the final session the youth committee awarded Willow Youth Projects with a $25,000 cheque to action their idea! As part of the grant agreement, staff from the TRC will be responsible for reporting directly to the youth committee, as the project unfolds.

Young people directing projects that impact other young people – a participatory approach!