The Root Cause Blog
19 Dec

Youth Violence Prevention Collaborative: Ready for Action in 2014

Written by Margaret Leipsitz, Senior Consultant, Root Cause Consulting

This past April, I joined Root Cause to facilitate the Youth Violence Prevention Funder Learning Collaborative (“the Collaborative”). The Collaborative is a group of more than 40 private and public funding organizations dedicated to supporting the 40,000 youth who live in Boston neighborhoods where 80 percent of violent crimes occur: South End/Lower Roxbury, Dudley Square, Grove Hall, Bowdoin/Geneva, and Morton & Norfolk Streets. The statistics on this small geographic area are staggering. In 2011 alone, there were 135 youth victims of assault and battery with a deadly weapon. An additional 25 youth were victims of homicide. The prevalence of violence in these neighborhoods has deep impacts on the health and sense of security of not only those directly involved, but the entire community. 

With more than 25 years of experience including direct service with youth in schools and in out-of-school programs, as well as in foundation and corporate philanthropy focused on education and youth development, I understand the enormous toll that violence has on young people, both those directly and indirectly involved. I also know that despite challenges, these young people possess great resiliency as well as talent and motivation to succeed. I was eager to work with the Collaborative because I recognized that this enlightened group of public and private funders was in a position to create a more systemic approach to supporting youth and their families than other initiatives. After all, collaboration between nonprofits is what funders have been advocating for years—this was an opportunity to show everyone how it is done. However, what I have learned over the last seven months is that as much as collaboration makes sense, it is much easier said than done.

There is no magic formula for making a collaboration work—it takes time and patience to keep funders engaged in dialogue towards collective action. It takes hours of discussion, listening, and sharing to build consensus and trust. To their credit, a core group of Collaborative members has stayed at the table to lead. They have met regularly in working groups to address specific funding strategy areas including workforce development and education, youth development and mentoring, and family supports and mental health. They have commissioned research to measure the impact of employment on youth, invited experts and practitioners to the table, and most importantly, engaged youth perspectives and participation. They also have developed a Career Pathways Framework that established definitions, measures, and outcomes for funders to align their grantmaking around youth outcomes. 

At an annual symposium last week, the Collaborative brought together 150 leaders from the private, public, and nonprofit sectors for a day of shared learning, dialogue, and action. Mayor Menino expressed his support for our work by delivering a welcome address, and highlights included the announcement of updated findings from our ongoing youth employment research and the release of the Career Pathways Framework. Looking ahead to 2014, the Collaborative is poised to move to collective action around expanding employment opportunities for youth, building more supports and training for youth workers, street workers, and job supervisors to create trauma-informed service delivery, and planning a city-wide trauma summit.

As Mayor Walsh moves to take office in January, we urge him to capitalize on the work that the Youth Violence Prevention Funder Learning Collaborative has done over the past five years. Having grown up in Dorchester, and having been a victim of violence himself as a young man, he brought these experiences to his campaign, making clear that addressing youth unemployment and youth violence were high priorities. By taking advantage of the cross-sector alliance that the Collaborative has built, he can reduce his learning curve to move more quickly into action. The Collaborative members know first-hand that it takes time to build true collaboration, and we stand ready and organized to support him on day one to serve Boston’s young people.

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