The Women’s Foundation practices modern grantmaking by exploring innovative ways to support nonprofits and those it serves year-round. We turn to our communities through listening tours and strategic planning discussions to learn how to meet community needs best.
As part of our strategic vision, we created the Rock Star Fund—our participatory grantmaking program—that places youth as decision-makers and provides young women and gender-expansive youth of color ages 12-24, living in D.C., with $2,000 to advance their own community project idea.
The Rock Star Fund is part of a two-year leadership program—in collaboration with the D.C. Girls Coalition and the community-generated Blue Print for Action—and is making a difference for the next generation of youth leaders.
Last month, we were thrilled to have one of our program officers, Chika Onwuvuche, join a conversation with Guenevere Crum, Director of Community Engagement at Catchafire, to discuss the Rock Star Fund.
Catchafire is an organization that partners with grantmakers to connect nonprofits with pro-bono professionals that provide full-service, on-demand solutions. When foundations work with Catchafire, they invest in modern grantmaking; their innovative technology and capacity help directly drive community impact. Nonprofits save time and money by leveraging the support of skilled volunteers from across the globe.
During the webinar, attendees learned more about Chika, the Rock Star Fund, and critical narratives around modern grantmaking. The conversation also opened the floor for improved collaboration and communication between grantmakers and grantees.
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., Chika is committed to ensuring area residents are afforded equitable resources and services to live self-determined productive lives. She is a champion of youth-led initiatives that empower systems change and manages our foundation’s youth and safety grant portfolios with support for advocacy efforts of collaborative grantee partners.
During the discussion, Chika spoke about our modern grantmaking approach to supporting women and girls of color—in which we aim to create a space to engage with and support youth. In addition to youth work, Chika also focuses on safety by providing resources and grants to nonprofits that support survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence and give culturally specific help.
Listening to Our Community
Before the pandemic, we held a series of listening sessions with stakeholders and youth to learn about the community’s critical issues, challenges, and needs. In return, we received recommendations on what young people wanted to see in D.C.
“We offered a space where young people, who are often overlooked, were able to engage in conversations around what they wanted to see in their community. Having these conversations over two years materialized into this great body of work,” said Chika.
The work resulted in creating the Blue Print for Action and the Young Women’s Advisory Council, with recommendations on how different agencies should center young women and girls of color. These programs emerged in a variety of ways:
- Mentorship opportunities
- Culturally responsive mental health resources
- A safe space to come together
“The first step is listening to them. They know what they need. Make the spaces that you are engaging with them accessible. We, as adults, create parameters and expectations on how young people should show up and have conversations with us. Creating accessibility is really important. I think we have an idea of how the world is going to go and is supposed to go, but they’re the future—they’re going to be the ones deciding this. Give them the space to be able to do so, give them a space for them to show up authentically. They need a space to be authentic and allow them, partner with them, and lead them on what those spaces could look like,” Chika added.
Next Generation Leadership
The Women’s Foundation partners with the D.C. Girls Coalition, a youth-led group with young women who curate events and discuss critical issues in the community. The Coalition is tasked with selecting the recipients of the Rock Star Fund and $2,000 microgrant for learning opportunities and community projects. “They are the changemakers!” Chika says. “We have a lot of power within foundations, and it’s so amazing to see them take it in their hands.”
For many, the D.C. Girls Coalition is their first experience in philanthropy, and they develop insights on what should and shouldn’t be funded. Award recipients and their projects address various community needs, from advocating for youth eligibility for homeless shelters and arts and culture initiatives to health care and recreation.
The community needs are diverse and are represented by the projects of the Rock Star Fund. Some projects that have received funding include:
- A literary magazine using the funding to catapult its work to the next level
- Mentorship programs
- Confidence building through equine care and riding experiences
- A hair care line with the goal of healthier beauty products in stores
As part of her role, Chika works with the awarded Rock Stars as they implement their projects, helping them address any barriers they encounter, providing feedback, and supporting their entrepreneurial work. The cohorts also have a series of networking events, allowing for peer learning and creating a community of women and girls of color doing incredible work. By providing these resources, these microgrants are helping close the gender gap in D.C. and giving more women and girls a chance to succeed in their chosen fields.
With the help of these current grantmaking initiatives, D.C. women and girls can access resources and support networks that can help them reach their goals. These grants are helping to create a more equitable and inclusive society, all while supporting the entrepreneurship and vision of the next generation.
Get involved and learn more about our Young Women Initiative here.