Gather together 500 young women from around the state in listening sessions about their greatest challenges and hopes. Match them up with the resources of the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota and the power of the Governor’s office. Create a paid Cabinet of 25 young women ages 16 to 24, representing eight diverse communities, and a Council of 70 private/public leaders from corporations, government, philanthropy, universities and nonprofits.

The intent of this seven-year, $9-million initiative is to make deep structural changes in economics, cultural narratives, safety, inequity in gender norms and advance educational opportunities. That is the collective scale of the Young Women’s Initiative of Minnesota, the first statewide program of its kind in the nation.

“The Young Women’s Initiative is identifying strategies to improve outcomes and close opportunity gaps. The Governor and I are proud to be partners in this work. We can’t afford to waste any of the talent and potential of these young women,” says Lt. Governor Tina Smith.

As Saanii Hernandez, vice president of the Women’s Foundation, puts it, “It’s not enough to build resilience for individuals. We need to change entire systems.”

The Initiative rolled out a blueprint in November for improving the lives of women and girls in Minnesota. Beyond merely listening to concerns, the Initiative will lift up specific solutions, led by the voices of young women of color, American Indian young women, LGBTQ youth, young women with disabilities and young women from Greater Minnesota. Micro-grants will be offered to young women throughout the state to enact community solutions.

The Blueprint focuses on these questions and topics:
• How can young women feel more secure in a culture in which sexual assault and harassment is common? How can we improve communication around consent on college campuses? How can we reduce incidents of domestic violence and sex trafficking in Minnesota?
• How can structural changes be made in a societal narrative that still sees women of color and LGBTQ as ‘other’? Says one young woman, “It’s not much of a leap from ‘other’ to ‘threat.’ We need to embrace identities other than our own more often.”
• How can young women succeed in school when they also are expected to take care of the household because parents work multiple jobs? As one woman says, “It’s hard to raise yourself and your brothers while going to school.”
• How can women with English fluency translate, do family paperwork and represent their families in financial interactions while also maintaining a sense of emotional strength and social connections? Says one, “The college dropout rate for Latinas is high because we don’t have the economics and we don’t feel we belong. We need to build communities that help keep us there.”

The Initiative honors what one young woman expresses: “We are not the future, we are the present. We are part of the NOW.”