Community Engagement: Learning’s from New Profit’s Parent Advisory Council & XPERT Worker Advisory Board
In order to best serve the social entrepreneurs and constituents in the communities most impacted by inequitable systems, we must listen closely and deeply to the experience of community members, including workers and parents.
If 2020 was a challenging year, the Summer of 2020 was especially arduous, as our nation witnessed multiple crises that exacerbated existing inequities in our healthcare, education, and economic systems. The COVID-19 pandemic exposed long-standing disparities in our healthcare system. School closures and shifts to remote learning disproportionately impacted students in low-income districts. And the economic fallout that resulted from public health and safety measures placed many workers and their families in tenuous situations.
These issues facing many underserved communities are not new. Before the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, 5 million young adults in the United States were disconnected from stable career pathways while 7.6 million jobs went unfilled. Similarly, educators, students, and families have been advocating for years for culturally responsive social and emotional support for children in schools. Amidst a global pandemic, the need for meaningful solutions only grew.
“For me, the pain points of being unemployed, providing for family, loss of family, expansion of family, and trying to return to school-how can I make it through this time? I am blessed with a job again. However, having a relatable support system that is accessible, actionable, equitable, and sustainable is a start. I found that with New Profit staff and fellow volunteer board members.”
It is often the case that outside organizations step into communities in times of need. However well-intentioned, these organizations often approach problems with solutions in mind, and ignore the fact that the people within the impacted communities hold the knowledge, skills, and experience to create transformative change.
In order to best serve the social entrepreneurs and constituents in these communities, New Profit uses an equity-centered approach that elevates the voices and assets of those most impacted by unjust systems. We believe that proximate leaders bring skills, insights, relationships, and expertise that our society needs to advance equitable wellbeing. In practice, this means listening closely and deeply to the experience of community members; developing solutions in partnership with workers and parents who have been historically excluded from these systems; and acting in service to those communities.
New Profit launched two new efforts in the summer of 2020 and involved community partners in both of them. Our team at New Profit coordinated with a broad network of community partners to listen to parents and workers most affected by the inequities in our education and economic systems. We created advisory groups to help guide our investments and initiatives, and ensure these solutions center equity and community assets for transformative change.
The first of these efforts was our Wellbeing in Education Initiative which sought to address the ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic had disrupted schooling and life for youth, families and educators. To inform our Wellbeing in Education investment selection process, New Profit created a Parent Advisory Council (PAC). The PAC was composed of 6 parent leaders from Parents Amplifying Voices in Education (PAVE) a community-based advocacy organization, and New Profit grantee and partner. Guided by these parent leaders, our Education Team launched an investment selection process for organizations that were addressing the wellbeing needs of educators, young learners, and their families. Parent leaders read applications and recommended organizations, participated in phone interviews with social entrepreneurs, and presented their perspectives to New Profit’s Investment Committee.
“If you want to hear from the streets, you got to go to the streets - hearing our perspectives as parents made me feel heard and appreciated and that New Profit valued us by including us as parents in the process of making grants to organizations that parents/students participate in. It is necessary to walk the talk - by including us in the funding decisions, they are walking the talk - trying to make grants not made on relationships and who you know but based on feedback from “the people”
Our second effort, the Future of Work Grand Challenge, is a partnership with other actors in the workforce development ecosystem. The goals of this effort are to rapidly reskill displaced workers, equip workforce development boards with vetted tools to support additional displaced workers, and achieve broader systemic change to help prepare underinvested communities for workforce success. In order to ensure the innovations surfaced from this effort could create meaningful, transformative change while keeping equity at the center, we worked with partners including Accenture, Goodwill Industries International, and Ed Design Lab to design and assemble an XPERT Worker Advisory Board composed of a collective of 250 workforce members. Workers reviewed solution applications, contributed to research and a framework on worker-centric design, served on the judging panels and advisory boards to both MIT Solve and XPRIZE competitions, helped to develop guidelines and criteria for effective worker engagement, and participated in design thinking workshops with the teams who are innovating.
In the accompanying videos, you will hear from parents and workers on these respective boards. They share their insights and experiences in partnering with us to do this work, and they will share solutions to the preponderance of low engagement strategies practiced across the sector:
- Proximity is Expertise
- Representation & Education of the impacted communities both matter and are needed in effective engagement
- Solutions need to be systemic and we need to lead by building trust
The Parent Advisory Council and Worker Advisory Board elevated our collective thinking by offering the necessary perspectives of parents and workers. We learned with and from these respective communities as they asked questions, shared their personal stories and pain points, and made recommendations about the program model and impact of not just our work, but the work of our social entrepreneurs and their respective constituent communities. Their deep interrogation and integration in the work informed how we assessed prospective investments. Simultaneously, the parents and workers on these boards compelled us to build a deeper understanding of their social context and their daily priorities to help inform our organizational priorities. Our experience with these inaugural boards has shown that parents and workers want their voices heard, not only for their own personal gain and growth but also to uplift their communities more broadly. As we iterate our processes through future community engagements, we intend to explore approaches that are increasingly co-creative. The insights and learnings from New Profit’s experience building and engaging with these advisory boards can be used as a blueprint to guide institutions through deep community engagement.