Following up on the Forward Promise Call for Ideas

In her first Forward Promise update, Program Officer Maisha Simmons looks back on the 2011 Call for Ideas, an experiment and learning opportunity.

    • May 14, 2012

May 14, 2012

Late last year, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation issued the Forward Promise Call for Ideas to gather information about innovative program models that would contribute to helping young men of color succeed in life, school and work.

This Call for Ideas was an experiment for myself and for the Foundation: an attempt to learn from those of you already working in this area to ensure our resulting funding strategy has the impact we hope it will.

The Forward Promise Call for Ideas resulted in more than 300 submissions, diverse in regard to geography, organizational size, and the race and ethnicity of the young men reached by these programs. We were particularly pleased because many of these submissions came from “new” organizations (i.e., organizations the Foundation has not previously funded or been strongly connected to in the past.)

What Did We Learn?

In addition to enabling the Foundation to discover new organizations doing strong work, I believe the Call for Ideas was a success because of how it opened my eyes to issues to consider in developing the forthcoming Call for Proposals.

Collaboration: The number of cross-sector approaches you shared and the diversity of the partners engaged excited us. One submission involved at least 16 partners—from the local school district to the police department—focusing on everything from policy change to strengthening families. It’s a holistic approach that takes into consideration the numerous social determinants that affect the success of young men of color. At the same time, while we are intrigued by these cross-sector approaches, I now recognize that this may be a challenge in rural communities where population levels and proximity may make similar models difficult or impossible. As a result, while we will still encourage submissions from partnerships and collaborations for the Call for Proposals, we will avoid being prescriptive about their structure or the number of organizations engaged.

Increasing Diversity of Submissions: It was disappointing to see the small number of submissions from organizations working with Native American and Asian/Pacific Islander young men, and from organizations based in the Midwest and Southwest. With the Call for Ideas, we tried to be comprehensive and deliberate in our outreach through personal emails, mass emails, and social media but recognize that we will need to focus on off-line relationship building to be more effective in closing this gap when we issue the Call for Proposals. I’m hopeful that many of you will help me to make those connections through your own networks.

Innovation: I was excited to learn about the unique and interesting ways that organizations are approaching their work with young men and boys of color. Forward Promise is about identifying opportunities for success and it was clear to me that many of you are experiencing success in both large and small scale projects that have lasting impacts on the young people in your communities. This is encouraging because strengthening promising programs and bringing successful models to scale is a core strategy of the Foundation’s Vulnerable Populations portfolio, of which I am a team member.

What’s Next?

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation will be issuing a Forward Promise Call for Proposals later this year, likely in late in July or August. To ensure you and your organization are aware of the Call for Proposals, you can follow us on Twitter or sign up to receive email alerts from the Vulnerable Populations portfolio.

Based on the submissions we received, as well as further research we have done internally, we have determined that the Call for Proposals will focus on the following areas:

  • Impact of trauma and mental health for boys of color;
  • Early dropout warning systems and prevention for boys in middle and high school;
  • Effects of zero tolerance policies on school climate and graduation outcomes; and
  • Collective strategies being employed by communities to improve health, education and employment outcomes for young men and boys of color.

It’s important to note we’re not moving ahead alone. As a member of the Healthy Men, Healthy Communities Initiative, I am working with other funders who have joined together as a network to learn about innovative solutions to improve the lives of young men and boys of color.

The Call for Ideas has been a rewarding and vital process for me. I’m thankful for the chance to hear from so many of you and am eager to continue working with you on moving forward the promise to our young men and boys of color. Please consider staying in touch by following and engaging me on Twitter (use the hash tag #ForwardPromise) or LinkedIn.

Best wishes,

Maisha Simmons, program officer