NEXT Innovations

Recently 34 young adults from the Minneapolis-St. Paul area graduated from the Next Innovations Leadership program. This was the sixth class of graduates from a leadership  program  which seeks  to foster young leaders who are initiators of  change  and progress and who have a commitment to take action to build a better world.

Next Innovations was started in 1994 by Alicia Phillips while she was a senior at Macalester College.  While many leadership programs are geared towards upper management and towards people who are in mid-career, Next is a more grass-roots approach that focuses on young adults (ages 18-28) who are just beginning careers in the non-profit world.  Next participants are a diverse group from multi-cultural backgrounds.  Through the program, they build relationships with young adults they might not otherwise have the opportunity to get to know.  As recent graduate Amanda Seigel noted: “Next provided me with a warm, supportive community that encouraged my work…I learned practical skills and built relationships with other young adults from diverse communities.” As a diverse group of action-oriented professionals, they reflect the changing demographics of our society: over 60  percent of program participants come from urban communities of color;  many are from lower income backgrounds; all are committed to creating a civil society in which peace, justice and equity prevail.

The central theme of the Next Leadership model is alliance building. Participants are encouraged to build alliances with each other and to take this skill into the community to enhance their work for social change. The nine-month program is struc­tured around skill-building retreats and “breakfast clubs.”  The “breakfast clubs” are small groups that serve as the foundation for building a support network among Next participants.  The “breakfast clubs” meet regularly and Next alumni and facilitators help focus discussions on leadership issues and skills, building alliances in a diverse world, and building awareness about them­selves and the environment in which they work.  As another Next graduate, Brent Kurkowski observed: “Next Innovations challenged me to look my fears in the face, to question the origins of my assumptions, and to think critically about how I can truly change the systems society operates within; thus becoming an effective agent of social change.” Next participants learn how to set up environments that allow for all voices to be heard, welcomed and valued in the workplace and in the community.

Next is currently recruiting for Class VII. “We have placed a high priority on recuiting young adults with disabilities as well as young adults who work in agencies and organizations that serve people with disabilities.  If Next is to model a world of diversity where people build alliances across differences, we need to ensure that we have participants from the disability community,” stated Sunny Kase, Next Recruitment Coordinator.

The nine month program includes 3 two-day retreats, eleven breakfast club meetings, two one-day training sessions and one-to-one sessions where participants examine progress towards their individual goals.  Some of the leadership kills participants learn about are communication, budgeting and finance, community organizing, public speaking and storytelling, grant writing, and project management. They also learn about how to become a power­ful ally; leading a meeting; building a team around their ideas and leadership; developing a personal vision and building strate­gic goals based on this vision; how to take an  effective stand against injustice;  and how to support other leaders. Through personal change and skill-building, participants become valuable assets to their workplace and their community.

Another component of the Next program is the initiation of a project. The project is an opportunity for a participant to “fine tune” an idea or vision that they may have for their organization or community. The project helps them put definition and structure to their dreams.  Tommy Watson, a Next graduate, said about his project (called Faces of Courage): “Next provided me with the tools and resources to get off the ground. Next also provided me with the allies to bring about change in our community.”

Next Innovations receives a broad range of funding from foundations, corporations and individuals.  The cost to participants is minimal compared to the actual cost of the pro­gram. The goal of Next Innovations is to train an outstanding group of lead­ers who are committed to their communities and are taking on new initiatives. They provide scholarships and do everything possible to make the Next program accessible to individuals who can help build this outstanding group of young leaders.

Next considers the non-profit agencies and organizations where the participants work as partners in the leadership program. As a result of their experiences at Next, participants are able  to bring  fresh  approaches to their work, which benefits both the community and their employer.

“Young adults, ages 18-28, are invited to apply to participate in the upcoming class of the Next leadership program which begins in September.  Anyone who is interested, including young adults and their supervisors at non-profit organizations, can call me at Next Innovations at 612-871-5057 to receive further information and to discuss the program in depth,” said Sunny Kase.  “We are looking forward to nurturing, mentoring, and coaching a new group of this next generation of leaders.”

Marcy Shapiro is Director of Programs at Next Innovations.