This month for our Member Spotlight series, we are highlighting Alejandra Ruiz, the Executive Director of the Youth Engagement Fund at NEO Philanthropy. Alejandra started with the Youth Engagement Fund at the end of 2018 and is one of our newest members. Join us in welcoming Alejandra!

 

Q: For those who don’t know you, tell us a little about your journey into philanthropy. What drew you to your work with the Youth Engagement Fund (YEF)?

As a formerly undocumented youth turned voter, my role of service at the Youth Engagement Fund is personal. I was born in Colombia and came to the United States when I was seven years old with my mother and younger brother. As I was navigating the journey into higher education, I learned about the DREAM Act legislation and became involved in organizing and advocacy work. Through the support of organizers, mentors, and leadership development programs, I learned to define my identity from a place of strength and empowerment. Since then, much of my social justice work has focused on youth organizing and leadership development, immigration, education justice, racial equity, and civic engagement.

Philanthropy is crucial to advancing movement efforts. The Youth Engagement Fund has provided me the opportunity to use my personal mission, knowledge of organizing in communities at the frontlines, and my understanding of fundraising –particularly among young people of color – to shape a civic engagement agenda that builds power for young people and guides us towards a United States that is dignified for all of us.

 

Q: Can you tell us more about the Youth Engagement Fund?

Around for more than a decade, the Youth Engagement Fund is the largest network of donors dedicated to increasing civic participation among young people in the United States. We uplift the voices of youth-led organizations advancing civic engagement efforts in marginalized and communities of color to activate their youth peers and community into civic participation by investing in long-term, sustained, power-building. Young people from marginalized and communities of color who play a role in broader statewide civic engagement networks are poised to advance strategic organizing, advocacy, and education efforts on civic participation among youth of color and their communities that can transform American politics. The Youth Engagement Fund is here to support them by investing in efforts that increase the civic participation of new voters and building a cadre of new youth leaders. I like to think of YEF as a megaphone in philanthropy for the voice of youth organizing in civic engagement.

 

Q: You are one of our guest speakers on April’s First Monday Discussion on Innovative Youth Organizing and Untested Approaches. What do you hope to share with our FCCP community?

Young people have untapped potential to influence the future of civic life in the United States. Year round grassroots organizing, and issue based driven civic engagement is critical to changing the behavior on voting for young people and communities of color. When we do that, we see our communities engage and mobilize around issues that matter, and this not only builds informed and empowered voters, but develops them as lifelong civic participants. As funders, it’s important for us to understand that not one size fits all and thus, it’s important for us to be flexible and responsive in our grantmaking. With our democracy changing so rapidly, we’ve got to support the needs of frontline organizations led by and for their communities. We can be strategic and responding to arising needs.

When we see ourselves in 10 or 20 years, what will philanthropy say we did to meet the urgent demand of the moment we are living in?  

 

Q: You are new to FCCP. What are you most looking forward to about being a member?

For me, it’s all about collaboration. FCCP provides convening spaces and facilitates critical discussions on a wide variety of issues that we can look at through a civic engagement lens. Together, we are able to learn more about each other’s work. As a new youth leader in philanthropy, sharing space with strategic partners and thought leaders advancing a collective vision is helpful to build community and be exposed to other grantmakers’ learnings and best practices as I think about my own work. I am looking forward to the November FCCP Convening in Detroit and being with nearly 200 people discussing issues like civic engagement and equity, and coming together around a shared vision for civic participation. As the iconic Selena once said, estoy muy excited!

 

We can’t wait either! Thanks so much, Alejandra, for your time and support of our network. If you’d like to reach out to Alejandra directly to talk more, she can be reached at alejandra@youthengagementfund.org.