Reflections on the Grand Aspirations Leadership Gathering

Over the past ten days, youth activists involved in Grand Aspirations converged in St. Paul, MN for a leadership gathering to learn how to run an effective summer program dedicated to finding tangible, local solutions to the problems of climate change, the economic downturn, and environmental injustice.


Gandhi once said that we must be the change we wish to see in the world. That is what this organization is all about – we must view the process through which we do things as integral to the outcomes of our initiatives.

I have had the amazing experience of working with folks from around the nation over the past 10 days at the Grand Aspirations Winter Leadership Gathering. Grand Aspirations is an organization that plans programs around the nation to get youth climate activists into the community, to create and implement real plans for community development around energy, the economy, and environmental justice. The Purpose of the gathering was to bring Summer of Solutions program planners from around the nation together to strategize at the national level on how to make our programs effective, how to connect with the communities we live in and train participants.

From an organizational standpoint, this week has been absolutely imperative. From the beginning of the gathering, we’ve been tackling some serious issues about building an organization from the ground up, and building an organization in a grassroots manner.

What I’ve really noticed about the way we work is that it’s really transformative – both on a personal and a community level. At the individual level, we seek to support the person. At the organizational level, we attempt to create structures that are new within old structures of the non-profit that can speak more readily to the outcomes we seek. In building the non-profit that is Grand Aspirations, we are being very conscious of what has been done, and how we can do it differently/better.

The community focus of the Summer of Solutions program allows for activists and participants to learn by doing, and also to effect real change in their communities as they go along. Originally designed to keep the momentum of student activism going during the summer months, the program took student activists out of the setting of the campus and into the outside community. However, as is to be expected, this kind of activism is very different from on-campus activism. In the community, organizing is even more about connecting with structures of power that may not be expected.  For instance, to get more public transportation at the city level, it is important to contact city council boards on transportation issues, architects, community groups, etc. to pull together a collaboration that would result in the re-thinking, on a city scale, of car culture.

That is but one of many examples of the ways in which this kind of programming and organizational modeling can take student/youth activists out of their comfort zones, and place the youth climate movement on the map in local, regional, and national solutions-seeking and implementing.

Grand Aspirations is in a really interesting position. We aren’t working entirely outside of the system, as many activist groups strive to do, but we also aren’t entirely “in” with government and the system as it is. Through the Summer of Solutions program, and other programs that Solutionaries in Grand Aspirations are in the process of planning, we are transforming the ways in which young people interact with the systems we’ve inherited.

This past week, we’ve talked a lot about strategies we should use to make the solutions implemented and begun by our programs into realities. While the leadership gathering has focused on some national organization-building decisions, we have also had ample time to focus on our own programs, and share ideas from across the nation. After having met the amazing people dong this kind of work all over the country, I personally am very excited to keep up with them, and continue to learn about the wonderful work that’s going on, and how I can learn from their actions.

What I love about this model of doing things is that it connects the local solutions, which can be implemented on varying timelines, with national programs, basically facilitating an amazing idea-share so that our movement can grow and learn from successes on the local level. It’s a really beautiful movement that allows for personal growth as well as community growth.

This post is getting quite rambly, but there will be more to come. Hopefully soon we’ll have some videos to show for our work, so keep on the look out for some more news about what’s going on here.

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