Jackson Foundation Invests in Youth Leadership Through Fellowship Program

July 14, 2017

When foundations embark on a new program, there are always a lot of unknowns. Will the initiative have a meaningful impact? Will it foster powerful collaborations with unlikely partners? Will it advance the overall mission of the organization? As a trainer for Philanthropy Northwest’s Best Practices in Grantmaking program, I’m pleased to be able to share an example of impact from my day job leading the Jackson Foundation in Seattle.

When we began the Henry M. Jackson Leadership Fellows two years ago, our goal was to mentor and train a cohort of young leaders so that they could help our region – and our nation – solve the challenges facing us today and tomorrow. The idea grew out of discussions with our board, specifically those who had worked with or knew Senator Jackson. We wanted the program to educate younger people about the Senator, his values and principles and to encourage them to give back to the foundation through board service and future leadership.

The vision for the program came about after the creation of a short, easily absorbed book about Sen. Jackson’s “qualities of leadership” to use in Washington state and nationally to encourage conversations on leadership. His values of integrity, openness and a willingness to reach across the aisle to find common ground resonate with people, especially in today’s polarized climate.

Using the teachings of this book as a foundation, the fellows learn about Sen. Jackson and his service throughout the 10-month program year. We also connect the fellows, ages 20 – 40, to mentors through our Board of Governors. Fellows receive training on different leadership styles and concepts, such as “servant leadership,” and meet community leaders such as Attorney General Bob Ferguson and former Gates Foundation executive Martha Choe. The program culminates with a trip to Washington, D.C., where fellows participate in panel discussions designed for an audience of young Washington interns and other members of the community. They meet with the Washington State Congressional Delegation and other leaders who can help them advance or build careers in public service, leadership, civic engagement and bipartisanship. The most recent class of fellows also experienced firsthand a briefing on climate change that the foundation was conducting the week of their visit.

The fellows’ ability to integrate Jackson’s principles into their own lives has astounded us. They instantly picked up on what was relevant to them and their peers and began to use those principles. As part of the program, they spoke to other young people, including at the North Cascades Institute’s Youth Leadership Conference, discussing leadership, values-based community engagement, and how to use one’s passion for the common good.

When we began the program, the foundation’s leadership decided that investing in a small group of outstanding young people and devoting to them our time and attention to help advance their careers would be worthwhile. Indeed, the program has exceeded our expectations. We keep track of the fellows for future engagement through an established, staff-supported alumni component. This will strengthen the fellows’ connections to the foundation, to each other, to future classes and provide a platform for continued learning and leadership. It is remarkable what a relatively small investment of resources, staff time, and board engagement can accomplish.

The first fellow has already joined one of our key board committees, a program goal from the start. We are inspired and hopeful that our fellows will roll up their sleeves and continue their civic engagement, armed with Jackson principles and values. To learn more about the program, feel free to contact me at iglitzin@hmjackson.org.