October 2018 CEO Letter
We were overwhelmed by the number of applications for JA Labs funding, reminding us that the drive for innovation is very much alive across the JA network. To help future applicants, I thought it would be helpful to provide advice on what types of innovation across JA are most likely to drive growth and insight into how the selection process works.
We received 57 applications and had to select just one winner (or two winners, in the end), so the Selection Committee had a difficult task. This committee was comprised of the ROC CEOs from each of the six JA regions, plus six executives from JA Worldwide. Jeff Hittner, a consultant to JA Worldwide, managed the process with speed and diligence. Using criteria approved by Citi Foundation, the JA Labs funder, Jeff implemented the following point system:
50%: Innovation and the ability to incentivize change. Innovation can be demonstrated by, for example:
Meeting an existing need for youth that is not currently being addressed
Reaching youth in new or different ways, including with non-traditional program design
Increasing the reach of the JA office by either augmenting its current student reach, or by reaching new populations (for example, refugees, disadvantaged youth, rural youth) that your JA location hasn't successfully reached before
Partnering with a digital, marketing, education, or technology organization to expand reach and enter communities or populations not yet served by JA
Investment in digital tools to shift the education strategy from traditional classroom delivery to on demand delivery to existing and new populations
A moonshot idea, which is inherently risky, but if successful could lead to transformational change within the JA network, either locally or more broadly
25%: Expected impact on youth
25%: Potential for replication throughout the network
For the first round, each of the 12 members of the Selection Committee was given the opportunity to vote based on the quality of the written applications. It was a difficult task to allocate points to such a large number of applications, so we decided to use the first round of voting as a means of screening and shortlisting, rather than deciding on winners.
With a shortlist of about a dozen applications with the highest scores during the first round of voting, the Selection Committee held a meeting by teleconference. This gave us an opportunity to discuss what types of innovation are important to the JA network, but this was not our first time discussing innovation. When this same group met in March 2018, we had a strategic discussion about prioritizing time for activities, programs, and people that are able to drive impact more cost-effectively, more substantially, and/or to underserved populations. We discussed The Three Box Solution and how to create opportunities for so-called “Box 3” activities. JA Labs, while not intended to address all our innovation needs in the JA network, it is intended to start the process of recognizing that we can try new things—even if they might fail, even if they’re outside our traditional programs, and even if they serve populations that are underserved by JA today.
After the Selection Committee developed a short list of applicants, a team from Citi Foundation had a chance to provide its opinion, including a thoughtful discussion about “what’s missing from JA today,” “what we should invest in,” and “what skills are needed to maximize employability outcomes.” Funding for JA Worldwide and the JA network from Citi is aligned to the Pathways to Progress initiative, which provides funding for programs that address global youth unemployment. Likewise, in the JA Worldwide Strategic Plan, we highlight how many of JA’s programs are aligned to address this global issue—and how it is important for us to define and measure our impact in this area.
Suggestion: JA Labs applications aligned to improving employability outcomes and aligned to the JA Worldwide Strategic Plan are more likely to be shortlisted.
In the end, we decided to select two winners rather than one. It was possible to do this because both applicants did not ask for the full $50,000 of funding.
Suggestion: If there are multiple winners next time, the smaller the funding request, the more likely your JA Labs application is to be selected.
Here’s more detail about each winner:
Partnering with a “Competitor” through Technology: The first winner was Young Enterprise UK for a pilot with an innovative NGO called Apps for Good. This received the highest number of innovation points because Apps for Good has developed some compelling new programs about app development and machine learning, enabling high school students to develop skills that are relevant for the future of employment and entrepreneurship. In addition, the NGO’s programs focus on mindset shift, not just skill acquisition, making Apps for Good aligned with JA’s theory of change. We are looking forward to hearing more about this NGO and the results of the pilot in the UK.
Suggestion: Our theory of change is about changing mindsets and building self-efficacy in young people. Considering self-efficacy in your JA Labs application will make your project even more relevant to JA.
Reaching At-Risk Young Women: The second winner was JA of Northern California with a program that provides “speed mentoring” to expose girls from at-risk communities to STEM careers. This applicant received the highest number of points in “replicability,” because the Selection Committee felt that many other JA areas and member countries could implement this program if successful. It leverages our existing strengths—connectivity to role models and mentors; careers-oriented programs—by serving a specific group of students for STEM careers.
Suggestion: It’s okay for a JA Labs application to rely on an existing capability, as long as you extend that capability to serve an important new category of beneficiaries or extend work-readiness programming to the future of employment and entrepreneurship.
I’m excited not only by our two winners but also by the 55 additional applicants that are eligible to reenter once we open round 2 of JA Labs on January 1, 2019. Future JA Labs submissions will have a new requirement: a 30- to 60-second elevator pitch about the innovation, which gives you a chance to more personally communicate the potential impact of your idea. Brand-new applicants are encouraged to enter too . . . the innovation juices are flowing across the network, so be thinking about what types of innovation will make us better at our work and better at serving the needs of young people in the future.
Until next time,