Community Development

The Leadership of Tomorrow

July 23, 2019  • Aspen Global Leadership Network

2017 Action Pledge I will continue the U.S. launch of the Aspen Young Leaders Fellowship in three new markets by the end of 2019.

Communities are starved for highly authentic, gritty, and effective values-based leaders. Without them, cities and towns atrophy and do not develop the capacity to transform and attack social and economic issues at scale  or to rebuild and launch ambitious and bold new businesses to replace the ones in stagnation. To address this void, Scott Bush launched a place-based, multi-site program that nurtures youth committed to addressing the most compelling challenges in their communities. Known now as the Aspen Young Leaders Fellowship (AYLF), the team identifies, cultivates, and accelerates emerging leadership in a highly selective cohort by engaging them in the practices essential for transforming their lives and building better societies. Following the traditions of other Aspen Institute Fellowships, AYLF connects talent to opportunities, develops passion into purpose, and translates vision into action.

What sets AYLF apart from other youth leadership programs and guarantees long-term impact is its combination of a hyper-localized focus, a national network, and a sustainability plan. The program intentionally cultivates local adult stakeholders through community anchor institutions who, with support and training from the AYLF team, grow to own and execute the program over time. The sustainability plan’s slow-release model allows the program to shift from community-supported to community-owned. Therefore, impact is not contingent on the success of a single young change-maker and whether they stay or leave a locality. Instead, the community benefits from developing a critical mass of young leaders while simultaneously cultivating local adult and organizational talents to accelerate and sustain these efforts.

The Fellowship itself is modeled on the highly successful core of Fellowships in the Aspen Global Leadership Network but modified by experts in youth development to meet the needs of young people. Scott initially launched AYLF in 2017 with cohorts in St. Louis, Missouri and Newark, New Jersey. The following year Scott and the AYLF team added the Mississippi/Arkansas Delta as its first rural location. The program now has urban and rural prototypes optimized to achieve high-impact, durable outcomes locally. These prototypes will be used to expand delivery of the program into new regions over the next five years, with a goal of building a critical mass of over 500 young leaders ready to commit to immediate action to solve the most compelling issues facing their communities.

Each year, approximately 30 youth ages 18-22 are selected for AYLF from each locality based on their talent and potential. Fellows participate in a year long curriculum that includes 150 seminar hours focused on values-based leadership development. They also work collectively to design and launch a leadership venture, a community impact project, designed to tackle a major need in their region. To date, 63 Fellows have graduated from AYLF and are now active alumni continuing their work with the program as peer mentors and moderators as well as extending the long-term influence of their ventures. New cohorts will launch in December 2019, serving an additional 60 Fellows across the United States in 2020. Collectively, AYLF programming will impact over 1,000 people in 2019. New localities we be added in 2020 and 2021, bringing the total number of active Fellows in the program to 120 youth per year.