A Summit to Remember

We all are responsible for ensuring young people are ready to enter the workforce with confidence; connected to the networks, relationships, and resources needed to access new opportunities; and supported with the training, coaching, and skills needed to excel. That’s the core belief of the YES Project—Young, Employed, Successful—America’s Promise Alliance’s newest campaign. By working to ensure that young people are ready, connected, and supported, we will make progress toward full employment for America’s young people ages 16 to 24 by 2030.

Last month, we publicly launched the YES Project with a panel at ASU + GSV that focused on the power of connection and how the business community, educators, policymakers, and philanthropists can help link youth to new opportunities. The panel included robust conversation between Abby Davisson, Senior Director of the Gap Foundation; Meg Garlinghouse, Head of Social Impact at LinkedIn; Miracle Olatunji, a college student and Founder of OpportuniME; and Laura Tatum, Director of Jobs and Education at the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality.

The theme of the afternoon’s conversation centered on the role that we all play in helping young people find work. Each of our panelists represented a different stakeholder group that plays an integral role in youth employment. During the conversation, each panelist described the way that her respective group is improving youth employment outcomes, while making recommendations for further improvement. 

Abby set the tone of the afternoon by emphasizing how employers need to be intentional about helping young people develop skills. She told the story of a young woman named Aridian who landed a job with Old Navy but was so shy that would hide behind the stacks of jeans to avoid speaking to customers. Noticing this, Aridian’s manager assigned her to the fitting rooms so that she had no choice but to speak with customers. Aridian’s confidence grew during this experience and, three years later, she has been promoted and now trains other employees. Aridian’s ultimate goal is to become a nurse. Because her supervisors saw her potential and gave her the time and space to grow, she became a dedicated employee and has developed skills such as customer service and leadership that will help her throughout her career trajectory.  

Meg followed up on Abby’s comments with a compelling argument about society’s collective responsibility to help young people find work. Just how does Meg suggest we do this? By sharing our networks. “Networks are by definition expansive,” she stated.

So, in other words, it’s like lighting as candle. If you light a candle and light someone else’s candle, it doesn’t diminish your flame. It just expands it. So, we are trying to help inspire people to think differently and be more intentional about who they are helping as they reflect on people who helped them get where they are.”

Miracle shed light on how young people can and should be helping each other. She reflected on how fortunate she is to have opportunities and felt that it was her duty to ensure that her peers had opportunity as well. She is doing this by creating an app called OpportuniME, which sources jobs and internships and puts them in one place for the user to access. 

Finally, Laura rounded out the conversation with her research and data expertise by highlighting the role government and policy can play in improving systems that serve young people. She explained the need for high schools that prepare young people for college and career, a range of postsecondary options that are geared toward completion and lead to a good job, and viable work opportunities. Laura noted that there is overlap across these three components and that governmental entities can help make them a reality for all young people. 

The panel also featured announcements about two major activities that will guide the first year of the campaign—#PledgeYES and Action Roundtables. #PledgeYES is a direct-action movement encouraging employers, community leaders, and advocates across the country to connect young people with employment opportunities and valuable contacts; provide advice on the job search and interview process; and offer support after employment.

Action Roundtables support youth employment efforts in four communities across the country through a series of grants to accelerate action and learning toward ensuring that youth are ready, connected, and supported for employment. The communities and affiliated organizations, who are members of the Aspen Institute Opportunity Youth Forum, include the Ancestral Lands Hopi Program (Hopi Reservation, AZ), Capital Workforce Partners (Hartford, CT), Thrive Chicago (Chicago, IL), and Austin’s Opportunity Youth Collaborative (Austin, TX). 

Join us! Visit to learn more and #PledgeYES to be a part of creating the conditions that will help our young people thrive.