How do social investors strategically and purposefully make an investment to address international development and migration?
There is no one answer to this question. Although, two considerations are investing in institutions and people – both can be catalysts for change. Urban Strategies is strengthening institutions in Central America by equipping local churches who are committed to the long-term transformation of their neighborhoods. Complimenting this institutional investment is a parallel human capital investment in both faith leaders and high-potential youth connected to churches.
That is why Urban Strategies piloted and is continuing Future at Home, a social investment program around churches and youth in Central America to build up future community leaders in El Salvador and Guatemala. Future at Home was founded on the belief that more in-country growth and development opportunities are needed for young adults to forego the allure of migration and to remain in their native countries.
Youth who are not working or studying, typically women with low levels of education, may end up dropping out of the labor force and are potential recruits for gang violence and drug trafficking or may choose to leave their country of origin, notes the World Bank. Furthermore, youth lack professional development and an understanding of how to articulate and apply their life experiences, such as volunteering and sports leadership.
Studies indicate churches are trusted institutions in Latino communities, so Urban Strategies is working with eight churches in El Salvador and Guatemala to recruit and engage high-potential youth in youth development initiatives. This integrated, cross-sector social capital investment is purposefully designed to rely on local faith leaders for access to the right youth and long-term sustainability.
Future at Home
Agency, purpose, vision -- these qualities are embodied by the youth in the Future at Home scholars cohort. Although their interests and studies vary - psychology, medicine, journalism, engineering, sports science, international relations – what the scholars have in common is their commitment to their local church and desire to see change in their neighborhoods.
When asked what they would like to see transformed in their communities in the next two years, every Future at Home Scholar had a unique vision, whether it was to address gang violence, see more organization in the community or use sports to engage at-risk children and youth. More than a vision, the cohort sees themselves as part of the change.
Lizeth, a Guatemalan student of psychology, believes one of the roots of crime in her community is poverty. While crime is something the community complains about, she sees that no one is working to address the root problems.
Future at Home is helping driven youth like Lizeth envision and move towards a future in which they can flourish and contribute to community-wide flourishing. Donors provide financial scholarships for their education and Urban Strategies provides mentoring, teaches critical thinking skills, and facilitates an opportunity for participants to develop a project focused on giving their peers and youth in the community a constructive alternative to gang involvement, migration, etc.
Local churches play an integral role in youth recruitment. Since churches are embedded in high-risk communities and are already engaging youth, they are central to reaching youth and families and engaging them long term.
“Without the church, this would be just another scholarship program. The church helps us mentor and engage students who then reinvest in their church and community,” commented Urban Strategies Central America Director Quique Martinez. “It’s a win-win – pastors instill their passion for the community in the youth and the youth bring fresh ideas to the table in the work the church is doing in the community. It creates sustainability in the community efforts the church is doing.”
This work presents a two-fold social capital investment opportunity. In 2020, the pilot cohort will be continuing the program and a new cohort will be starting in El Salvador.
You can partner with Urban Strategies to provide a university scholarship to Future at Home scholars by giving here. Join us in strengthening Central American churches and their young people, the future of the community.