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Infancy to Innovation

Infancy to Innovation is a framework within The Power of We crossing community sectors to boost developmental results for children and young adults, especially those of color from low-income neighborhoods. Using an atypical approach to solving child (birth to 25 years) development problems, Infancy to Innovation operates with the belief that having a healthy, successful life begins in the womb.
Michigan Nightlight: In your view, what makes your program innovative, effective or remarkable?
Partner of Infancy to Innovation and Co-Chair of the Power of We Angela Waters Austin: The relationship between Power of We Consortium and Michigan State University, along with vast regional networks is a truly remarkable and innovative partnership. It shifts power from traditional seats by valuing and elevating principles of community voice, social justice and racial equity.
Infancy to Innovation creates a trajectory for success that can ultimately close the gap in education and wealth attainment between families of colors and Caucasian families.

Approaching human development from the womb through young adulthood, we hope, will serve to break cycles of poverty and oppression by recognizing the need for investment in children at every critical stage of development. The youth and young adults of today are the parents of tomorrow. The better prepared they are in terms of graduating from school and being on a viable career pathway, the better equipped they will be to prepare their own children for school. In my view, Infancy to Innovation creates a trajectory for success that can ultimately close the gap in education and wealth attainment between families of colors and Caucasian families.
What was the best lesson learned in the past year?
The best lesson learned in the past year is that cultural competency matters. We are all innovators and we all have great ideas, but there is no substitute for lived experience. Even if we had the opportunity to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, we would only scratch the surface of what it means to live in that person’s skin, household, family and neighborhood. Most of us have never been poor.
What was the hardest lesson learned in the past year?
The hardest lesson for me, as a program developer with roots in organizational development and capacity building, is that I am not the expert on what it takes to overcome barriers that limit families from being successful. Also that all of our partners’ collective years of experience, skills and resources are insufficient in understanding the obstacles that families face in raising healthy children. That the kinds of data we are traditionally accustomed to collecting and the questions we ask just might not be the right questions to lead to sustainable systems transformation. We might not even be the right people to ask the questions. These are hard lessons to learn when our educational backgrounds, experience, titles and positions suggest that we are the source of knowledge.
All the research, best practices and brain science in the world is far less meaningful if the people who are most impacted by the services and programs we create are not part of the problem-identification, problem solving and innovation.
The experts are the people who are experiencing poverty, racism and oppression. If we want to get to the root of the problems we want to solve, we need to view them – parents, grandparents, older siblings, caretakers and educators – as the experts here.
What really differentiates this program?
What really differentiates Infancy to Innovation is that it is not a program. It is a framework that provides science and research but intentionally depends on the collective many to actually arrive at a “program.” One example of this is the Lansing Early Childhood Equity Project, which was developed in July of 2011. It emerged from years of planning and continuous communication around the Infancy to Innovation framework. The Lansing Early Childhood Equity Project is focused on families with children of color [from birth to age eight] and on building their capacity for systems transformation and
All the research, best practices and brain science in the world is far less meaningful if the people who are most impacted by the services and programs we create are not part of the problem-identification, problem solving and innovation.
We don’t know yet what that innovation will be, but we will continue to honor the process of family engagement and to invest in the emergent ideas and innovations from the continuing development of the Lansing Early Childhood Equity Project.
What are the keys to success for your program?
Keys to success are the fact that Infancy to Innovation is a framework rather than a project or program which allows partners to define for themselves how they adopt and align with the framework. As consistent with the Power of We’s culture, Infancy to Innovation is designed to be dynamic and entrepreneurial, serving as a catalyst and space for like minds to come together to solve complex problems. The long-term investment and advocacy of partners has been a vital factor in successfully advancing the Infancy to Innovation framework to the point where it is an important part of the Power of We Consortium’s vision and culture.
Infancy to Innovation's goal is that by 2020 all children, youth, and young adults in the Capital Area will grow up with the skills and abilities to actively participate in the global knowledge economy. What are some of the methods you use to strive toward this goal?
Innovation and co-creation are two primary methods we are using to strive toward our common goal. We engage children, youth and families of color in the planning and implementation of systems transformation as we employ community organization and popular education models. We also engage community and faith-based organizations led by people of color so that they have increased knowledge and capacity to improve outcomes for families with young children. We utilize research-based strategic planning tools such as Strategic Doing [a discipline for developing strategy in joined networks] and we explore varied approaches to outreach to engage families.
This includes Photovoice and video storytelling – a research method putting cameras in the hands that we want to learn from. We do that so we can come closer to sharing their living experiences. Also, social media and community events designed to give families the chance to tell their own stories, and equalize their value.
Their stories are so important. Do 400 surveys actually reveal as much as their actual life experiences? I don’t know that you can get that from any survey.
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  • Power of We Consortium
    Our mission is to improve the quality of life and self-sufficiency of all residents of Ingham County. Our vision is a healthy community through collaboration.


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