Equitable Futures Innovation Network

Promoting Equitable Career Opportunities Through Research-Practice Collaboration

The Equitable Futures Innovation Network, a three-year project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is bringing together youth-centered programs to advance effective practice in creating more equitable career outcomes for youth.

Career pathways that provide meaning, security and mobility for young people in the U.S. are not equally accessible. They have persistently been tied to race and socioeconomic background — despite rapid changes in opportunities and workforce demands. Most past efforts at expanding opportunity have relied on academic and skill development, job placement, and industry incentives. Fewer resources have been devoted to examining the role that identity, social capital, and cultural assets play in a young person’s future. This network is focusing on how best to tap these assets to expand career opportunities for marginalized youth, with special attention to how identity and social capital affect outcomes.

The network is creating an emerging field of study and a new approach to collaborations among scholars and practitioners in promoting career-related equity for youth. Focusing on specific programmatic strategies for building on youth assets, experiences, and voice, the network provides research into the effectiveness of these strategies and means for enhancing, refining, adapting, and sharing program models based on these strategies. Some strategies being investigated are youth-initiated and peer-to-peer mentoring, exposure to career possibilities and experiences enhanced by media and virtual platforms, and apprenticeship models and relationships. The project includes the development of techniques, tools, and guidelines for measurement of outcomes in ways suited to the objectives and workflows of partner programs.

In addition to the mutual partnerships between researchers and practitioners, the project relies on building a pipeline of early-career scholars supported through the Equitable Futures Postdoctoral Fellowship and on engagement of youth in participatory action research conducted by young people in the target programs. Direct involvement of youth in the research, mentored by the postdoctoral scholars, is central in the network’s approach to examining the lived experience of Black, Latinx, and low-income young people. Senior scholars with extensive experience working on educational equity issues support and advise the research efforts.

The network grows out of previous research on occupational identity conducted by the Connected Learning Lab, which posits the importance of exposure, engagement, and participation to career possibilities in order for young people to have meaningful, satisfying, and rewarding professional lives.

The goal of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Equitable Futures project is to build stronger connections and alignment between K-12 formal and informal education, post-secondary institutions, and employers to improve labor market outcomes and promote paths to economic opportunity and upward mobility for Black, Latinx, and low-income young people, ages 14-24.