Copyright 2005
Girl's Best Friend Foundation

Girl's Best Friend Foundation (GBF) closed November 2007. 
GBF’s records are archived with Special Collections of the University
of Illinois, Chicago.  In fall 2008, they will be made public:

What we offer besides money

Girl's Best Friend Foundation has learned that we can help nonprofit organizations have larger, more lasting impact by offering more than funding. We augment what's already available and bridge important gaps.

Here are our nonfinancial methods of support:

Youth Worker-to-Youth Worker Exchanges

GBF hosts 90-minute facilitated conversations on topics that cut across many girls and youth programs.  Our goals are to support the generation and proliferation of ideas and strategies among youth workers.  Recent examples:

  • How to negotiate adult-to-youth relationships in girls' programs
  • What gender consciousness looks like in various kinds of youth programs

Our program officers and  girls' program director  develop meetings on topics that are key to successful development of the work we support.  We invite practitioners to present and facilitate, invite all grantees, host the meeting, and post synopses online for use by other youth workers.

Hosting Training

How to Nurture Girls' Activism

GBF encourages homegrown activism by and with girls and young women. Until recently, we had not found many local opportunities for learning how to infuse community impact work in girls' programs. 

Trainers are asked to show and tell how their programs instigate critical questioning and critical thinking.  GBF believes these skills are crucial steps toward feminist awareness and organized social change work in communities. 

Because critical questioning and critical thinking are crucial steps toward feminist consciousness and collective social change work in communities, we've sponsored and posted highlights of great training sessions.

Evaluation Training for Youth Workers

Girls programs find the training we offer a great way to learn and carry out girl-friendly investigation and evaluation. 

Participatory evaluation research (PER) is the method we promote, because of its tested value to youth workers who want to check their work and programs, and youth who want to investigate questions profoundly affecting them.  This approach helps young women and girls develop a critical eye, imagine alternatives, and frame the change they want – in their programs, their lives, and their communities.

GBF contracts with an evaluation expert who provides basic and advanced skills training, and coaching for youth workers and grantee youth/adult groups.

We've also supported the trainer's mentoring of two younger women practitioners, to build their expertise – thus increasing the pool of those available to teach these valuable skills.

We've put practical tools, people who can help, and real life examples of evaluation projects online.

"GBF sets high expectation for evaluation. As a grantee, it can be frustrating to measure and one thing GBF does differently – they provide you with the tools to help you meet those expectations.  Their consultants understand and are sensitive to what it's like on the ground."  

Underwriting Peer Learning

A learning circle is a small, focused, professionally facilitated, confidential peer group that meets regularly for seven months, to solve work-related organizational, management, and conceptual issues. 

Each member has time to present a self-identified challenge, and to receive feedback -- probing questions, supportive challenges, and advice -- from the group.

Learning circles have two major benefits:

  • problem solving and learning from and with others
  • expanding webs of relationships with colleagues

GBF organizes three learning circles a year; participation is by invitation only.

Executive directors and program leaders have participated in separate circles. GBF has also used the learning circle model twice in our Safe Space Project.  Feedback from participants supports the value of the learning circles:

  • "I have been aggressive, dominating, and impatient with my board and I am dangerously close to usurping their authority. What can I do about (circle member identified an issue to work on)?"
  • "The good thing about this process is that it is not just about jobs and professional development, there is an integration of the spiritual and emotional."
  • "My actions linked together to become a huge (and much needed) growth process for me in my position.  I did the following for myself:  1.) Created a job description; 2) Now have a formal evaluation with my supervisor; 3) Facilitated a consensus building workshop with staff; 4) Gather staffed together to meet on issues of concern; 5) Organized a staff meeting to formally address professional growth needs with our supervisor."

A new report illustrates the ways in which Learning Circles are a potent approach to professional and organizational development.

Why GBF Helped Found the Chicago Girls' Coalition

The Chicago Girls' Coalition (CGC) fills a significant gap identified by local girls programs: a gender-specific organization that is a hub for the development of expanded resources and strengthened support for girl-serving organizations, girls, and others.

Coalitions provide powerful platforms for collective learning and action.  They help overcome isolation and reinvention of the wheel. 

With the Chicago Foundation for Women and a dozen community-based organizations, GBF pitched in to create CGC in 2002. GBF staff have been hands on members of the Steering Committee and Board. 

GBF is also a CGC funder, because we know that it is a great resource for girls programs with little capacity to provide continuing training or networking.  GBF and CGC's values are not identical, but they are complimentary. 

Today, CGC is a growing membership organization (50+ members), has created a directory of local girls programs, hosts training and discussions, and a listserv that offers innumerable opportunities to girls programs.

GBF and CGC coordinate networking and professional development events, and co-sponsor training. We see GBF's convening and professional development roles diminishing, as CGC grows. We believe CGC will go a long way toward mitigating the impact of GBF's closing at the end of 2007.

Why GBF is helping create the Chicago Freedom School

GBF hosted a 2004 dinner conversation to ask youth group advocates and activists a question: What could be created to ignite youth activism in Chicago?  The most exciting idea was a summer freedom school, with a gender lens, for youth to learn the tools for creating social change.

Since then, a promising feasibility study has been completed, and development of the Chicago Youth Freedom School begun.

A group of youth and adults is investing considerable time and effort to work toward a pilot of the Chicago Freedom School in the summer of 2007.  We are indebted to two women who have led all work to date on this project: Mariame Kaba with the Young Women's Action Team and Jobi Peterson of the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health

GBF has shifted from early partner to a funding role. We've underwritten early creative work, and we intend to be among the new Chicago Freedom School's supporters. We consider it a significant part of what GBF will leave behind that will engage, embolden, and unite many girls, young women, and youth committed to social justice.

Watch here for periodic updates on the Chicago Freedom School's development.


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