Ecosystem for Youth Belonging and Opportunity

The Forum for Youth Investment has long been a champion of building connection and collaboration across a wide range of youth-serving fields. As part of our Stronger Systems, Stronger Youth strategic plan, this cross-system focus has become even sharper, as we emphasize the application of a positive youth development approach. This approach aims to elevate and amplify young people’s assets and strengths while building upon protective factors, including family and community support, to support their developmental process. The graphic below illustrates opportunities for connection and collaboration in support of positive youth development across Education, Workforce Development, Community-Based Youth Development, Health and Human Services, Child Welfare, and Youth Justice.  


This graphic representing the Ecosystem for Youth Belonging and Opportunity includes four squares within a larger set of concentric circles. The outermost circle highlights the environmental, cultural, and social contexts in which development takes place. The next circle inside that one highlights the aligned infrastructure, policy, and practices that support coordination and collaboration across systems. The next circle contains four squares, each of which illustrates different domains and range of youth serving systems that comprise the youth development ecosystem. At the center, connecting the four squares are two smaller circles, the outer one highlights family, peer, neighborhood, and virtual contexts that influence development. The inner circle at the center of the image highlights the role that supportive relationships play in the micro and macro levels of all these systems. Ultimately, they represent the complex and dynamic set of relationships within and across systems.

One way of describing this ecosystem graphic is that it is the people, places, and possibilities that support youth development.[1] At the core are supportive relationships (along with the contexts where those relationships take place) that can shape experiences along with opportunities that are available for learning and development. Our graphical illustration of the ecosystem’s elements is a reminder that young people navigate within cultural contexts that are continuously shifting and that can shape their experiences and opportunities.

This graphic portrays a multi-dimensional Youth Development Ecosystem. It not only connects the idea that youth development is influenced by the systems and interactions a young person experiences over their life but reinforces the fact that ultimately what holds it together is the opportunity to strengthen supportive relationships.

Communities can create equitable opportunities for young people — but only when youth services leaders and systems collaborate to provide young people with quality support tailored to their needs and strengths and grounded in their lived experience. Building a coordinated youth development ecosystem as illustrated by the graphic will help young people achieve their highest potential in education, work and life.

[1] Akiva & Robinson (2022). It Takes and Ecosystem: Understanding the People, Places, and Possibilities of Learning and Development Across Settings. Information Age Publishing.