How do we ensure every child in the United States grows up with a strong sense of self, belonging, and purpose?

Ashoka and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation launched the Children’s Wellbeing Initiative in Spring 2016 with a challenge to uncover and support emerging innovators across the country whose projects nurture the building blocks of wellbeing in children.

We saw innovators across sectors--some social workers, educators, community members, nonprofit leaders, parents, etc.-- submit their unique models that supported children, their caregivers, and communities. This network of innovators, the Pioneers of the Children’s Wellbeing, provided each other support and peer feedback and began shaping a cross-sector, practitioner-led vision for children’s well-being.

In October 2016, Ashoka and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation celebrated 10 of these Pioneers as Champions of Children’s Wellbeing:

  • Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors, Sandra Gutierrez, Los Angeles, California
  • All Our Kin, Jessica Sager, New Haven, Connecticut
  • Village of Wisdom, William Jackson, Durham, North Carolina
  • Niroga, Coleen Armstrong-Yamamura, Oakland, California
  • No Bully, Nicholas Carlisle, San Francisco, California
  • Rales Health Center, Sara Johnson, Baltimore, Maryland
  • Talking Points, Heejae Lim, San Francisco, California
  • The Dovetail Project, Sheldon Smith, Chicago, Illinois
  • WANDA: Women Advancing Nutrition, Dietetics and Agriculture, Tambra Raye Stevenson, Washington, DC
  • WINGS, Bridget Laird, Charleston, South Carolina

These Champions exemplified the power and diversity contained within the network --- and their nuanced interventions served migrant communities, resourced title 1 schools, nourished marginalized caregivers, and otherwise took on the social determinants of health.

All participants gain the opportunity to refine their vision, tell their story, and connect with and learn from changemakers around the country who are transforming the ways that kids grow up.

10 Champions of Children’s Wellbeing will receive:

  • Funding from a pool of $48,000
  • Mentorship from Ashoka and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s network
  • Increased visibility through being showcased at the Children’s Wellbeing network event, attended by additional funders, thought leaders, and social entrepreneurs. Champions are invited to shape the agenda of the event, which will provide opportunities for recognition by leaders, capacity building, workshopping challenges, and building relationships.
  • A travel stipend to attend the Children’s Wellbeing network event.
  • Feature in media content and promotion on social media and/or journalists.

2 Leaders to Watch will receive:

  • $1000 each for entries received before the Early Entry Deadline on May 22, 2016.
  • Private consultation with Ashoka staff and/or thought leaders.
  • Feature in media content and promotion on social media and/or journalists.

Pioneers (Semi-Finalists) will receive:

  • Invitation to an exclusive network Facebook group.
  • Personalized feedback from Ashoka staff and the initiative’s panel of expert judges.
  • Formal recognition of their contributions from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Ashoka.

This initiative has several phases, each with different opportunities for participation. You can participate by submitting your project or commenting on and "applauding" the projects of others.

  • Early Entry Deadline: May 25, 2016
  • Final Entry Deadline: June 22, 2016
  • Pioneers Announced: July 25, 2016
  • Supplemental Entry Deadline: August 17, 2016
  • Champions Announced: October 12, 2016
  • Children's Wellbeing network event: TBA

  • All organizations, both nonprofit and for-profit, in the United States are eligible to apply.
  • This initiative is focused on projects that are piloting or have already piloted their models and that have documented evidence of impact.
  • Eligible projects may address the stages of pregnancy through children of age 12.
  • Ashoka Fellows are not eligible to enter the initiative.

The challenge will elect 10 Champions of Children’s Wellbeing whose entries most compellingly speak to the challenge theme (the building blocks of children’s wellbeing) and exemplify the evaluation criteria below.

We believe that a variety of models are needed to form a strong collective vision, and we’re looking for representation from sectors including child and family services, health, education, and community development. Ultimately, we seek to catalyze a network of leaders with the character and innovativeness needed to advocate for a transformative vision of children’s wellbeing. Thus, applications will be evaluated for both the project’s strength as well as the participant’s leadership qualities.


The initiative aims to convene a network of leaders who are driven by original, ground-breaking ideas. Innovation does not necessarily involve inventing something entirely new. Innovation is also present when projects apply traditional tools in new ways, or when projects leverage hybrid combinations of existing tools. In other words, innovation can be present in new approaches to an old idea, or the application of an old idea to a different problem. We are particularly interested in models that use fresh approaches to unlock systemic change or to spark mindset shifts that lead to widespread change.


We are seeking to identify Champions of Children’s Wellbeing who will be ambassadors and advocates for the network’s shared vision. This means that Champions’ applications will describe in compelling ways how their projects are making a difference (qualitatively and quantitatively), and the potential greater impact of their projects should they increase in scale.


As a leadership development initiative, Children’s Wellbeing will evaluate applications for the leadership qualities and potential of the team behind the project. We are seeking visionary leaders who demonstrate strong core beliefs and unflagging determination to solve a problem they have identified. Self-awareness, the potential to grow, the desire to collaborate, and wisdom behind decision-making are all elements that we look for when our evaluation team identifies network Champions.Note: Participants who have been selected for the Refining and Storytelling phase as Pioneers will have the opportunity to describe their leadership journey.

  • Developing new approaches for children to cultivate meaning and purpose. Strategies may include building space for collective, community healing and open discussion among families, peers, and the child them self to explore identity, trauma, and privilege
  • Creating support systems for parents, educators, and caregivers, such as peer support groups and workshops, that strengthen their ability to engage in inner development that improves their ability to foster children’s emotional wellbeing.
  • Transforming the foster care system to break cycles of trauma and cultural invalidation and work with community members to ensure stable, nurturing environments, secure attachments between caregivers and children, and children’s mental wellbeing
  • Reversing a stereotypical narrative of immigrants by creating new channels for parents to advocate for their children, placing families in positions of leadership, and highlighting their stories in media

This challenge is now over.
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Photo of Amy Edgar

Thanks for the link and agreed there is so much we can do to help children thrive. I see points of intersection in our work with children. We see a large number of children with trauma in their background. We have trauma informed professional supervision for our clinical team using concepts from The Sanctuary Model including the SELF framework for understanding recovery. Agreed there must be trauma informed resources for children to thrive!
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A great site and a great practice. We believe our research-based heart centered approach not only helps to reduce this stress as well, but also teaches practices that ultimately should result in far less violence, abuse, bullying, and lack of empathy and caring. It does take a community!

Photo of Fred

I have worked with Dr. Mason on numerous projects as a representative of NAESP (National Elementary Principals). Each time, like this present application, the proposals were clearly written, child-focused and research-based. After reading this, I feel this would,have been an asset to my school and its mission. Stress affects children in many ways and some are not readily visible to the classroom teacher or parents.

Photo of Christine Mason

Thank you for your kind comments.  I so appreciate your support. One of my joys is working with leaders like you, as well as the myriad of principals who are at the top of their craft! You are so right about the invisible stress. Some of our children, like us, hide it so well.

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So excited about working with this program and providing the services that they need.