In a world facing unprecedented challenges and disruptions, the need for resilient, adaptable, and empowered youth has never been more critical. When these challenges disproportionately affect impoverished and marginalized communities, the call to action becomes even more urgent. CorStone, a social impact nonprofit organization, has emerged as a beacon of hope and transformation for marginalized youth, particularly girls and young women around the world. Through their innovative resilience-building wellbeing programs, CorStone aims to equip these young individuals with the inner skills and strengths to not only overcome adversity but also to thrive and pave the way for future generations.
A Vision of Inner Wellbeing
At the heart of CorStone’s mission is the recognition of a crucial aspect missing in the development efforts for children in need – the focus on inner wellbeing. Steve Leventhal, the visionary founder and CEO of CorStone, identified this gap two decades ago while working in the international development sector. He noticed that while much attention and funding was devoted to tangible and practical solutions, such as building schools and infrastructure, there was a lack of attention given to helping marginalized and vulnerable youth to forge the self-identity, mindset, agency and resilience required to overcome the systemic challenges they frequently face, like multi-generational poverty, caste and/or racial discrimination, and gender inequities.
Shifting Trajectories through Resilience
In launching CorStone, Leventhal’s goal was to harness the power of inner wellbeing to impact global wellbeing – nurturing not only an individual child’s development and resilience but also, in turn, the potential for that child to become a ‘change agent’ within their community or village. Consequently, he brought together a team to develop a curriculum that works from the ‘inside out’, to help a child in poverty to re-imagine what’s possible, to develop their character strengths, emotional intelligence, and communication and conflict management skills, and then learn how to set goals and build practical strategies and plans to achieve them.
Along the way, CorStone has gained an international reputation for their research and for their demonstrable and measurable results. Large-scale randomized controlled trials, the findings of which have been published in major scientific journals, have confirmed that CorStone’s approach works – documenting significant impacts on mental, emotional and physical health; improved education engagement and attainment; prevention of early marriage; and improved ability of participants to advocate for their rights. Ripple effects on school teachers and school systems have also been documented, including improved teacher-student, teacher-teacher and teacher-administrator relations, improved ability to deal with stress and burnout, and improved classroom management.
Scaling Impact Across Nations
With the dedication to create large-scale sustainable and scalable impact, CorStone has expanded its reach to three countries: India, Kenya, and Rwanda. In India, they have been working in six states, with Bihar being a focal point – one of the poorest states with a population of 120 million people. The impact of CorStone’s programs is palpable, with government agreements in place to integrate their Youth First program into all Bihar school textbooks by 2024, train over 40,000 school teachers, and scale their efforts to all 35,000 schools in the state, providing the program to 3.5 million students per year.
In Kenya, CorStone has recently entered into partnership with the Ministry of Education to provide CorStone’s Youth First Kenya to all schools nationwide, eventually reaching over 2 million students per year. In Rwanda, CorStone’s efforts are equally impactful; a randomized controlled trial was just completed, the program is currently operating in 55 schools, and an agreement with the Ministry of Education focused on nationwide scale-up is currently in development.
Empowering Educators and Building Lasting Partnerships
CorStone’s approach involves collaboration and partnership. Instead of importing external teachers, local teams work closely with government master trainers, training them to, in turn, train, monitor and evaluate thousands of school teachers to deliver the CorStone programs effectively in the classroom. In this way, local capacity and long-term adoption is built within state and national education departments, thus ensuring that their initiatives create lasting impact and are sustained even after CorStone’s direct involvement ends.
Stories of Triumph and Transformation
CorStone’s impact can be witnessed through numerous heartening success stories. One notable tale is that of a young girl in India who, shortly after completing the program at age 14 years, was forced by her father into a physically abusive marriage to an older man from another village. Despite her dire circumstances, she applied the skills she learned through the Youth First program to help her escape her torment and rebuild her life. She eventually remarried and vowed to provide her daughters with a better future, ensuring that they receive a full education.
Navigating Challenges and Future Aspirations
Like any pioneering initiative, CorStone faces its share of challenges. While the organization has been designing and implementing program and research initiatives since 2008, funding remains a top concern as they strive to meet an exponential increase in demand for their work and broaden the reach and scale of their impact to more countries. However, their unique focus on creating sustainable results and lasting partnerships with governments and like-minded funders serves them well as they work to overcome these hurdles. Moreover, CorStone is exploring expansion of its programs to include early childhood interventions and high school student initiatives; the emerging youth mental health and climate change crisis; as well as continuing efforts to leverage technology to broaden its reach.
A Beacon of Hope in a Turbulent World
In a world filled with uncertainties and disruptions, CorStone’s inner wellbeing and resilience programs shine as a beacon of hope and empowerment for marginalized youth. By nurturing inner wellbeing and building resilience, CorStone is creating a generation of young individuals who can not only survive adversity but also thrive, thereby transforming not only their own life trajectories but also those of future generations. As we witness the inspiring impact of this social impact nonprofit organization, we can be assured that they are fostering a more resilient and compassionate world for all.