Headstream's News
November 18, 2023

Designing For Diversity In Digital Spaces

As each of one of us adapts to unforeseen circumstances and an unpredictable future, now more than ever we need to listen, learn, and support solutions that meet the needs of individuals where they are. At Headstream, we are working on a number of different initiatives to support communities impacted by Covid-19. Before we look forward, we reflect on the design principle that will continue to guide our work, and led us to a group of 15 Headstream Innovators working to create inclusive, supportive and enriching digital places for young people.

Designing For Diversity In Digital Spaces

As each of one of us adapts to unforeseen circumstances and an unpredictable future, now more than ever we need to listen, learn, and support solutions that meet the needs of individuals where they are. At Headstream, we are working on a number of different initiatives to support communities impacted by Covid-19. Before we look forward, we reflect on the design principle that will continue to guide our work, and led us to a group of 15 Headstream Innovators working to create inclusive, supportive and enriching digital places for young people.  

Meet people where they are, learn relentlessly, and design to incorporate learnings along the way.

For those of you in the Headstream Community, you know that this design principle is intricately woven into our approach to lean on the expertise of the community to guide us. We listen to young people, to learn what they love about digital places, and support innovations that align with their preferences and desires rather than cherry-picking the most investable innovations. We flip the script and engage the entrepreneurs in our cohorts as teachers nearly as often as they are learners.

Headstream’s best reflection of meeting people where they are, learning relentlessly, and incorporating those learnings into the program is our commitment to building and accelerating enriching digital places that are accessible for communities such as teen girls, teens of color, and LGTBQ+ teens.

Over a year ago, in the waning moments of our first community design Big Think in San Francisco, Lissa Soep from YR Media pushed our program to think more proactively about not just supporting the wellbeing of all teenagers, but those who are most at risk. Shortly after that, in New York City, we gathered 30 leaders for Headstream’s second Big Think. In NYC, we spent a large portion of our day together exploring the digital experiences of different youth communities and how the places they spend time online impacted their wellbeing. We left that gathering inspired to learn more. We asked ourselves:

How could we learn from communities that were finding meaningful connections in digital spaces, like the LGBTQ+ community? How could we support innovators that were designing products and platforms that pushed beyond a mainstream voice; that spoke to everyone and no one at the same time? How could we accelerate innovations that acknowledged and pushed against structural injustices that prevent equitable access and opportunity online?

Headstream could build tools and frameworks, host workshops, but that would ring hollow if the entrepreneurs we supported weren’t struggling with us to answer these challenges as they accelerated their innovations.

We incorporated these learnings as we built an Accelerator that targeted innovators who understood the needs, experiences, cultural nuances, and structural challenges to innovating for teen girls, LGBTQ+ teens, and teens of color. To put it bluntly, we built an Accelerator that provided an opportunity for innovators not traditionally included or supported by innovation programs to focus on what they were most passionate about. We found that it rang true for many innovators.

“What you all do personally means a lot to me,” Arsh Haque, CEO at Wellsayer shared. “As someone that falls into many of the demographics you all are focused on (young, queer, trans, POC, etc.)... the Headstream Accelerator feels like a concrete thing I can point to and say things are moving forward; there is perhaps a place, and a growing place, for people like me.”

When we closed the application period for the Headstream Accelerator, the 93 entrepreneurs who shared their innovations for teen digital wellbeing represented the community we believe are best equipped to build accessible, inclusive, and meaningful digital spaces for young people from all sorts of different backgrounds.

  • STRONG REPRESENTATION BY WOMEN: The majority of innovations submitted are from women. 54.8% of submissions are from people who identify as female, while 36.6% are from people who identity as male and 3.2% are from people who identify as non-binary.
  • INNOVATIONS LED BY PEOPLE OF COLOR: 43.1% of submissions (44 total) came from people of color, including 12.9% from people who identify as African American or black, 10.8% from people who identify as Asian, and 8.6% from people who identify as Latinx or Hispanic.
  • YOUTH IN THE DRIVER SEAT: At least 10 of the 93 submissions are directly from youth founders.
  • BEGINNING THE FOUNDERS’ JOURNEY: Over a quarter of the submissions (26.8%) are from first-time founders.
  • FROM COAST TO COAST, AND AROUND THE GLOBE: In addition to receiving submissions from all parts of the United States -- West, Midwest, South, and Northeast -- we also received 12 international submissions from across 6 continents -- Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America and South America.

From the 93 applicants came a final Headstream cohort of 15 Innovators. This cohort is primarily filled by women, with people of color making up nearly half of the group. The final group of Innovators include young people and entrepreneurs from multiple countries and backgrounds. In many ways, the Headstream Accelerator cohort looks like and embodies the different communities the program is driven to support.

These innovators are already inspiring the leaders in the Headstream network. “I don't want to sound trite or like a broken record, but I am truly honored and grateful to be a part of this,” shared Craig DeLarge, a digital health strategist and educator. “From a vulnerable space, you all have helped bring more passion and excitement into my work than I have felt in a long time.”

Now it’s Headstream’s turn to inspire the 15 Innovators to meet their users and customers where they are, to learn relentlessly from the young people they are supporting, and to design adaptably, incorporating their learnings in every step of their growth.

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