Building Social and Emotional Learning Skills for Today’s Youth: Q&A with Allstate's Vicky Dinges, SVP, Corporate Responsibility

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Allstate WE Volunteer Now
During the 2017-2018 school year, Allstate Foundation Good Starts Young awarded $125,000 in grants to help youth plan and lead WE Volunteer Now service projects in their communities. Allstate agency owner Octavio Pina congratulates youth at a California school that received a $250 WE Volunteer Now grant to support a supply drive to benefit a local shelter.
© Image provided by Allstate


We recently had the opportunity to speak with Vicky Dinges, Senior Vice President, Corporate Responsibility at Allstate, about Allstate Foundation Good Starts Young®. Through this youth empowerment initiative, The Allstate Foundation helps young people build social emotional skills crucial to learning and leading so they can achieve success in life and make a tangible impact on our world. Read on to learn more about how Allstate Foundation Good Starts Young helps youth step up as leaders and realize their full potential.

Question: Why is youth empowerment, and specifically social and emotional learning, so important to The Allstate Foundation?

We believe empowering our youth is key to creating more prosperous communities where all of us are inspired to fulfill our hopes and dreams. Young people are big-idea thinkers, problem solvers and change agents. They want to be actively involved in making their communities better for all. Sometimes they just need a little confidence and support—that’s where The Allstate Foundation comes in. 

Our current youth empowerment effort is about preparing youth for the future, helping them succeed and building our next generation of leaders. It’s a social investment with an extraordinary return on investment, and fills a void within our educational system today.

Q: The Allstate Foundation supports multiple initiatives through Good Starts Young. Can you tell us a little more about the goal of these efforts? 

Our goal is to inspire millions of young people to become active global citizens through real-world, service-learning experiences where they develop critical social and emotional learning skills. We do this through our partnerships with WE Charity, Facing History and Ourselves, and Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), among other leading nonprofit organizations.

Allstate Foundation Good Starts Young is based on the concept that success comes from the combination of academic knowledge and the ability to work with others. Today’s youth must navigate a complex, economically competitive and globally connected world. Historically, we’ve emphasized the academic skills our students need, but overwhelming evidence demonstrates social and emotional learning skills are equally essential for students to thrive in school, career, and life. These skills have a positive impact not only on academic performance and standardized test scores, but also on attendance records, social relationships, motivation to learn and avoiding things like drugs and violence.

Q: The Allstate Foundation supports and partners with multiple organizations as part of your youth empowerment efforts. How have those partnerships helped you achieve your goals?

We select partners that share our desire to increase awareness of the importance of social and emotional learning skills and can quickly scale and expand the reach of programs that help youth develop core social and emotional learning competencies.

Our largest partnership is with WE Charity. The Allstate Foundation became their first national U.S. partner in 2014. Today, WE programs are available in more than 4,500 U.S. schools and youth-serving organizations. Through their free WE Schools program, youth participate in service-learning experiences that help them develop social and emotional learning skills. Allstate Foundation Good Starts Young is the title presenting sponsor of the WE Day Special, which brings stories of amazing youth to millions of U.S. homes. The TV special, which aired on ABC August 17, is available on Hulu and at In September, we kick off the third year of the 80-stop WE Volunteer Now Speaking Tour, bringing volunteer pep rallies and master classes to schools.


Allstate Foundation Good Starts Young
During the 2017-2018 school year, Allstate Foundation Good Starts Young awarded $125,000 in grants to help youth plan and lead WE Volunteer Now service projects in their communities. A California school received a $250 WE Volunteer Now grant to support a supply drive to benefit a local shelter.
© Image provided by Allstate

Q: What’s on the horizon for Allstate Foundation Good Starts Young?

In the fall, we’re launching a social and emotional awareness campaign on the National Mall in Washington, DC, which we can’t wait for everyone to learn about and participate in via a fun and clever Snapchat and Facebook activation! Our goal is to get more families talking about the social and emotional skills youth need to realize their big, bold goals in life.

We also just became the presenting sponsor of CASEL’s inaugural conference to advance the social and emotional learning movement by bringing together collaborators from across the globe. We’re so proud to provide a gathering space for those working to shepherd a new educational paradigm that advances equity through integrating social, emotional and academic learning!

Q: How does The Allstate Foundation measure its success across its youth empowerment initiatives?

In 2016, The Allstate Foundation funded the development of the Impact Genome Project™ for Youth Development – a universal evidence base for positive youth development, youth empowerment, civic engagement, leadership, and more – created by Mission Measurement, the leader in social sector insights and data. What does this mean?  It means there is now a database of “what works” in achieving positive outcomes in youth programming. This data fills a decades-long gap in the sector by giving us a way to consistently measure program outcomes and identify the most effective attributes (genes) of programs. This Genome focuses on three universal outcomes: being civically engaged, reducing risky behavior, and developing social and emotional learning skills. The Allstate Foundation is using this information to validate or modify funding decisions to ensure we support programs that drive the greatest outcomes.


Here’s an example. The civic engagement analysis showed that encouraging school bonding and engagement, including school-wide events, school-based extracurricular clubs, etc. and involving youth in local community service or volunteer projects, are the genes most often correlated with successful outcomes. This validates our current approach to support programs that help youth develop their social and emotional learning skills through service-learning curriculum.

We’re aggressively pursuing our longer-term goal of engaging 25% of America’s schools in five years— something we view as the tipping point in increasing youth participation in social and emotional learning programs. More than 5 million youth participate in Good Starts Young-sponsored programs annually.

We anticipate even stronger results in 2018 with the addition of new partners and activations.

Q: What is your greatest challenge when it comes to engaging youth in the programs you support and how do you overcome it?

Our greatest challenge is to make sure parents and educators are aware of, and have access to, programs to help youth build critical social and emotional learning skills.

A recent survey found most U.S. parents rank social and communication skills as the most important to build success for school and life even beyond academic grades. Other studies show nine of out ten teachers believe social and emotional skills can be taught and that it benefits students, and four in five want more support to address students’ social and emotional development. The demand is there. That’s why we purposefully select partners based on their ability to help us quickly scale social and emotional learning programming in schools and youth-serving organizations.

We’re proud of the number of educators and parents we’ve reached so far. But, we know we need to bring social and emotional learning resources and curriculum to a much larger number of schools.

Q: What advice would you tell companies who may not be investing in the youth empowerment movement?

Consider joining the youth movement… if it makes sense for your brand!  The need for more corporate involvement exists, but the investment needs to be consistent with your brand values and corporate purpose—and/or the mission of your corporate philanthropy. We conducted research and learned consumers viewed our focus on youth as a positive action. We learned the void was in the social and emotional learning space so we decided to focus on closing the gap. It also made sense for us because Allstate makes leadership development a priority for all employees. We felt like we have a lot of knowledge and experience to share with our youth.

If you decide to join us, engage your CEO. Our focus on youth empowerment starts with Allstate CEO Tom Wilson. Tom believes young people are positioned to bring about momentous change in the world. Throughout history, young people have led social change, and today’s youth are no different. We just need to help them harness the power of their ideas. Because, when they do, they’ll tap into their biggest, boldest dreams and transform our world for the better.

Having an esteemed youth empowerment champion like Tom has been immensely beneficial to our efforts to provide social and emotional learning resources to parents and educators across the country – and to make sure we’re delivering systemic change to help youth for years to come. But, we’ve also done our due diligence to make sure we can point to the need for The Allstate Foundation to focus on youth empowerment, and more specifically on social and emotional learning skills.

Editor's Note: This is the second of two recent conversations we had with Vicky Dinges about how The Allstate Foundation helps create prosperous communities where people are inspired and empowered to fulfill their hopes and dreams. In March, Dinges spoke with us about how Allstate Foundation Purple Purse is aimed at creating long-term safety and security for domestic violence survivors through financial empowerment. You can read the blog post here.