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Building and Scaling Equitable Pathways in Your Region

Leveraging Community Learnings to Drive Systems Change


This body of work leverages the collective learnings and experiences of the Building Equitable Pathways initiative to provide curated sets of resources that address some of the most common and complex challenges in pathways work to support immediate and actionable systems change efforts.


Farrah Farnese Roma, Director, JFF

Farrah Farnese Roma

Director, JFF

Cassandra Garita, Senior Manager, JFF

Cassandra Garita

Senior Manager, JFF

Kyle Hartung, Associate Vice President, JFF

Kyle Hartung

Associate Vice President, JFF


Jobs for the Future (JFF) is committed to increasing access to high-wage, in-demand career pathways for Black and Latine youth and youth experiencing poverty. Over the past five years, JFF and its intermediary partners engaged in the Building Equitable Pathways (BEP) initiative have explored and co-designed strategies for systems-level leadership and change management to scale and sustain equitable pathways systems. They have explored the most complex, pervasive, and persistent challenges in the work and developed a robust, field-informed catalog of content designed to facilitate the adoption and scaling of practices to center racial equity in the design of pathways systems.

The purpose of this tool is to leverage the collective learnings and experiences of the BEP initiative to provide curated sets of resources that address some of the most common and complex challenges in pathways work to support immediate and actionable system change efforts in your own context.

How to Use This Guide

We have organized resources within seven different avenues toward systems change. These avenues are not meant to be exhaustive but rather reflective of what was learned in one initiative through the work of our intermediary partners.

We recognize that systems change is a journey and that not every organization or coalition of partners will be at the same point along the route. Within each avenue toward systems change, we have organized resource lists into three categories depending on where you are starting your work-based learning. Those are:

Getting Started

These resources are intended to give you foundational knowledge about the topic and offer thoughtful, high-level questions. They are easy to read or listen to and should not take considerable time to review.

Building Capacity

These resources are intended to support your next steps impacting change in this topic area. They are for those with foundational knowledge, either after reviewing the “Getting Started” resources or having previously done this work in their region. They may be more detailed and prompt some action after review.

Expanding Practices

These resources are intended to give you a deeper understanding of the topic and drive impactful change in the topic area. They are for those with experiential knowledge, either after reviewing the “Getting Started” and “Building Capacity” resources or having previously done this work in their region. They are more detailed and prompt action or activity after review that may lead to larger strategy change for your organization and regional pathways partnerships.

In addition to the resources being organized within these avenues, JFF’s Resource Library provides a broad collection of resources being used by our intermediary partners.

We have organized resources within seven different avenues toward systems change. These avenues are not meant to be exhaustive but rather reflective of what was learned in one initiative through the work of our intermediary partners. The seven avenues toward systems change for organizations in pathways systems are:

Learn More About

BEP Intermediary Partners

The 14 intermediary organizations participating in JFF’s BEP initiative are Career Connect Washington, CareerWise Colorado, CityWorks DC, CSCU Student Success Center, Delaware Department of Education, Educate Texas, Education Systems Center, EmployIndy, HERE to HERE, NYU School of Professional Studies, RUSH Education and Career Hub, Say Yes Buffalo, United Way of Greater Atlanta, Urban Alliance, and YouthForce NOLA. We want to thank and acknowledge them for their dedication to creating and scaling equitable pathways and for their partnership in co-creating the resources offered here.

Read more about intermediary organizations, including their functions and features.

Intermediaries as Levers of Systems Change

The BEP initiative focused on intermediaries as levers of systems change by doing the following:

Systems change is an easy-to-use buzzword, but its definition is elusive. While it’s simple to say, “We’re doing systems change,” it’s challenging to define what that means. The term is defined in various ways, depending on the underlying theory, and we recognize that organizations working in the education-to-career pathways space have adopted frameworks for systems change that are appropriate for their contexts. Our approach to this work is resonant with FSG’s The Water of Systems-Change framework, which is rooted in a belief that “systems change is about advancing equity by shifting the conditions that hold a problem in place.”[i] It positions systems change as both a process and an outcome.[ii]

Informed by this and other existing theories, here we opt for an applied or working definition of systems change, since we are more interested in tangible results of actions than theory of change. First, systems change, the noun, is not a matter of adding more programs to address discrete problems. Second, systems-change starts with identifying the root causes of a problem (see “Putting ‘Fruit and Root’ Analysis of Racism to Work”). Third, systems-change requires identifying a long-term goal and aligning strategies and resources around it. Finally, systems change, the verb, requires holding ourselves accountable for that shared goal—in this case, most importantly improving equity of access and outcomes. Systems change attends to local context, with the collection of data to establish a baseline and assess progress and those responsible for the work moving from talk to action.[iii] In assembling, assessing, and curating systems change resources, we are putting forward actionable strategies that, leveraged in concert, support systems-change over time.

  1. John Kania, Mark Kramer, and Peter Senge, The Water of Systems Change (Boston, MA: FSG, May 2018),
  2. Ursula Wright, “Systems Change Is a Noun and a Verb,” FSG, July 16, 2019,
  3. Jeff Edmonson, “Systems Change: More Than a Buzzword," Bridgespan, January 27, 2016,'re%20working,to%20moving%20outcomes%20at%20scale.
Students discussing and studying together

Centering Racial Equity

Systems and structures in American society have been intentionally designed to yield positive results and advantages for white people and negative consequences for people of color. Improving our education and workforce systems so that all young people can move seamlessly and successfully from high school to college, career, and beyond requires an understanding of the root causes and manifestations of racism in our pathways systems and intentional strategies to address them.

The following resources provide an understanding of the key components of racial equity policies, practices, and programs. Such understanding is needed to embark on a personal or organizational racial equity journey and to pursue more equitable outcomes for the populations most impacted by current inequities.

Where are you in your work and practice of centering racial equity?

Man presenting data to a group of collegues

Data Collection and Use

Data are a key component intermediaries rely on to inform policy, practice, and system change. When used correctly, data can be a transformative tool to drive structural change such as implementing program adjustments, advocating for policy shifts, and elevating needed resources. Data compiled without an equity lens will only continue to perpetuate the systems currently in place and drive a narrative that change is not required. By bringing an intentional equity lens to data collection and use, systems will have no choice but to reflect on the inequitable policies, programs, and practices that must change.

These resources explore how organizations can strengthen their data culture to better shape, advocate for, and evaluate solutions in their pathways systems.

Where are you in your work and practice of data collection and use?

A group of students gathered at a table discussing reports

Incorporating Youth and Community Voice

As we embark on systems change, it is critical to consider those who will be directly impacted by it. Incorporating youth voices, and the voices of the communities in which they reside, ensures a realistic and accurate understanding of the challenges they are experiencing and gives buy-in and ownership of the strategies for change. Too often, systems and systems change decisions are made without direct input from the populations affected. Without engaging youth and community voices in strategies to address inequities, the same or new inequities will persist.

These resources provide approaches to engaging and incorporating the perspectives of young people and communities with intentionality and respect.

Where are you in your work and practice of incorporating youth and community voice?

A diverse group of colleagues sitting around each other discussing

Leadership Development and Change Management

Leaders set the vision, mission, and strategy for organizations. They are critical to assigning resources, modeling culture, and holding staff accountable to outcomes. For impactful system change to occur, it must have buy-in from decision makers and leaders in an organization. Without intentional policies, practices, and procedures and a commitment to change, inequitable practices will persist. 

The following resources provide support for organizational leaders pursuing organizational change to advance racial equity practices and policies. 

Where are you in your work and practice of leadership development and change management?

A group of corporate professionals discussing around a table

Partnership Building

Pathway intermediaries sit at the center of an education and employment ecosystem, brokering partnerships and coordinating activities between K-12, postsecondary, and employers to increase equitable access to opportunities and paths to upward mobility for Black and Latine youth and young people experiencing poverty. Systems change will not happen in a silo. It must be a coordinated strategy across multiple stakeholders all working toward common goals to impact both explicit and implicit conditions holding inequity in place. Intermediaries are positioned to bring these partners together with an equity lens and elevate actions toward systems change.

The following resources provide insights on bringing together multiple stakeholders to impact equitable outcomes.

Where are you in your work and practice of partnership building?

A group of students collaborating together

Pathway Program Design and Delivery Support

Intermediaries support the development, delivery, and refinement of pathway programming by incorporating input and feedback from learners, families, practitioners, and employers. Quality pathway programs are intended to lead to career opportunities that offer family-sustaining wages, career growth, and future success. The current systems in place, including programmatic opportunities, have created a landscape of inequitable access and outcomes. Programmatic design with an intentional equity lens is a necessary intervention to break these systems and promote equitable access to quality careers.

The following resources support organizations in developing, implementing, and sustaining quality education and career pathways programs with an equity focus.

Where are you in your work and practice of pathway program design and delivery support?

An elder woman advocating on stage to a group of individuals

Policy and Funding Advocacy

Policy plays a significant role in shaping behaviors that keep inequities in place and in how funding is allocated from the federal to state to local levels. Intermediaries are critical leaders in advocating for policies that incentivize and enable cross-sector collaboration. Sector partners lean on intermediaries to advocate for increased funding and advance a policy agenda to support equitable pathways programs. Influential intermediaries also leverage their relationships with policymakers, state officials, and policy advocates to build support for college and career pathways ecosystems. 

Intermediaries can identify gaps in policy and barriers that prevent the implementation and scaling of quality pathways initiatives. They can also educate and inform policymakers about the value of system change that positively impacts Black and Latine youth and youth experiencing poverty.

The following resources outline strategies for advocating for policy change and increased funding to support the development of equitable pathways.

Where are you in your work and practice of policy and funding advocacy?

Woman writing on a clear board

The Road Ahead

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to systems-change and centering racial equity in education-to-career pathways. We believe systems-change is the result of context-specific and cumulative actions taken at individual, organizational, local, and national levels. It requires strength and stamina for the road ahead, as well as continuous interrogation of current systems and reimagining new ways of operating. By committing to exploring the resources above, adapting them to work for a specific context, and iteratively experimenting with putting them into action, organizations in pathways systems can continue to move toward more equitable outcomes for young people.

“At the end of the day, systems change is people change. Systems are made up of people, and it is people—individuals, you and I—who daily make decisions large and small about how we shift dynamics or uphold the status quo.”


This work cannot be done in isolation, and JFF is committed to supporting you and your vision for change. Here are some additional ways we can help you move your work forward:

Taking the Next Steps


About Jobs for the Future

Jobs for the Future (JFF) drives transformation of the U.S. education and workforce systems to achieve equitable economic advancement for all.

About JFF’s Language Choices

JFF is committed to using language that promotes equity and human dignity, rooted in the strengths of the people and communities we serve. We develop our content with the awareness that language can perpetuate privilege but also can educate, empower, and drive positive change to create a more equitable society. We routinely reevaluate our efforts as usage evolves.

About Building Equitable Pathways

Building Equitable Pathways (BEP) is a community of practice with 14 innovative intermediary organizations, JFF, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, and the Walton Family Foundation. Together, we seek to increase our individual and collective capacity to change our education and workforce systems for the better through best practices and innovative strategies, that will support the efforts of high-quality intermediaries to transform our systems and scale and sustain equitable pathways. We aim to drive engagement across these systems, improve their sustainability, and influence more equitable student outcomes in academics and careers.