Innovative Inca

Print More

An almost seven-year tour at the Ford Foundation (assets: $14.7 billion) has ended for Inca Mohamed, a program officer for children, youth and families. Prior to joining Ford in 1995, Mohamed worked at the National Office of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), also in New York City.

When she departed from Ford, Mohamed wrote that she “will begin a new life while pursuing an old love, organizational development.” Remaining in New York, she now works for the D.C.-based Management Assistance Group, directed by Karl Mathiasen.

At Ford, Mohamed’s centerpiece Community Youth Development Initiative “explored the potential of promoting positive youth development as a community mobilization strategy to increase service, opportunities and support to young people.” To that end large grants were awarded to, Nose Knows is pleased to report, “smart, creative and visionary grantees” – surely a reference to Youth Today, a major beneficiary of Ford’s youth development spending. More likely, Mohamed was thinking of such groups as the National Youth Employment Coalition (directed by David Brown), the American Youth Policy Forum (co-directed by Glenda Partee and Betsy Brand), Public/Private Ventures (run by Gary Walker), Community IMPACT! (a D.C.-based group that last year decamped for Rhode Island along with its director David Milner), the International Youth Foundation-affiliated Forum for Youth Investment (run by Karen Pittman) and the Center for Youth Development and Policy Research (directed by former New York City Youth Commissioner Richard Murphy).

The Community Youth Development (CYD) works underwritten by Ford, says Mohamed, are intended “to take the work to the next level.” Says a recent Ford-commissioned pamphlet, “Communities and Youth Development: Coming Together” (by Cornerstone Consulting Group in Houston): “Successful efforts at changing environments for youth needed to engage more than youth workers; instead, whole communities needed to be engaged and mobilized.”

That easier-said-than-done CYD approach has been at the heart of youth work in Western Europe for more than 40 years, and was the prevailing if inchoate philosophy of pre-WW II youth services in this country as well. But over the past half-century, youth deficits (crime, substance abuse, mental illness, early pregnancy, etc.) have drawn policy attention and money, while “prevention” spending and the positive youth development message have been effectively drowned out. Now the national “environment is ready for that [youth development] approach,” Mohamed says.

Youth workers, she says, “don’t have all the skills to pull off CYD” in poor neighborhoods because they don’t have “enough organizing experience.”

That investment in combining youth and community development work is exemplified by Ford’s $2.92 million in grant support to the Innovative Center for Community and Youth Development, located on the National 4-H Council’s Chevy Chase, Md. campus. “The innovation center is the thing I’m most excited about,” Mohamed says.

Begun in 1988 as part of the non-governmental wing of the bifurcated 4-H structure, the center is led by President Wendy Wheeler, a veteran youth worker whose employment history spans many a national youth-serving agency, from the YMCA to the Girl Scouts. Assisted by project coordinator Carla Roach, Wheeler and Mohamed vetted more than 100 applications from youth programs interested in promoting civic engagement, cultural diversity and the “bottom line” of youth development. Chosen were 12 mostly local groups ranging from the Mi Casa Resource Center for Women (Denver) to the Coalition for Asian Pacific American Youth (Boston).

While centered on youth groups immersed in identity-driven organizing, the Innovation Center, says Mohamed, is not intended “to be associated with any particular program.” That perception was advanced in July when Wheeler’s shop became a project of the nonprofit-incubating Tides Center, and separated officially from the National 4-H Council. The Innovation Center’s first post 4-H venture is the Internet launch of, “the flagship site for the rapidly growing field of youth participation.” With Amy Weisenbach as project director, the effort aspires to link youth activists to each other and “to secure a place for youth at all levels of society.” It works closely with the Summerville, Mass.-based Youth on Board ( and with Youth Service America’s Youth Voice Database (, and is supported by a $200,000 two-year grant from the Surdna Foundation.

In her new position at the Management Assistance Group (MAG), Mohamed will aid clients attracted by MAG’s “unique approach” to organizational development for nonprofits “committed to social change.” Contact: MAG (202) 659-1963,