FYI: Unmeasured Impact

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The International Youth Foundation (IYF) and its U.S. affiliate, the Forum For Youth Investment (FYI), are going their separate ways.

IYF was founded in 1990 by Rick Little with a $65 million grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. In 1975 Little started Quest, a school-based risk avoidance program that was incorporated into IYF in 1997. FYI, led by Karen Pittman, began in 1998 as a subsidiary of IYF with a staff of four, including deputy Merita Irby.

FYI will remain one of 60 national youth development intermediaries that are part of IYF’s Global Partner Network. The now separate U.S. operation remains, says IYF’s COO Bill Reese, “part of the family” with a relationship similar to IYF affiliates in Japan, Finland and the United Kingdom.

Initially located in Baltimore with the IYF headquarters, Pittman’s group was 35 miles south in Takoma Park, Md., by February 2001, raising its own funds from such foundations as Kauffman, Mott, Ford, Irvine and Packard, and the Carnegie Corp. – and changing its name to the Forum on Youth Investment.

A delusional attempt (“the Forum is known for its ideas” says a recent memo) to sign up other national groups as $10,000-per-year “partners” predictably foundered because FYI’s peers (and competitors for foundation dollars) saw little value in paying for FYI advice.

Said one national executive, choosing her words charitably, “We didn’t understand what the benefit was.” Now, write Pittman and Irby, FYI will “curtail its aggressive plans to build a national membership” and will instead be “deepening our partnerships.”

Pittman’s mix of the theoretical and the practical in youth work resonates with foundation program officers – and they’re the jurors whose verdict really counts. Now with a staff of 17, FYI has begun publishing a stream of well-written reports on topics ranging from “State Youth Policy: Helping All Youth to Grow Up Fully Prepared and Fully Engaged” to “Moving an Out-of-School Agenda: Lessons and Challenges Across Cities.”

A website,, offers information and insight aimed at practitioners at all levels of youth work’s infrastructure. (It also holds the archives of Youth Today, and Pittman sits on the Youth Today board of directors.)

But one skeptic says of FYI’s output, “It doesn’t tell you about how real people live,” a criticism that equally applies to most of the reports, manuals and tomes produced by other national groups.

Just what impact FYI will have on advancing positive youth development is an open question. But unlike the others, FYI alone can lay claim to Community IMPACT! USA, thanks to a recent takeover of the struggling 10-year-old group now based in Providence, R.I.

The group seeks to increase youth leadership and college enrollment in low-income neighborhoods. It was established in 1990 in D.C. by David Milner, who partnered with Ken Himmelman, a former staffer at New York-based Do Something. It went national in 1998, thanks to major grant support from Atlantic Philanthropies (assets: $4.6 billion).

Recently, Community IMPACT! USA has had to “take stock and regroup.” A planned five-year expansion to 25 cities fell short with only four programs (in D.C., Baltimore, Austin, Texas, and Nashville, Tenn.) open for business. The national staff was cut from four to two and a half positions. Last year Milner’s group spent $605,000, including pass-along funds, to its four corporately independent affiliates, which must raise additional funds.

This past summer, says Pittman, was a “blending” season. The FYI took over Community IMPACT! USA’s 501(c)3 corporation, which will henceforth be doing business as Impact Strategies Inc. A new blended board includes such ubiquitous board members as Peter Edelman, president of the New Israel Fund and a professor at Georgetown Law School; Larry Aber of the National Center for Children and Poverty at Columbia University; Cindy Ballard, the director of the Basehor, Kan.-based Coalition of Community Foundations for Youth; and Harold Richman of the Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago.

Pittman will head Impact Strategies Inc. FYI will be headed by Irby and Community IMPACT! by Himmelman. Milner will be “a senior adviser” to Pittman.

As a proper forum for FYI’s now about $3 million-per-year investment by national philanthropies, the group will soon move into a gem of an historic house – the Cady-Lee Mansion in D.C. It was purchased recently by FYI for $1.1 million with help from the New York-based FJC Foundation.

Now FYI – its tagline is “helping organizations that invest in youth, invest in change” – has received in the neighborhood of $1 million as “an investment to support the continuing work of the Forum in promoting expanded learning opportunities for children and youth.” That “general support grant” and perhaps millions more, Pittman says, will come from the Annenberg Foundation of St. David, Pa. (assets: $2.3 billion).

In 1993 Walter Annenberg decided to spend $500 million to improve urban and rural public schools. The results were decidedly unspectacular. But one positive result is of particular interest to youth workers. According to the final report, (at, the activity “that delivered the best return was the money invested in giving teachers sustained opportunities to improve their classroom skills.”

Since most teachers spent four years at one of 1,100 teacher’s colleges and most youth workers have little relevant college preparation for their equally challenging jobs, a substantial investment by Annenberg in training could have an enormous positive impact on the entire youth service field.

Overall, the organizational development accomplishments of FYI in its brief seven-year history are remarkable. In a field where the top leadership remains overwhelmingly white and majority male, the African-American Pittman has ratcheted FYI to a level of influence where, at least under her leadership, it is guaranteed a seat at the national youth policy table.

Just how effective the new bifurcated setup will prove to be is anyone’s guess. The historic record on think tank training and technical assistance outfits successfully managing and expanding a subsidiary direct-service program offers ample reason for skepticism. But Pittman’s high-hurdle-jumping track record will narrow the odds. Contact: FYI (202) 207-3333.