U.S. Youth Programs Go Global

The Netherlands—When youth workers here teach the Quest life skills curriculum that they’ve adapted from the United States, they do not preach against all drug use as Quest instructors do in America. “If you say all people who use drugs” are destroying themselves, says Jaap Schouten, who launched Quest here, “no man in Holland would be clean.”

Things can get even touchier in Latin America, where the D.C.-based Street Law program has brought its legal education and advocacy program. “You know you’re in trouble,” says International Programs Director Mary Larkin, “when you’re setting up a training [for youth workers] and the trainers say, ‘Do you have any insurance in case we get shot?’”

Trying to export a successful American youth program to other countries is fraught with cultural, financial and administrative perils – which is why few youth programs even try. But some have mastered the art: Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) is in 32 foreign countries. Quest is in 33 foreign countries. Junior Achievement is in 112 nations, with its materials translated into 36 languages.

To succeed, they’ve been nimble and resourceful – like the Progressive Life Center avoiding all talk of birth control in its girl empowerment program in Zambia, the Kansas-based Youth Volunteer Corps (YVC) thriving in Canada with virtually no grants from foundations, and BBBS overcoming skepticism by parents in Eastern Europe who didn’t understand why strangers would want to spend so much time with their kids.

Indeed, more and more U.S.-based youth programs have been expanding into foreign countries over the past decade, says Don Mohanlal, executive vice president of the International Youth Foundation, based in Baltimore. He cites increased communication (especially the Internet) and the desire in the 1990s among former Soviet Bloc countries to embrace Western practices.

The payoff, Mohanlal says: “Young people are benefiting” by quicker replication of programs based on time-tested practices. Molding those practices to the culture of the new country is just one of the fundamental principals that globe-trotting agencies have learned, including:

• Find partners in the host country to open doors to government officials, business leaders and funders.

• Find an organization in the host country to run the program, and put it through a gauntlet to show that it has the money, staffing and commitment to make the program work over the long haul.

• Decide on a business model, such as setting up franchises or affiliates, because this will affect the parent organization’s financial risk and program control.

• Be sure the program is operated by local people and not perceived as a satellite of an American program.

• Be flexible with program content and operations to accommodate the culture of the country.

• Yet remain firm about core elements to ensure the integrity of the program and to protect the agency’s name.

Few youth-serving organizations have been as successful at leaping these hurdles as Quest, whose K-12 programs (including drug prevention, character education and service learning) are used in such disparate nations as Japan, Bangladesh, Argentina, Italy and New Zealand. In fact, although Quest was launched in 1975 by Rick Little as a domestic program, today it runs more workshops internationally than within the U.S.

One of the first hurdles going overseas is skepticism. In the Netherlands, Schouten initially looked at Quest and said, “How do they know what’s good for Holland?” – the kind of question initially faced by almost all U.S. youth programs that venture abroad.

‘You need a visionary’ To understand the risks of exporting, read the obituaries for Children’s Express WorldWide News Network, which folded last year after an ambitious expansion that included bureaus in Japan, Britain, Australia and New Zealand. It’s not enough to have a wonderful service that could really help kids in, say, Tanzania, where Global Education Partnership has taken its school-to-career development program.

“The costs are substantial,” says Alan Williams, vice president for international operations at Quest. Those costs include international travel and communications, training of foreign youth workers, translating printed materials, and fund-raising – all of which soak up cash and staff time. “Just to develop a single program costs anywhere from two to three million” dollars, he says.

That helps explain why the D.C.-based Street Law, like many groups, does not generally initiate foreign forays, even though it has spread to 19 other countries. “We’re always invited, usually by an NGO [non-governmental organization],” Larkin says.

Such invitations sometimes draw purposefully unenthusiastic responses from youth-serving organizations worried about overextending their resources. The National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) gets “literally hundreds” of contacts each year about going to other countries, says Victor Salama, director of program partnerships. Yet NFTE is in only five foreign lands.

Says Street Law Executive Director Edward O’Brien, “People talk a good game but they don’t really follow through.” So step one is for someone in the other country to demonstrate a passionate desire to mother the effort through birth and childhood – just like creating a youth program in the U.S.

“You need a visionary, somebody who is willing to put their shoulder behind the wheel and push quite hard,” says Williams of Quest. “Where we can track the success of the program, very often it’s one person” who is responsible.

Here in the Netherlands – where Quest trains about 1,500 adults each year to deliver its life skills program in more than 550 schools – that visionary is a retired professor who is found sipping juice on the back patio of his typically tiny and lush Dutch backyard, outside the city of Utrecht.

At first, Schouten recalls, “I was reluctant.”

‘Too American’ As with many exported youth programs, Quest’s expansion into the Netherlands got off to a shaky start.

It began when a Quest International administrator contacted Schouten through mutual acquaintances at the Netherlands’ Lion’s Clubs and invited him to the U.S. to see how Quest works. As a researcher, Schouten had warned about drug abuse among Dutch youth. But he went to the U.S. in 1989 skeptical that Quest would work for youth in Holland.

After attending Quest training sessions for youth workers and visiting schools where the program was carried out, Schouten changed his mind. Dutch youth, he decided, could benefit from trained youth workers helping them apply their values to decisions about matters such as sex, drugs and smoking.

Back in the Netherlands, Schouten organized a training session in 1990, expecting 40 teachers to show. He got eight. Schouten saw several obstacles: Dutch schools did not want to admit they had a drug abuse problem for fear of losing students (who are free to choose their schools). The concept of “values education” was literally foreign. No government or private organization would fund the training. And the approach was “too American.”

The last two problems are endemic to export efforts. When BBBS International approached Poland’s Stefan Batory Foundation (an affiliate of the Open Society Institute, or OSI) four years ago about starting a BBBS in Poland, program director Piotr Konczewski turned up his nose: “I had many doubts. The program seemed too American and rather impossible” to implement in Poland, which had no tradition of adults volunteering to mentor other people’s kids. BBBS had started trying to expand into Eastern Europe, with funding from OSI in New York. After two days with BBBS International’s tireless executive director, Dagmar McGill, Konczewski was sold: “Her passion made me think, and I decided to try.” He then had to convince the Batory Foundation to fund the idea. Among other things, the foundation’s board worried that “Polish families, traditionally rather closed,” would not accept the idea.

That’s the next crucial step – finding a foreign partner to lay the groundwork and perhaps lay out cash.

Connections “You can avoid some real minefields” with a well-connected indigenous partner, Mohanlal says. “You’re dealing with people who know the local landscape, they know the issues, they know how to kick the tires. They can get through the paper and cut down to the real stuff of who is BS-ing who.”

U.S. youth groups have relied on foreign partners to set up a girls’ empowerment program in Zambia, a BBBS in Poland, or a law project in Nigeria. (See sidebar.) Perhaps no organization has forged a better partnership than Quest, which teamed up with Lions Clubs International (LCI) in 1985, 10 years after beginning as a domestic program. Lions Clubs are in 186 countries, according to LCI.

“Instead of us having to establish local networks in these countries and really start from the ground up, we were able to lean pretty heavily on an existing network of community-based Lions Clubs” for everything from networking to fund-raising, Williams says.

“Lions tend to be fairly well-placed in political circles and business circles. So we were able to bring to the start-up a lot of political clout with ministries of education, and local businesses.”

Consider Japan. In any country that Quest enters, it must get commitments from the national agency that overseas education, because the program is carried out in classrooms. In working to expand into Japan last year, Williams notes that “Japan is a challenge to initiate new education initiatives. You cannot do that successfully unless you’ve got very well-placed individuals to make the case for you” with education officials.

Lions helped Quest establish “a wonderful network of university professors and experts, and the Lions play[ed] an important role in getting into the ministry of education.”

Then there’s the money. LCI says that from 1999 through 2001, its funding arm (the Lions Clubs International Foundation) awarded $5.9 million in grants to expand or create Quest programs, with most of that work occurring outside the U.S. Local Lions Clubs also kick in.

“The role they play varies from country to country,” Williams says of the clubs. Sometimes the clubs fund most of a Quest program, or just the adaptation of U.S. materials (including translation) and training for that country.

That’s how it worked in the Netherlands, where the Lions Club initiated Scouten’s introduction to Quest, then gave him about $25,000 to translate the materials into Dutch. A Lion’s Club official who ran an insurance company later kicked in about $20,000 as a grant. Scouten recalls the visit well: “He said, ‘How much money do you want?’ I said, ‘Perhaps 40,000 guilders.’ He said, ‘Okay. Have a cup of coffee,’” while the paperwork was done. “It took longer to drive there” than to get the money, he says.

Part of the funding is used to adapt the program to the new country – a process that raises another series of hurdles.

Culture When McGill does trainings in Europe for BBBS, she often notes a practice that does not occur during trainings in the U.S.: “I have to give everybody a break to go into the lobby to smoke.”

The continued enthusiasm for smoking in many parts of the world might seem like a trivial difference – but it signals the cultural differences that exporting U.S. agencies must grapple with. “The program really has to fit the culture and the society in which it’s taking place,” McGill says.

In some countries, the differences start with the very concept of volunteerism. “The idea of voluntary work is a new one” in Poland, Konczewski says. The Center for Youth As Resources, the D.C.-based civic involvement organization, had trouble recruiting young people as volunteers when it started operating in Poland in 1993 through the Polish Children and Youth Foundation. “Under the old [communist] regime, they were forced to volunteer and had no opportunity to make decisions democratically,” Program Director Teresa Ogrodzinksa wrote in a 1999 article in the National Network for Youth’s magazine, now known as the CYD Journal.

But this isn’t just an old Eastern Bloc dilemma. One of the toughest tasks for YVC in Canada has been spreading the very concept of youths doing significant volunteer service. “Service learning hasn’t come to Canada, not like in America,” explains Leslie Evans, executive director of YVC of Canada. She says youths buy into the concept when YVCC pitches service work as preparation for the job market.

Also new in some countries is the concept of non-government agencies (that is, nonprofits) providing human services, sometimes under contract with the government.

In the Netherlands, Schouten says, drug and alcohol abuse problems prompted more people to talk about values education in the schools, thus making parents and teachers more receptive to Quest, which covers a range of issues from getting along with peers and parents to rejecting smoking, drinking and illegal drugs.

But Quest is one of several agencies that found that strict messages on tobacco, alcohol and drugs are not palatable to kids and even youth workers in other countries. Just try telling the French that children can’t drink wine at the family table.

Quest’s “no use” position on such matters “has brought some difficulties for us,” Williams says. “In countries where they accept moderate use of alcohol by young people, we’ve had to modify that position.”

Even Schouten, who worries about drug abuse in the Netherlands, warned Quest that its “no drug use” stance would mark the program as “ridiculous” there. “Americans say, ‘Just say no,’” Schouten says. “In Holland, we have to have tolerance. To say ‘Just say no,’ that’s impossible.”

Thus the Quest materials in Holland do not tell kids to avoid drugs, but give information about the dangers of different drugs and urge youths to make their decisions based on health. “The issue is not about drugs. It’s how to make choices,” says Fré Steng, who now runs the Dutch program,

He says that such changes, along with a shift in Dutch society toward a willingness to discuss values publicly in order to address social problems like crime, opened the way for Quest’s success here.

Over in Japan, when Junior Achievement approaches school officials about its program, it plays down one of the main attractions of Junior Achievement in the U.S.: learning to make money. “In Japan, it’s bad to talk about wealth creation,” says David Loose, vice president of operations for Junior Achievement International. “When we mention free market and business,” the youth workers “talk about lifelong wisdom as the outcome.”

The good news in Poland is that youths have taken to the volunteer concept. Most of the BBBS mentors for teens are actually older teens, Konczewski says.

On the other hand, the Youth As Resources operation in Poland has shut down. The local center that hosted the program has resurrected elements of it under a different name. Something similar happened in Canada; YAR says it doesn’t mind.

Set Them Free Therein lies a final snag: Sustaining a program after years of work to get it on its feet.

> The only sure way would be to run the program from the U.S. But the prevailing attitude among U.S. agencies is to go the other way, to give foreign operations as much control as possible over program content, delivery and operations. “You have to let people run their own programs,” says Street Law’s O’Brien.

That increases the local operators’ and supporters’ stake in a program’s success, makes it more likely that the program will properly serve the needs of local youth and be accepted by them, and pushes the program toward standing on its own financially.

The U.S.-based agencies do not want dependent satellites on foreign soil. “It’s expensive and it’s a management hassle,” O’Brien says.

Thus YVC in Canada is a sort of sister to the American group in Kansas, sharing program standards and holding joint conferences. As any youth worker or parent can attest, this “raise it and set it free” approach carries risk – in this case, that a foreign program will go off in a direction inconsistent with the values of the parent organization that has lent its name.

The National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) registers its trademark with international bodies such as with the European Union, Salama says. And it tries to have a seat on the board of directors of the foreign organization in order to maintain contacts and influence over program development.

NFTE essentially has “licensee” agreements with the foreign operations, which pay for training, for NFTE materials, and the right to use NFTE’s name. Salama says the organization once had to stop a group of youth workers in Scotland from using NFTE’s name, because they had received training but did not actually become licensees.

Junior Achievement International sets up a franchise-like arrangement so that even though each operation is “very independent,” Loose says, the parent organization can tell a local board to “cease and desist” – as it did in Nigeria, where the program manager “had the right intentions … but never got the programs off the ground.” Junior Achievement found another partner there.

On the other end of the spectrum is 4-H, which has worked to spread the 4-H concept around the world since it began international youth exchanges with Europe in the 1940s. Today 4-H says more than 63 countries have 4-H programs or programs modeled on 4-H. The U.S. Department of Agriculture program has no legal right to restrict the use of its name or cloverleaf logo by 4-H clones in other countries, says Virginia Gobeli, who tracks international 4-H efforts as national program leader for 4-H Youth Development. So people can set up a 4-H in another country without input from the U.S. operation.

Thus Gobeli laughs when she recalls how two Iranian men came up to her at a rural youth work conference in Germany in 1994 and enthusiastically told her how the 4-H program in their country, started in 1957, was still running.

Wonderful, Gobeli said. She didn’t know there was a 4-H in Iran.

Resources Alan Williams, Vice President Quest International 32 South St., Ste. 500 Baltimore, MD 21202 (410) 437-1500

Jaap Schouten Quest-Netherlands Weegbreestraat 26 2153 EC Nieuw-Vennep Netherlands

David Loose, Vice President Junior Achievement International 2780 Janitell Rd. Colorado Springs, CO 80906 (719) 540-0200 Dagmar McGill, Executive Director Big Brothers Big Sisters International 1315 Walnut St., Ste. 704 Philadelphia, PA 19107 (215) 717-5130

Don Mohanlal, Executive Vice President International Youth Foundation 32 South St., Ste. 500 Baltimore, MD 21202 (410) 347-1500

Edward O’Brien, Executive Director Street Law 1600 K St., NW Washington, DC 20006 (202) 293-0088

Friends in Key Places

• When the Washington, D.C.-based Progressive Life Center (PLC) wanted to start an empowerment project for girls in Zambia (where the nonprofit provides management consulting and human services), a staff member there suggested a local Catholic girls’ school that she had attended. While the PLC got a $300,000 one-year grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development (under its education and democracy development initiative) for Project Heshema, the school, St. Mary’s, worked with the education ministry and used local people to set up the curriculum.

(USAID has funded numerous youth programs in foreign lands, like Junior Achievement. But the application and auditing process “is a lot harder than private sector funding,” says David Loose, vice president of operations for Junior Achievement International.)

• The Kansas-based Youth Volunteer Corps of America (which coordinates youth volunteer opportunities) has expanded to only one country, Canada – where Penny Hume, executive director of Child Friendly Calgary, read a story about the program around 1993 and called to ask about trying the idea in her city. But YVCA President David Batty found that, compared to the U.S., Canada has few big foundations awarding grants to launch new youth-serving programs.

That was taken care of when Child Friendly Calgary agreed to sponsor the first Youth Volunteer Corps of Canada (YVCC). Three years later, other community-based organizations began hosting YVCCs in other cities. YVCC Executive Director Leslie Evans says the corps is now in 12 Canadian cities, with sites hosted by CBOs such as the Edmonton YMCA.

• When Street Law steps into other countries, it forms partnerships with local educators, legal practitioners and human rights organizations to find schools to design and carry out the programs. Before starting up in Nigeria, says International Programs Director Mary Larkin, Street Law’s NGO partner there (an education-oriented group called Civitas Nigeria) found deans at law schools “to agree that they want to have a Street Law program, and see if they can start locating high schools” where law school students would deliver the program to kids.

• BBBS International has been launching programs in Europe with seed money from the Open Society Institute – typically $90,000 over three years for a country, OSI says. Big Brothers finds NGOs in the host countries to essentially host the programs and keep them going after the OSI funds expire. In Poland, for instance, the Batory Foundation is the main funder and coordinator, but local groups (like a family support services agency) actually run the programs in different locations.

Where in the World…? A sampling of U.S.-based youth programs that have spread overseas:

Big Brothers Big Sisters Inter-national: In 32 foreign countries.

4-H: 63 countries with 4-H programs or rural youth programs modeled on 4-H.

Global Education Partnership: Divisions in Kenya, Guatemala, Tanzania and Indonesia.

High/Scope: Affiliations disseminate “materials and ideas” in six foreign countries.

Junior Achievement: In 112 countries.

National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship: Five countries.

100 Black Men of America: Chapters in England and the Bahamas.

Progressive Life Center: Project Heshema in Zambia.

Quest International: Curricula taught in 33 foreign countries.

Save the Children: Works in “over 45 developing nations.”

Street Law: Has set up operations in 19 foreign countries.

Youth as Resources: New Zealand.

Youth Crime Watch of America: Programs in Brazil, Venezuela and Nigeria.

Youth for Christ: Volunteers and staff in “more than 100 countries.”

Youth Volunteer Corps: Canada.


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