By Alexandra Fradelizio and Priscilla Rodriguez | m/Oppenheim Media Writers.
For nearly three decades, the Baltimore-based nonprofit International Youth Foundation (IYF) has worked to enrich the lives of youth around the globe through education, employment, and entrepreneurship programs.
In the U.S. alone, there are more than 10 million American youths who are currently unemployed or not equipped with the skills to be sustainably employed, explains CEO of IYF, Bill Reese, who will pass the leadership baton to Susan Reichle next year.
Reese says that a deep state of unemployment and lack of opportunity for youth is dangerous in any country.
“Our communities won’t be healthy if we have high unemployment rates…socially, politically, culturally, or on a community basis,” says Reese.
Though headquartered in the U.S., IYF leverages new and existing partnerships with organizations and companies around the world to provide teens and young adults in 70 countries with the education and skills necessary to become more active, contributing members of society. Uniquely, IYF works across sectors, partnering with governmental agencies like the Inter-American Development Bank and USAID, multinational companies like Hilton and McDonald’s, and foundations like Rockefeller and Mastercard. All told, IYF partners with more than 400 organizations and, directly or indirectly, has benefitted 20 million young people through initiatives and projects that promote well-being, schooling, job preparation, and economic opportunity.
“We are working with locals organizations, both public and private, and building their capacity to get them to do bigger and better things with curricula, with resources, and with training that we can provide,” says Reese, explaining the importance of partnerships and global communities in connecting youth with and preparing them for opportunities.
“We are not just parachuting into a country and trying to do it ourselves.”
Through partnerships with global corporate, government, and multi-lateral donors, IYF works with local partners in all its participating countries to prepare youth for school and for work. Reese says that one of the biggest resources IYF provides to organizations is curricula to equip their young people with skills that will land them jobs and lead them to careers, along with an education that will help them sustain their careers well beyond a particular initiative. One great example is IYF’s hallmark Passport to Success program, which is soon to be available as an online solution.
“Our goal is to see that countries, businesses, civil society, and philanthropies work together better so that young people can have a chance of being successful in life,” says Reese.
A second focus of IYF is to support entrepreneurial approaches to career-building by encouraging youth to build their own businesses and create their own opportunities.
“As you know, 30 to 40 percent of jobs today won’t exist 20 years from now,” says Reese, who explains that although no single organization can solve the changing nature of the job market, IYF stands by its mission to help young people to become “prepared with skills and attitudes and emotional intelligence that will allow them to navigate a complex and changing world.”
The final component of IYF’s work is its support of up-and-coming young social innovators through its flagship citizenship program, YouthActionNet®.
YouthActionNet focuses on providing key resources for young, creative minds who are coming up with solutions to some of the world’s biggest challenges, including supporting young leaders in 94 countries across 24 YoungActionNet Institutes.
It is no surprise that IYF’s trailblazing approach in creating a strong, self-sufficient generation of youth has impacted millions of lives for nearly three decades, but Reese says that the battle to overcome education and employment challenges has only just begun. The organization works to ensure that all young people finish their schooling and acquire a job, “but if they do not, we are going to have more health, political, and economic challenges that will be larger in the future than they are today.”
Reese says that he hopes more people will jump on board to support the cause of helping younger generations break out of the cycle of poverty by providing them with access to opportunities that will assist them in achieving their full potential.
“We’re not going to defeat poverty by charity and humanitarian assistance alone – it has to be sustainable. There has to be economic growth.”