A Closer Look at a Bank's Strategy to Boost Opportunities for Urban Youth

Youth unemployment is now getting a ton of attention from funders. Recently, for example, we wrote about a new effort led by Starbucks and its CEO Howard Schultz to provide jobs and opportunities to 100,000 young people. We've also written about the Rockefeller Foundation's efforts to target employers and get them invested in youth employment. In addition, we covered a recent study showing that more than 100 foundations are now investing in entrepreneurship, which is one way to fight high unemployment numbers that impact young people. 

One of the big players in workforce development for youth is the Citi Foundation. Citi recently announced the 12 nonprofits selected to receive $250,000 from the Youth Opportunity Fund, a $3 million initiative to support city-level, innovative and scalable programs for youth. America's Promise Alliance is the partner organization carrying out the Youth Opportunity Fund mission, an alliance born in 1997 with ambitious goals for improving high school graduation rates and college enrollment.


Major banks are top employers of entry level workers in urban centers, so you can understand why they are so interested in boosting the career readiness and skills of young people. Companies like Citi know the challenges here well, and can benefit directly from better outcomes.  

Citi prides itself on taking a "More than Philanthropy" approach that leverages the company's financial expertise to help address complex social problems. With a particular focus on financial inclusion, workforce development for youth, and urban renewal, Citi Foundation is working a wide range of tools that target economic progress and quality of life improvement for low-income folks. 

Is all this part of a push by Citi to make amends for its past involvement in predatory lending? Maybe. This is a bank, after all, that was once called "the leader when it comes to predatory lending" by the head of a consumer group, who added: "They've got it down to a science." More recently, Citi has faced litigation for predatory lending practices targeting minority communities that allegedly occurred during the go-go years of the housing boom. 

As we've written before, questions around corporations and their philanthropy are morally fraught. What we can say for sure is that corporate giving has become more sophisticated and more responsive to the needs of low-income communities, and that's a good thing. Citi's philanthropy exemplifies the trend. 

Related: Tricky Questions on Corporate Philanthropy at Walmart and Beyond

Nonprofits awarded these new funds from the Citi Foundation needed to reach a minimum of 250 low-income youth ages 16 to 24 with their work. In addition, programs must provide entrepreneurship training, mentorship, service and leadership opportunities, and/or summer jobs.

The Youth Opportunity Fund is part of the Citi Foundation's Pathways to Progress initiative, designed to support direct-service programs that empower urban youth ages 16 to 24. The fund has awarded one-year grants of $250,000 to nonprofit organizations in 10 U.S. cities: Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, Newark, St. Louis, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

Recently, we talked with Brandee McHale, President of the foundation, about the added challenges of economic development in today's job market, in which more and more young people are graduating high school, but unemployment is still high for youth in general. "We are creating more awareness and understanding of how the issue of youth unemployment affects cities and their economic stability, and how we can all come together to understand what works and why, and scale and promote the programs that have the greatest impact," said McHale.

Related: Expanding Horizons and Hope: The Logic of a Bank's Funding on Youth Employment

The Youth Opportunity Fund supports programs that address youth unemployment through partnerships with municipal governments, collaborations across industries, and a focus on developing career readiness for jobs in IT, healthcare, the service industry and environmental sustainability. Grantees are expected to collaborate and share best practices on how they effectively connected youth to economic opportunity in their communities.

And the winners are:

  • BOSTON: In partnership with the Office of the Mayor, the United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley will enroll youth participants in Boston Youth Venture (BYV), a civic engagement and entrepreneurship program focused on communication and project management skills for college and career.
  • CHICAGO: In collaboration with the Office of the Mayor and Cook County Board, the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership will prepare young people for local job opportunities through employer-customized workforce development programs that build leadership and workplace skills.
  • DALLAS: In partnership with the Dallas County Juvenile Department, Café Momentum will help the community's most at-risk youth participate in life and leadership skills training, mentorship, and paid internships to foster successful re-entry into the community.
  • LOS ANGELES: In a joint effort with the Office of the Mayor and the Los Angeles Unified School District, UNITE-LA, an affiliate of the L.A. Chamber of Commerce, will provide youth with workforce readiness training and certification that may lead to paid summer employment opportunities at partner health care institutions.
  • LOS ANGELES: Center for Powerful Public Schools, in partnership the Los Angeles Unified School District's Linked Learning Office, will help prepare low-income youth, age 16 to 18, for promising careers in energy engineering and sustainability.
  • MIAMI: In partnership with private and public partners, Communities in Schools of Miami will provide youth with workplace mentoring throughout the school year and with paid summer internships.
  • NEW YORK CITY: Building on strong relationships with the New York City Housing Authority, Per Scholas will establish a scalable, borough-specific model and citywide federal education and training network that will help young adults finish school, attend college and/or start a career.
  • NEW YORK CITY: Together with the Office of the Mayor and NYC Service, United Way of New York City will launch Expanding NYC Service Years, a project that will mobilize new service members to contribute a year of full-time service to their community with the goal of helping youth define their own pathways towards success.
  • NEWARK: YouthBuild Newark, in conjunction with the City of Newark and Newark Public Schools, will provide young people who are out-of-school and served in a community-based setting and/or enrolled in its partner alternative high schools with job training, career exploration, and national service opportunities.
  • ST. LOUIS: The Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, Inc. in collaboration with the City/County Workforce Board and Claim Academy Tech boot-camp along with higher educational partners will provide youth with 21st century IT skills training and credentialing that can lead to long-term employment.
  • SAN FRANCISCO: Through collaboration with more than 40 top Bay Area companies, academic partners and San Francisco's Office of Economic and Workforce Development, Year Up Bay Area will educate and train young people in 2016 to fill the thousands of tech-based "middle-skills jobs" that remain unfilled year after year in corporations that are leaders in a wide range of business sectors.
  • WASHINGTON, D.C.: Through partnerships with Northern Virginia Community College and federal agencies in Washington, D.C., Urban Alliance will empower young people to work and succeed through formal training, paid internships and mentorship.

Notice anything special about these partnerships? Nearly all of them involve public agencies, which is not something we see all the time in philanthropic initiatives.