Citi and JA Celebrate 30 Year of Collaboration


July 18, 2017

Citi and JA Celebrate 30 Years of Collaboration

by Brandee McHale (President of the Citi Foundation and Director of Corporate Citizenship at Citi) and Asheesh Advani (CEO of JA Worldwide)

No generation is feeling the impacts of the complex economic and social realities of today more than young people. As the largest youth population in history, one consistent struggle they face is persistent unemployment. Today, about one-third of youth worldwide are either unemployed, not in school, or not enrolled in a training or development program. How will these young people become the next generation of talented leaders without the necessary training and employment opportunities they deserve?

This is where JA (Junior Achievement) Worldwide comes in. As one of the world’s largest youth-serving NGOs—reaching over 10 million young people each year—JA Worldwide leads a global, federated network spread over 118 countries and represents one of the largest distribution networks reaching young people today, providing training in financial literacy, work readiness, and entrepreneurship. For the past three decades, Citi and the Citi Foundation have been working together with JA to help manage and scale JA’s network and ensure pathways to opportunity and upward mobility for young people around the world.

This relationship makes sense. Citi and JA Worldwide are both organizations that have a global presence and a shared commitment to inspire and prepare young people—our future leaders and our future consumers—to succeed in a global economy. When nonprofits and corporations partner, they enable mission alignment and goal clarity on a regional or global scale while tapping local insight and functional expertise.

Alliances, networks, and coalitions are rapidly becoming the organizational forms that have become most effective at addressing complex social issues, and funders are uniquely positioned to harness the impact of these networks. Here’s a look at the way Citi has harnessed the reach of JA’s global network, which then partner with government agencies and local coalitions of nonprofits to reduce youth unemployment.

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Take the Long View

If you want to invest in a long-term partnership that will fundamentally impact a socio-economic issue, make time your friend. Remarkably, many Citi Foundation grants to JA are written as multi-year grants and have funded capacity-building efforts and, allowing JA time to scale up, test new innovations, demonstrate impact, and learn from our failures when programs did not succeed as planned.

Long-term infrastructure investments in technology have enabled JA to deploy systems that are aligning a variety of stakeholders, including NGOs, governments, the private sector, school systems, and the youth constituents. We know firsthand that tackling any issue in a big way—from youth unemployment to climate change—are is most effective when addressed by networks working comprehensively and collectively across silos.

When NGOs receive long-term, unrestricted investments, they have time to focus on long-term impact and begin to identify, test, and scale up successful approaches for transformative results. This flexibility and trust, bestowedimparted upon JA from Citi Foundation, has allowed us JA to build an enabling environment that is tapping into the social, economic, and intellectual capital young people bring to the local and global economy.

Bottom line: If you expect a nonprofit to fundamentally impact a social issue within a year or less, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Real social change takes time.

Allow for Different Approaches

The world’s most challenging social, cultural, and economic issues don’t have only one solution, and solutions often vary depending on location. This is why JA and the Citi Foundation have taken a one-size-does-not-fit all approach to our work. JA has developed programs at the global, regional, and local levels, and the Citi Foundation has funded programs across all three. Our advice: Be adaptable and responsive to change, so that you can pivot toward new technology, and new challenges, as they arise.

The Citi Foundation has consistently reinforced the message that it’s okay to try something new and fail, and that it’s okay to implement systems that allow the NGO to work smarter—not necessarily harder—even if those systems initially cost money. The heart of the message? Experimentation is healthy, because experimentation is how NGOs can make a difference in the lives of clients and invest in longer-term sustainability.

Bottom line: Innovation leads to solutions that create real social change. But some of those innovations are going to fail. Those have to roll off your back.

Invest in Human Capital

The Citi Foundation has invested in JA’s human capacity-building at the worldwide, regional, and local levels. This means that some Citi Foundation grants have gone toward less flashy—but equally impactful—funding initiatives, like expanding JA offices in Africa, the Americas, and the Middle East to be able to serve more students in those regions. It also means the Citi Foundation has supported capacity-building and human-capital development at JA’s global headquarters and regional offices, in order to build out marketing and development teams that traditionally fall under “overhead,” implement change-management initiatives, and recruit and train new leaders.

Bottom line: If a funder wants an NGO to be in problem-solving mode, the funder needs to invest in the people and processes to do that problem-solving.

Use Your Own Human Capital

Writing checks is essential—and there’s no question that organizations like JA couldn’t survive, much less thrive, without generous investments. Yet equally important—and possibly more important—than the money is the strategic direction provided by the wisdom, experience, knowledge, and expertise that Citi volunteers offer JA students. Each year, over 2,000 Citi employees dedicate their personal time and leverage their specific expertise—such as financial education and business acumen—to help train the future leaders of the global economy.

Bottom line: Funders should look at the resources available to them and think outside the box to identify ways to make their philanthropic activities more impactful. Community engagement is more than writing checks.  

Whatever issue you’re looking to eradicate, reduce, build, improve, or begin, you won’t solve it alone and you won’t solve it overnight. Getting to the root of social and economic issues requires collaboration, time, and a willingness to invest in an organization’s infrastructure to enable long-term growth and continued innovation. We’re proud of our 30-year partnership and, most importantly, the work we do to build young people’s skills and encourage them to dream—and act—big