Qaadirah Abdur-Rahim, Founder & CEO of Future Foundation, Inc.
(1) As the CEO of Future Foundation, Inc., an organization that focuses on youth empowerment through education, you are leading the way for those interested in creating impact, both globally and in their local communities.
Growing up in Atlanta, you’ve directly experienced the challenges faced by many children attending low-performing public schools. Future Foundation, Inc. provides intervention and serves many children at the middle school and high school level who may live below the poverty level. What are some unique challenges faced by this demographic?
Children living below the poverty level uniquely experience a combination of social factors that create a cycle of generational poverty. These factors include, racially segregated communities, low household incomes, historically low performing educational institutions, and high unemployment. Our focus at Future Foundation is to equip our students and their families with the tools to break the cycle.
(2) Your organization encourages youth to invest in and prepare for the future. What do you feel are the most valuable investments that a child can make towards their future while in school?
The most valuable investment a student can make towards their future while in school is to stay in school, explore opportunities that will expose them to experiences outside of their immediate community, find a mentor, and work on developing a diverse network.
(3) In what ways can adult figures positively support a child’s personal growth and well-being?
Adults should model the behavior they want to see in children.
(4) Your programs not only focus on academics but also emphasizes the teaching of life skills. Why is the teaching of life skills outside of the home so important?
We are helping our students climb out of poverty and to realize our vision of them becoming self-sustaining adults. For this, they need to have the confidence to apply skills like communicating, conflict resolution, and managing finances.
(5) Among the list of programs, Future Foundation, Inc. also offers parenting workshops. Do you find there is a need for more parental involvement in children’s education? And, what have been the most received topics by parents?
Yes. When parents receive parenting support, their parenting confidence increases along with their self-esteem. If parents are feeling more positive, they are more likely to interact with their children in more supportive ways. Our parents like family engagement activities (i.e., movie and game nights etc.). Overall, our parents just like having a forum where they are heard and are receiving tips in a supportive environment.
(6) 100% of Future Foundation, Inc. program participants graduate high school, correct? To what do you attribute the program’s success?
Future Foundation’s 100% graduation and 99% post-secondary entry rates can be attributed to our dedicated staff and our five-point theory of change. Future Foundation’s theory of change (TOC) is informed by the best available research on buffering the negative effects of generational poverty. This research guides the work of Future Foundation (see chart below). The colors of the TOC directly correspond with the colors in the poverty wheel, depicting how components of our programs address specific issues triggered by poverty.
At Future Foundation, we assert that if students have access to the five-points highlighted in our TOC, they can and will climb out of poverty. We are in the process of testing our theory through a rigorous research study.
(7) How has innovation played a role in your organization’s success?
At Future Foundation, we celebrate the impact we have made through direct service to hundreds of students. But we know that to break the cycle of generational poverty we must do something differently, take a different approach. We must make a collective impact to break the curse.
So, Future Foundation is thinking strategically about the work we do. How can we better serve as a second family in communities where the breakdown of the family is a hallmark of the great poverty that persists? How can we strengthen the impact of what we do, but also help strengthen the outcomes for all our partners? How can we all work together, across siloes, to do more of what works, so that we can reach more students and impact more lives, and thus improve the well-being of an entire community?
Working with the guidance of organizations like The Annie E. Casey Foundation and TechBridge, we are beginning to operationalize our model. The goal is to do more than just collect data, but to manage it, evaluate it, analyze it, and use it to grow and to innovate—and to help our partners to grow and innovate, too. We can collaboratively track our clients, our inputs, and our outcomes so that we can make more strategic decisions and be better stewards of our investments. In this collective impact model, we can aggregate data for the common good.
(8) Your work and dedication to improving the lives of children and parents in Atlanta, through education, is certainly inspiring! What advice would you give individuals interested in transitioning to the nonprofit sector?
I would give the following advice to individuals interested in transitioning to the nonprofit sector:
- Interview professionals in big and small nonprofits to understand the environment you will thrive in.
- Volunteer for a nonprofit before transitioning.
- Last, I offer advice from Steve Jobs that resonates with me.
“The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle.”
Interviewed by: Latoya Stephenson-Smith