TITLE: Senior Program Officer, Early Childhood & Youth
FUNDING AREAS: Poverty and early childhood education
CONTACT: Driskell@robinhood.org, 212-227-6601
IP TAKE: Driskell is always searching for quantifiable results in his grantmaking. Talk is just a bunch of words strung together. He's impressed with results.
PROFILE: Investing in early childhood and youth education programs is an important step in breaking the cycle of poverty, and it's one focus that the Robin Hood Foundation uses in its mission to end poverty in New York City.
Leading the foundation's efforts in early childhood and youth education is Senior Program Officer Kwaku Driskell, who first joined Robin Hood in October 2005. He's been in the thick of it with engagingly supporting youth for quite some time, starting as a YMCA camp administrator, moving on to the education departments of first the Chicago Children's Museum and then the Brooklyn Children's Museum, and finally three years as a Program Manager at Young Audiences New York just previous to joining with Robin Hood. He also has his bachelor's degree in communications from Northwestern University, and has worked as an actor in addition to his community and non-profit efforts.
And there are plenty of facts to prove the need for Driskell's grantmaking efforts. One statistic that the foundation often touts: A student enrolled in a pre-K education program is 15 percent more likely to graduate from high school.
Although that may be an easy-to-digest tidbit, it's not always easy to isolate the effectiveness of a philanthropic investment. Nevertheless, results are what drive Robin Hood's grant making, and the foundation is notable for measuring its grantees' success in a variety of ways.
Driskell and Robin Hood's Steven Lee talked to students at NYU's Wagner Graduate School of Public Service in May 2012, and they underlined the foundation's approach to measurement. An NYU Wagner blog post highlighted some of them, from "changes in income" to "quality-adjusted life years." In turn, they compare "program outcomes to counterfactual scenarios to see how much of a difference the program makes on the participants' lives."
For fundraisers, it's important to understand this emphasis on measuring results, as Robin Hood is an extremely competitive funder. Of the 27,000 poverty-fighting organizations in NYC, just 200 receive grants from the foundation each year, and organizations with clear measurables or ideas for measuring effectiveness will have a leg up.
Of course, this plays into Driskell's grantmaking strategy. There aren't always clear statistics and bullet points to analyze. At the NYU Wagner talk, a student asked if "qualitative measures play a role," and the question allowed Driskell to offer insights into his thinking and his hands-on approach.
Driskell described how he visits program sites to observe grantees in action. He tries to gauge the hard-to-quantify aspects of programs: Is the atmosphere an inviting one? Is the program really engaging youth? What happens when a young person breaks the rules? He also noted that proven leadership sometimes induces Robin Hood to make riskier investments than it otherwise would.