The Forum’s Thought Leadership Roundtable: A Conversation with Merita Irby

In April and May, Karen Pittman is sitting down with the Forum’s three program executives and, together, they tell the broader story of how the Forum is changing the odds for young people and explore the future of our work to advance equity, research, policy, and practice across all the systems and settings that shape young people’s lives.

Each executive leads a unit and a set of named centers and initiatives intended to drive one of the Forum’s strategic approaches.

  • Strengthening Practices & Programs: The Forum empowers youth development, education, and human service system leaders to adopt, implement, and scale management, staff policies, and practices that ensure young people have access to high quality, coordinated supports they need to succeed.
  • Improving & Aligning Policies: The Forum helps policymakers, funders, advocates, and rising leaders increase their capacity by aligning with other advocates, departments, sectors, and levels of government to use data and evidence to support the whole child and pursue racial and social equity.
  • Planning & Partnering for Impact: The Forum supports boundary-spanning leaders charged with creating or implementing plans that require a focus on the bigger picture. The team helps leaders connect the dots across complex and sometimes competing goals, services, plans, and partners.

View clips or the full-length recording of Karen’s recent interview with Merita Irby, co-founder and Executive Vice President of the Forum and Managing Partner of Big Picture Approach Training and Consulting. Big Picture Approach is the Forum’s most visible effort devoted to planning and partnering for impact.

Pittman and Irby survey the strategies that have shaped the Forum for Youth Investment and dig into Irby’s decades of policy, practice, and partnership work.

Irby unpacks the foundational ideas that guide the Forum’s work and the power of thinking together with key partners to move ideas into action.

Pittman and Irby discuss the intersection between youth and community development and the importance of shifting youth development goals from prevention and mediation to full community participation and preparation for life. Irby dives into the network-building and centering of youth experiences that helped the Forum begin to get grounded and gain traction.

Pittman and Irby discuss the history of Ready by 21 and how, guided by the goal of changing the odds for all children and youth, partnerships with a diverse group of boundary-spanning leaders helped put the focus on youth development approaches that are reflective of and adaptable to current community landscapes.

Pittman and Irby explore how Ready by 21 mobilized the idea of community commitment to quality as an essential aspect of youth development, detailing the cross-sector and cross-system planning that helped scale Ready by 21 to the national level.

Pittman and Irby describe the Forum’s role in helping the out-of-school time (OST) field build a deeper understanding of how learning happens, both by drawing attention to the importance of environment and program quality for youth outcomes and by driving the conversation around social and emotional learning as integral to developing young people’s skills and competencies.

Pittman and Irby reflect on the Forum’s approach to out-of-school time (OST) programs as flexible delivery systems for youth development, with a sneak peek into how the Readiness Projects are applying lessons learned in the pandemic year to strengthen relationships and make programming smarter and more equitable in every setting where learning happens.