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Our Founding Story

Our Founding Story


Ready by 21 was created to bridge a dangerous gap.

That is, the gap between what leaders around the country try to accomplish for our nation’s young people and what those efforts achieve.

Karen Pittman and Merita Irby, two long-time leaders in youth policy and research, have witnessed that disconnect repeatedly: communities and organizations pour time and money into solutions that don’t produce significant, lasting change.

They dedicated themselves to find out why, and to find lasting solutions.

Pittman, a sociologist and author, and Irby, an educator and researcher, embarked on that quest when they helped to run President’s Crime Prevention Council and the International Youth Foundation. That led them in 1998 to form the Forum for Youth Investment, a nonprofit action tank that forges innovative solutions to help communities get their young people “ready by 21.”

The Forum worked closely with state and local leaders who yearned for broadscale change. Those leaders did not need better intentions or more programs; they had plenty of both.

They needed strategies to “bring precision to their passion” – to fundamentally alter the way their communities and states work with young people. They needed tools. Data. Experience. A new way of thinking.

So the Forum:

  • developed and tested a series of strategies in consultation with leaders around the country,
  • reached out to selected national organizations – organizations that could make those strategies even stronger through their experience, expertise and tools of their own,
  • and in 2008 – after a decade of research, testing and refining – launched Ready by 21 and the Ready by 21 National Partnership.

The Partnership is a team of national organizations – representing the education, government, nonprofit, business, research and philanthropy sectors – that helps communities carry out the Ready by 21 strategies.

In recent years, the Forum issued a series of Initiatives and Challenges to bring Ready by 21 to more communities and states.

As of today, dozens of communities and states around the country have worked with the Forum to implement Ready by 21 strategies.