Future Foundation Atlanta

Archives: 2017

After the Future Foundation had achieved a 100 percent success rate (seeing every one of their participants graduate high school, and 99 percent move on to post-secondary education), CEO Qaadirah Abdur-Rahim was pleased – but not satisfied. Rather than let success get in the way, Abdur-Rahim set out an entirely new strategy, launching an ambitious pilot aimed at no less than nation-wide poverty disruption. The results of that pilot recently won the Atlanta-based nonprofit a $4.5 million grant, ensuring five more years of research into the community-raising approach developed by one determined young nonprofit leader and her team.

In her opening address to the 2017 YNPN National Conference & Leaders Institute, Abdur-Rahim shared her methods for advancing the cause by embracing personal and professional growth. The following piece is based on that address.

Young leaders: We are living in the most extraordinary times. Technology and education are opening up new vistas, barriers to entry are lower, access to information is better than ever. The impact on business in America has been undeniable. What makes me truly excited is considering the impact this disruptive thinking can have in the nonprofit world: how one ripple can inspire another and another and another until it becomes a wave – a tide – of change, making the world a better place for generations to come.

The world needs us more than ever. Seize this moment: a time to create and build on the ripples you’ve created, and amplify the impact of opportunity.


  1. Embrace continuous learning. Two years after founding Future Foundation, I had quadrupled the budget. That created amazing opportunity for impact, but also amazing business problems. I succeeded by embracing my curiosity about those problems: I went to Emory for my MBA, which helped me learn strategies to take our nonprofit to greater heights. Professional development opportunities should be on your priority list, and your team’s priority list, annually. If not, you will be left behind.

  2. Collaborate often. Look for partners who do not do the things you do, or who do things better than you do. Unusual collaborations are taking place everywhere, and they are maximizing stakeholder value and experiences.

  3. Challenge what you think you know. Poverty statistics haven’t changed in 50 years. So how do you disrupt the sector and challenge the possibilities? By surrounding yourself with networks that don’t look like yours. Immersing myself in other-industry learning networks enabled me to see what’s possible in the nonprofit world today. Good and challenging ideas come from working across sectors.

  4. Disrupt yourself. Companies that don’t examine their surroundings don’t make it. Look at some of the companies that have been around for 50-plus years: It’s not the strong that survive, it’s those that are most adaptable. Just like a company, you must always examine how you are growing in relation to where you are now, personally and professionally.

  5. Embrace your mentors. Build your “second family” by embracing your mentors, and embracing mentorship. Don’t be afraid to stand on the shoulders of giants: One of my mentors has encouraged me to go back to school, another has shared her network. But I have also learned just as much from my mentees – they help you think about how you do what you do.

  6. Be resilient. They say failure teaches us more than success; that courage is grace under pressure; that when things are not going smoothly, those are the times you’re being tested. It’s true: This is when you will be forced to come up with solutions you never could have under normal circumstances. Don’t be afraid. Instead, ask a new question. Explore a new path. Think differently. Employ positive self-talk. And never give up on something you believe in deeply. I can tell you first-hand: It really works.

  7. Be well. This work is hard. We cannot be an inspiration or lead change if we are not well. Establish a weekly routine that allows for physical activity and meditation. I don’t know if work-life balance is real, but I do know that such a routine has helped me become aware of when I’m pushing myself too hard, and the level of warmth and kindness I’m exhibiting as a leader. Above everything else I’ve said: Be well.

We are gathered here today as a second family, some of the greatest thinkers ready to change the world. Let’s bind the uncommon partners. Let’s discuss the ideas we are holding inside. Let’s rethink the 50-plus years of policies and strategies, and find the courage to do something different.

Qaadirah Abdur-Rahim is CEO of Future Foundation, which seeks to improve the life chances of youth through a five point, wrap-around strategy helping Atlanta-area families take the hard steps up and out of poverty. Find out more on their website, or by following them on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.



Qaadirah Abdur-Rahim

Future Foundation
East Point

Like many people, Qaadirah Abdur-Rahim worries about the future – especially of children living in poverty. What sets her apart is her devotion to changing their life trajectory.

As CEO of Future Foundation, Abdur-Rahim transformed an after-school program in College Park and East Point into comprehensive services that include a teen center, learning centers and parental support. A sign of success: For the past 10 years, 100 percent of Future Foundation participants graduated from high school. For comparison, the community’s graduation rate is about 70 percent.

Under her leadership, the Future Foundation recently won a five-year, $4.4-million federal grant to create an intensive model that gives children in poverty a “second family” of resources.

Abdur-Rahim grew up in the community and understands the challenges. “If someone is slipping or falling through the cracks,” she says, “we’re going to catch them.”

At Future Foundation, we consider ourselves to be a second family; not just in the way that we interact with each other, but also in the way that we serve our students and families. But what does it actually mean to be a “second family”?

We’re not out to replace the student’s family, but instead to fill in the gaps, provide stable, nurturing relationships and opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise be available to support and guide young people and their families by connecting them to critical learning resources; tutoring and mentoring in a safe, nurturing after-school environment.

Isabel Woods (Banneker High School’s 2017 Valedictorian) is just one example of the thousands of students that have thrived in Future Foundation’s program over the years. Starting as a sophomore at Banneker – the only Fulton County high school with a nursing pathway – she overcame the challenge of switching schools from her previous home in Saginaw, Michigan.

We highlight Isabel today, as her story of resilience is not much different than that of many youth served by Future Foundation. So, when it was discovered the day before Isabel’s graduation that she did not have a dress to wear and that no one from her family could attend her graduation, our staff jumped into action! We were able to coordinate buying Isabel a graduation dress; treating her to her very first mani / pedi and getting her hair styled for her big day. And of course, on graduation day we were right there cheering her on!

Despite the fact that this young woman faced homelessness, caring for a mother with health challenges and playing a huge role in raising her siblings, Isabel remained an active participant in our program and graduated high school with a 3.7 GPA. Future Foundation is committed to disrupting the way poverty has been historically addressed nationwide and leading a revolutionary, data driven effort against the core causes of poverty in America. #AfterschoolWorks #AfterschoolGA

The impact on business in America has been undeniable with innovations from companies such as Uber, Netflix and Air B&B, but what makes the staff at Future Foundation truly excited, is thinking about what impact disruptive thinking can have on the non-profit world. What opportunities we have to create a ripple that affects another person’s life for the better.

How that ripple can inspire another, and another and another until it becomes a wave—a tide of energy creating change. Making the world a better place.

The Future Foundation all started as just a glimmer of an idea that, maybe, we could give something back to the communities that needed it most. Soon this idea became a commitment; we started to see our vision as a real possibility. 

Then the first generation of 15 kids from our very first cohort in 2004 graduate. They go on to earn their Associates, then their Bachelors degrees. Get accepted into the National Honor Society. One comes back for Career Day and talks about the business she started.

Shawanda Edwards (shown below) is one of those kids. A native of East Point, GA , she started with Future Foundation in the 5th grade. A first-generation college graduate, she has gone on to earn her Associates from Atlanta Metropolitan College and is on track to graduate from Georgia State University with a Bachelors degree in Social Work. Shawanda is on the Dean’s List at GSU and was recently accepted into The National Society of Collegiate Scholars (NSCS).

She continues to play an integral role as a member of our second family by speaking at Future Foundation events and mentoring other youth currently enrolled in our program.

And that’s the opportunity. One ripple builds on another. That’s how extraordinary change happens. Being part of something—a second family—what does that do for the world?

Giving back is a recurring theme in the nonprofit world. No matter what the mission of the organization may be, so much of what we do, when we do it well, is based on the idea of giving back, mentoring, and helping others learn from your own experience to succeed in their own journeys.

This past Monday (August 13, 2017), I had the distinct pleasure of serving as the keynote speaker for the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network (YNPN) National Conference in Atlanta, GA.

The reception we received after a disruptive conversation about the way poverty needs to be addressed at YNPN Atlanta clearly shows we’re working in a sector that’s primed for disruption.


The single word I wanted to focus on was “disruption.” I know “disruption” is a term you hear more often describing tech startup businesses rather than nonprofit efforts, but I really believe the way poverty is addressed is primed for disruption and Future Foundation’s story only serves to illustrate that fact.

The YNPN keynote provided an opportunity to initiate a conversation about the way poverty is addressed in America. To take a look at the Disruption Playbook we’re writing at Future Foundation and challenge leaders in our sector to break the status quo, and revamp the 50-year-old social policies and strategies that have been failing so many communities.

Since 2007, Future Foundation of Atlanta has been graduating 100% of our students in an area where low graduation rates are standard. We are proud to say the results we’ve seen since opening our doors in 2004 are undeniable. More important, we’re proud of what our students go on to do after graduation and we’re using our 13 years of success to build on what we’ve learned to fundamentally disrupt the way poverty is battled here in Atlanta, across the country and around the world.

How we do it?

The same way Uber disrupted transportation. The same way Airbnb disrupted travel. We are operationalizing a second-family model designed to make the most of existing resources.

Uber didn’t build a new fleet of taxis to deliver its service. It devised a way to mobilize people who already own cars to deliver a relevant, valued service to their customers.

Airbnb didn’t build thousands of hotel rooms. They connected people who wanted to rent out rooms to people who wanted to stay in interesting places at an affordable rate.

Both of these startup “unicorns” disrupted conventional thinking and reinvented an industry.

We in the nonprofit world so often get absorbed into “good works” thinking. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s what drives us internally.

But it’s the disruptive ideas that can drive growth and success and real change in the world. It’s happening in the for-profit world, why can’t it happen in the non-profit one? Why can’t we disrupt poverty?

We are continually gathering data from our Second Family Model and partnering with a wide variety of people, organizations and resources to organize a model to create a disruptive, repeatable, scalable solution to poverty. We’re finding ways to connect existing resources to energize solutions to create opportunities utilizing the greatest asset we have in the not-for-profit sector—our people.

This shift is about relinquishing control of resources, decreasing bureaucracy, collecting real time data to improve student experiences, infusing innovative technologies into marginalized communities, and collaborating to coordinate resources in a strategically aligned ecosystem. It’s an ecosystem made up of a second family that spans the faith  business, government, school system, and nonprofit communities. 

Poverty statistics in America have not changed in 50 years. Judging from the response of young leaders listening to the disruption discussion at YNPN Atlanta this year, the time is now to seize the moment and disrupt our sector before other industry change disrupts our work.