Former schools head returns to Md. -- to serve world's kids

October 09, 2004|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

For David W. Hornbeck, it's not that far a cry from the tough urban schools of Baltimore and Philadelphia to those of Lima, Peru, where children grow up in poverty, and drugs and violence are commonplace.

Hornbeck served 12 years as Maryland state schools chief and six as superintendent in rough-and-tumble Philadelphia. Now he's back in Baltimore at the nerve center of a worldwide network of organizations devoted to improving the lives of boys, girls and young adults.

Hornbeck is the new president and chief operating officer of the International Youth Foundation, a 14-year-old philanthropic organization that awards money to youth programs - many of them politically sensitive - in 53 countries, yet has little visibility in its hometown.

Among the foundation's challenges are promoting equity for girls in Afghanistan, getting technology to middle school pupils in the Philippines, helping homeless children in the Netherlands, addressing widespread unemployment among young adults in the West Bank and Lima, and encouraging safe sex in Namibia.

All without dictating policy. Although the foundation estimates its global network has touched 26 million young people since its founding in 1990, it has no offices or employees outside the United States and only 47 workers at its headquarters on South Street near Baltimore's Inner Harbor.

"It's an incredibly complex endeavor," says Hornbeck, 62. "But the substance of good education, health and school-to-work programs is the same in Montgomery County and Philadelphia as it is in Tanzania, Thailand or Turkey."

Founded by Hornbeck's predecessor, Rick R. Little, the International Youth Foundation raises millions of dollars from multinational corporations, foundations, governments and such organizations as the United States Agency for International Development.

The foundation distributes the money to groups that it calls its "partners," private and public organizations committed to children and youths. Each partner is under local leadership. "We don't boss anything from Baltimore," says Hornbeck.

Such "on-the-ground" administration is crucial, he says. "A U.S. citizen doesn't go to Africa to urge young men to use condoms. That advice has to come from a young African man."

The programs typically involve what Hornbeck calls "positive youth development." In addition to training in technology and employment skills, young people get counseling and a good deal of hand-holding.

"The culture of South Africa is such that young people need to learn self-confidence," Ntutule Tshenye, chief executive of an IYF partner, said by telephone from Johannesburg.

"This is a jobs training and placement program for recent college graduates, many of whom grew up in strict segregation and poverty," he said. "Under apartheid, they never had a chance to learn to express themselves."

The South African project is one of 19 around the world sponsored by Nokia, the mobile phone giant, under a $15 million, three-year grant.

"The programs are as different as the countries," says Hornbeck. In China, the idea is to connect students in fast-growing urban areas with their peers in rural towns and villages. In Brazil, students from schools and universities act as reading mentors to poor children in the cities.

In Canada, the focus is on aboriginal people, whose suicide rate is five times higher than the entire country's average.

The youth foundation is in the beginning stage of an arrangement with a handful of the world's largest youth organizations, including Scouting and YMCA.

"The beauty of this," says Hornbeck, "is that the infrastructure is already there, with millions of members virtually everywhere in the world. And these organizations have the value of being trusted. When a boy comes home with a merit badge for a project on AIDS, his parents are much more likely to show an interest.

Internationally financed but locally operated partnerships allow young people to confront some of the world's most socially and politically sensitive problems, such as AIDS and human-rights abuses.

One such program, "Youth in Action" gives grants to young adults with leadership potential. For example, Kingdom Kwapata, 25, campaigns in Lilongwe, Malawi, to end female circumcision.

Another recipient, says Hornbeck, "wanders from village to village in Namibia, sort of like Johnny Appleseed, urging men dying of AIDS to abandon the tribal custom of passing property along patriarchal lines, telling them they can legally leave property to wives and families."

The IYF was established by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation but lured from Battle Creek, Mich., in 1996 as part of Baltimore's campaign to attract not-for-profit foundations and world relief organizations.

"The other finalists were Annapolis, Atlanta and London," says Hornbeck, "so landing the IYF was a feather in the cap of Baltimore."

When Hornbeck was approached last year about the foundation job, "It seemed a natural progression of my career, a perfect fit, and it got me back to Baltimore."

A Texas native trained as a minister and lawyer - he has never been a teacher or principal - Hornbeck quit his post in Philadelphia four years ago in frustration over the system's perpetual financial woes. He brought reforms to the district with the help of millions of dollars from private foundations. He also operated one of the nation's largest school-to-work programs.

"There was much I learned in Philadelphia that I could put to work at the IYF," Hornbeck says.

"But the single attitude that attracted me," he says, "is that young people are assets to be engaged, not problems to be solved."

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