Youth Social Investing with Fast Forward Fund

Daniel Epstein October 29, 2009

Can 20-somethings make effective social investors? That’s exactly what the Fast Forward Fund (FFF) is out to prove! I had the chance to hop on Skype with the impassioned and charming FFF Founding President and CEO, Diana Ayton-Shenker to learn a bit about the organization’s pioneering work transforming 19-30 year olds into social investors. Check out our conversation below:

Fast Forward Fund Profile. Fast Forward Fund is a youth-to-youth social investment fund teaching 19-30 year olds to make smart investments in social ventures. The organization provides young social investors training, philantrhopic advisory services, engaging networking & community-building opportunities, and a peer-to-peer social investment portfolio that is comprised of youth-led projects. The organization developed because of the need to develop new strategies to address the world’s biggest problems because traditional philanthropy wasn’t cutting it. Fast Forward Fund drives crucial capital toward young, high-impact ventures carefully vetted by leading social entrepreneurship incubators and accelerators, which serve as Fast Forward Fund’s Pipeline Partners. These partners include organizations like The Clinton Global Initiative, Teach For America, the Acumen Fund, Echoing Green, and the Unreasonable Institute). Learn more about the Fast Forward Fund in Diana’s response to question 1.
Measuring Impact. Having launched officially in February 2009 with President Clinton at the Clinton Global Initiative University, Fast Forward Fund is still raising the capital to make social investments. Once it does raise the capital, however, it plans to use the PULSE metrics, developed recently by the Acumen Fund, Google, and, to evaluate both its social investment performance and the organization itself. Since it’s launch, the Fast Forward Fund has worked with 20 young leaders from eight countries around the world at Bard College’s Globalization and International Affairs Program, providing them with the training to become savvy youth investors.
Financial Model. Under the fiscal sponsorship of the Fund for the City of New York, a 501(c)3 incubator, the Fast Forward Fund welcomes philanthropic investors and is currently focused on seed funders who can finance the organization’s startup costs and help build the fund. Fast Forward Fund is also looking into other sources of revenue to augment charitable contributions with diversified funding base and income stream, including charging fees for training and advisory services and interactive network events like youth-to-youth pitch fests. Additionally, the Fast Forward Fund envisions that its diversified social portfolio, including for-profit start-ups, will generate “patient capital” returns to regenerate the Fund..
Portfolio. Fast Forward Fund focuses its investments in four target categories: climate change & energy, poverty alleviation, public health, and human rights & peace. To date, it has identified and showcased as investment opportunities four ventures within each of these broader target categories: Focus Root Fellows (nominated by the Clinton Global Initiative), The Generation Project (nominated by Teach for America), the Mali Health Organizing Project (nominated by the Global Engagement Summit), and Public Stuff (nominated by New York Women Social Entrepreneurs).
Diana Ayton-Shenker’s Bio. The birth of the Fast Forward Fund is closely related to Diana’s experiences. She grew up during the movements for Soviet Jewry and Anti-Apartheid and wound up self-financing a trip to the Soviet Union in 1984, where she became inspired to pursue the promotion of human rights through international law. After obtaining her LLM from the University of Essex Law School, she lived all over the world, falling into the intersection of private sector resources and social sector causes for the next 20 years. She taught at the American University of Paris, at Hunter College, and at Bard College. She served as a consultant for various branches of the United Nations and held senior positions with Mercy Corps, PEN, and Human Rights Watch. Her inspiration to start the Fast Forward Fund came to her while sitting in a panel listen to Echoing Green President Cheryl Dorsey speak, realizing there was a need to mobilize resources and talent for social investment. She went home and honed the idea in her kitchen, talking to her husband. Diana grew up in Portland, Oregon, is the mother of three children, and now lives with her husband in Upstate New York.

Thanks so much to Diana Ayton-Shenker for her passionate explanation of Fast Forward Fund’s exciting work! Learn more about Fast Forward Fund at!

written by: Teju Ravilochan (Unreasonable Institute)

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