Alumni News

SIPA Distinguished Alumni Award: Katie Napolitano MIA ’08

Posted May 17 2024
SIPA Distinguished Alumni Award: Katie Napolitano MIA ’08

The SIPA Distinguished Alumni Award is presented annually or as otherwise determined by the Board of the SIPA Alumni Association to honor alumni who have graduated at least 10 years prior to the year in which they are nominated and have demonstrated distinguished achievement in their chosen field.

Katie Napolitano has dedicated her career to improving equity and access for underrepresented populations in NYC and globally. She is the co-founder and co-Executive Director of Fair Futures, a coalition of 100+ organizations that has been cited as the largest cross-sector collaboration and most successful youth-led advocacy movement in the history of child welfare. Fair Futures secured public funding to implement and scale their model across NYC’s foster care and juvenile justice systems, making NYC the first in the nation to support young people after exiting foster care until age 26. In previous roles, including as a Program Officer at Tiger Foundation and Vice President of an international social investment company, Katie supported dozens of organizations in a funding and advisory capacity, providing strategic guidance and capital to help fuel their growth and success. Katie and her husband are adoptive/parental figures to six young adults who aged out of NYC’s foster care system, who inspired her to co-launch and coordinate the Fair Futures movement.


KATIE NAPOLITANO: We've all heard the expression, if you change one life, you change the world. I never fully understood what that meant. Like so many of my classmates, I came to SIPA knowing that I wanted to leave this world a better place on both an individual and systemic level. But I didn't know which sector, which career path I wanted to pursue. Over the last 15 years after SIPA, I had an array of professional experiences, from human rights work in Brazil to Wall Street, philanthropy, nonprofit consulting.

But in 2012, my life changed forever. A SIPA alum and close friend of mine who grew up in the foster care system connected me to a program called Casa. Casas really help young people in foster care be in safe, loving homes and achieve their potential. So I became a Casa, and I was assigned to a group of siblings, ages 2 to 18.

I'll never forget the day that I first met them. The two oldest brothers at the time were heavily street involved and disconnected from high school. And actually, when I was there at that visit, they literally found out that their best friend was shot and killed the night before. They really wanted to change their trajectory. And while we were building a strong relationship, I didn't really know how to help them navigate this complex landscape that is New York City.

So I started working at a foundation in New York City, where I was able to learn about the city's systems and best practice programs at a 10,000-foot view while also supporting these young people on the ground. I became inspired by the notion of helping all young people in New York City's foster care system obtain the support they need and to equip those supporting them with the training and professional development they need to help these young people on their journey.

That's why I co-founded and coordinated Fair Futures. Fair Futures is a youth-led advocacy movement and a coalition of over 100 organizations advocating for all young people in New York City's foster care system to have those one-on-one supports that they need to thrive. These young people are so resilient. They have overcome so much. And because of that, they're able to achieve so much. What they really just need is that caring, consistent adult in their corner over the long run to help them connect to the opportunities and resources that are in line with their goals and dreams.

Today, Fair Futures has been cited as the most successful youth-led advocacy campaign and the largest cross-sector collaboration in the history of child welfare. The model has since been developed, codified, and scaled across the New York City foster care and juvenile justice sectors and now reaches over 4,000 young people. And for the first time in history, these students in foster care are entering high schools with average graduation rates above the city average.

While I continue to advocate for young people in the city, I often reflect about my SIPA days. I really went into that experience not knowing how to make a difference, but that's really the beauty of SIPA, I think. It helps you develop the education, skills, network, and mindset to make a meaningful impact on this world. I now understand that helping to change the trajectory of one person can impact their family and the people and community around them for generations to come.

The young people my husband and I met all those years ago are now my family. We adopted the brothers after several years, as well as another young man who had grown up in dozens of foster care homes. They have changed my life, and through the work we're doing, the trajectory of thousands of young people. The hope is that someday all young people in this country can have a fair future.