For all its razzle-dazzle in popular culture and boardrooms—including boasting the third-highest gross metropolitan product in the US—Chicago’s social and economic anxieties run deep and wide. A widening racial wealth gap, rising murder rate, and massive municipal debt mark enduring concerns for the area.
To make a greater impact on these issues, investors are embracing place-based investing thanks in part to the region’s wide array of opportunities. Here are three foundations and organizations among many in the Chicago area embracing place-based investing to address pressing issues close to home.
Benefit Chicago: Funding Impact Enterprises
Launched in 2016, Benefit Chicago set its sights on “mobilizing $100 million in impact investments to finance the growth of impact enterprises throughout the Chicago region.” A collaboration between impact investing heavyweights the MacArthur Foundation, The Chicago Community Trust, and Calvert Impact Capital, the group has raised and deployed around $95 million in catalytic capital for nonprofits and social enterprises that seek racial equity and serve historically marginalized communities in the area. It aims to build wealth, create jobs, and forge job-readiness skills.
Some of its investments include:
- Community Investment Corp. This nonprofit Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) focuses on affordable housing.
- Sweet Beginnings. Through producing a line of honey-based products, the organization provides job training to formerly incarcerated and low-income community residents.
- NowPow. Employing community outreach workers, NowPow uses digital technology to connect low-income residents with social and chronic health concerns to social services and health providers.
Walder Foundation: Promoting Environmental Sustainability
Skokie-based private family foundation Walder targets place-based investing in environmental sustainability through the Chicagoland area. Its mission: “We promote the long-term sustainability of the natural environment in our region by addressing socio-environmental challenges such as climate, water, food, and health.”
This mission takes many forms. In order to address chronic environmental issues likely to increase the severity of COVID-19, the foundation stepped up efforts to direct a $1.2 million investment toward environmental programs. To that end, it invited proposals from organizations to develop programs focused on youth development, community engagement, and citizen science. One such project from The Morton Arboretum involved studying the impact of trees on improving pollution and air quality in schools located near expressways.
Chicago Foundation for Women: Training for Nonprofit Boards
“When you invest in women and girls, you invest in stronger, more stable families and communities.” So goes the Chicago Foundation for Women’s declaration of its dedication to ensuring women and girls are healthy, safe, and economically secure. In pursuit of these goals, the organization has funded more than 160 projects in 2020 serving more than 70,000 women, girls, transgender people, and nonbinary individuals.
The foundation also works to prepare the next generation of activists with its Board Member Boot Camp. This “comprehensive, interactive, multi-day training” offers coaching for those interested in nonprofit board service, teaching them about board roles and responsibilities, nonprofit financials, fundraising, and promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion.
For impact investors, place-based investing in the Chicago region pinpoints opportunities to target crucial areas of vulnerability.