Advancing Leadership

Promoting and advancing diverse leaders whose influence will inform and improve decision making across the city
Women in a group participating in a leadership workshop.
Asian Americans Advancing Justice hosted Chicago grassroots leadership training in 2017 and 2018.


In conversations with dozens of individuals and organizations across the city of Chicago, we heard a call to support leaders who reflect the city's population. In the private, public, or philanthropic sectors, many individuals who are leaders in their communities, professional fields, or interest areas are not heard in public discourse.

Structural racism has prevented many leaders from being considered for leadership roles. Other forms of discrimination and classism hinder the ability of some leaders to gain recognition for the wisdom and expertise they have earned through other means. Our goal is to promote and advance leaders from historically marginalized backgrounds to manage organizations; increase their representation and foster their ability to influence decisions; and use their leadership to advance policies and practices that contribute to a more equitable Chicago. We include leaders who represent a broad array of Chicago residents, with diversity of race, religion, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, and expertise; people with disabilities; and those from different geographies and income levels.

Our Strategy

The Chicago Commitment supports hip advancement within our three focus areas: Culture, Equity, and the Arts; Vital Communities; and Civic Partnerships. Within these areas, we seek to advance equity by expanding access to a wide range of leadership opportunities and by fostering conditions that recognize and support people who bring diverse experiences and perspectives to leadership positions. Our approach consists of these components: 1) Support for Leadership Programs, 2) Support for Individual Leaders, 3) Support for Leadership Advancement Within Organizations.

Support for Leadership Programs

Our priority is to support current and emerging leaders from historically marginalized backgrounds as they pursue leadership advancement opportunities. We identify and fund leadership programs that:

  • Reflect, serve, and amplify the voices of leaders across Chicago, with an emphasis on communities that are historically underrepresented in civic discourse;
  • Are led by and/or predominantly staffed by individuals representing communities affected by structural racism, discrimination, or disinvestment;
  • Provide an in-depth, cohort-based experience over the course of several months, enhancing individual leadership skills, building resiliency in nonprofit leaders, and expanding professional networks; and
  • Demonstrate a clear connection to the arts, community and economic development, or community safety and violence prevention sectors, or substantial participation by staff members of existing grantee organizations in the Culture, Equity, and the Arts; Vital Communities; and Civic Partnerships focus areas.

We also consider support for efforts to develop collaborative projects and alumni networking among existing leadership programs.

Organizations that wish to be considered for support may submit a brief description of their leadership program through our grants portal. In addition, we are eager to learn about organizations that have not previously received support.


Support for Individual Leaders

Many individual leaders struggle to find the time or resources to pursue personal development or to execute a project they believe will enhance their own leadership potential. The demands of leading a movement or organization may require all their time and energy. Accordingly, we explored ways to support leaders in the ways they wish to learn, grow, and advance their skills.

In 2019, we launched a collaborative initiative with the Field Foundation of Illinois entitled Leaders for a New Chicago. These awards support individuals who are leaders in their communities, professional fields, or interest areas and work in the Field Foundation’s focus areas of arts, justice, or media and storytelling. This program advances equity and access to opportunity; it fosters conditions that recognize and promote people who bring a broad diversity of background and experience to leadership positions.

Leaders for a New Chicago awards $50,000 to 10 to 15 recipients a year: a no-strings-attached $25,000 award to enable individuals to pursue their own self-defined goals, and a $25,000 general operating grant for the individuals' affiliated organizations. The program supported 35 recipients during its first three years. To nominate a leader or self-nominate, please see the Field Foundation’s nomination portal.

Support for Leadership Advancement within Organizations

Organizations with a strong infrastructure can often reduce stress on their leaders and prevent the loss of talented staff. To this end, we offer awards to organizations to improve their effectiveness through technical assistance and capacity building.

In addition, small grants are made available to current Chicago Commitment grantees to support staff participation in professional development activities. Each year, current grantee organizations in the Chicago Commitment are invited to apply for a professional development grant to support knowledge building and professional development of staff members. These small awards support key staff members as they build new skills or enhance existing administrative, management, or artistic/programmatic practices in the service of the grantee organization.

Eligible activities include, but are not limited to:

  • Registration fees for a staff member selected by the organization to attend professional conferences.
  • Registration fees for non-degree courses and training programs to learn specific skills.
  • Participation fees to attend a residency, workshop, or master class aimed at enhancing artistic/programmatic practices.
  • Training by consultants to build management capacity in areas such as (but not limited to) marketing, accounting, board development, and planning.
  • Travel expenses related to the activities above.
Chicago skyline

Chicago skyline.

Evaluation for Learning

Evaluation of our work is a critical tool for informing our decision making, leading to better results and more effective stewardship of resources. We develop customized evaluation designs for each of our programs based on the context, problem, opportunity, and approach to the work. Evaluation is not a one-time event. It is an ongoing process of collecting feedback and using that information to support our grantees and adjust our strategy. .

The Chicago Commitment has engaged an evaluation and learning partner, Education Development Center, to measure and evaluate the progress of the strategy, test assumptions underpinning it, and collect information about the context in which the strategy operates. The focus of these activities is on learning. We aim to understand how the strategy contributes to advancing racial equity and building a more inclusive Chicago.

Findings and analyses from evaluation activities are posted publicly as they become available

Last Updated March 2024