Influential Leaders

Promoting and advancing diverse leaders whose influence will inform and improve decisionmaking across the city


In conversations with dozens of individuals and organizations across the city of Chicago in 2016 and 2017, 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.

Our goal is to promote and advance diverse leadership whose influence will inform and improve decisionmaking across the city. 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 Approach

Through grants and other support, we specifically seek to advance equity and access to opportunity, and to foster conditions that recognize and provide opportunities for people who bring a range of experience and perspective to leadership positions.

In addition to targeted grantmaking, we embed support for Influential Leaders throughout all areas of the Chicago Commitment strategy. We also collaborate with other MacArthur programs active in Chicago, such as Criminal Justice and Journalism and Media. Both are engaged in efforts to elevate local voices—through grassroots-led initiatives to build trust between police and residents and engage communities in reform of the justice system, or through local investments that support community-centered reporting.


Support for Leadership Programs

We identify and fund leadership programs that:

  • Reflect, serve, and amplify the voices of leaders from across Chicago, with an emphasis on communities not traditionally represented in civic discourse;
  • Include both leadership advancement and individual growth components;
  • Aid participants in enhancing their visibility and expanding their level of civic engagement; and
  • Are led by or predominantly staffed by people of color and/or individuals representing historically marginalized communities.

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


Support for Individual Leaders

Many individual leaders do not have 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.

We are exploring ways to support mid-career and executive-level leaders in the ways they wish to learn, grow, and advance their skills. We are considering a number of options, including awards that enable an individual to pursue a project of their personal design. Illustrative projects may include travel to observe programs or interview other leaders; time to study or write; an opportunity to work in a different environment; or the chance to learn from another leader.

In 2018, we will explore options for supporting individuals, via direct awards or in partnership with other funders. Additional information will be forthcoming.


Support for Leadership Advancement within Organizations

Organizations with a strong infrastructure can often reduce their leaders' stress and prevent the loss of talented staff. To this end, we offer awards to organizations to improve their effectiveness and offer staff professional development opportunities. This focus is distinct from the Community Capital Grants made under the Strong Organizations area of the Chicago Commitment.


Cross-Sector and Non-Monetary Support

We support opportunities and activities that serve to build bridges and provide a supportive infrastructure for Chicago's varied and diverse leaders. These activities may include peer learning sessions that focus on topics of shared interest. They allow for networking and relationship building among participants in leadership programs and others who wish to broaden their networks.

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

Influential Leaders grant guidelines will be available later this year.

Measurement & Evaluation

The Chicago Commitment is in the process of engaging an evaluation and learning partner 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 a Chicago that is more equitable and where justice can thrive.

Findings and analysis from evaluation activities will be published as they become available.

Additional Areas of Work

Civic Partnerships ›
Strong Organizations ›
Vital Communities ›

Chicago Commitment strategy ›

Representative Grants
Chicago Urban League
Chicago, Illinois 2017
$ 125,000 in support of its IMPACT Leadership Development Program.
Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Chicago
Chicago, Illinois 2017
$ 125,000 in support of leadership advancement programs for immigrant and refugee youth and adults in the Chicago metropolitan area.
Chicago Community Trust
Chicago, Illinois 2017
$ 125,000 in support of ADA25 Advancing Leadership, a project designed to activate and connect people with disabilities to civic leadership opportunities and professional advancement in metropolitan Chicago.
Crossroads Fund
Chicago, Illinois 2017
$ 75,000 in support of the Cultivate: Women of Color in Leadership program.
Latino Policy Forum
Chicago, Illinois 2017
$ 125,000 in support of the Multicultural Leadership Academy.
View Grant Guidelines View All Grants
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