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, 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

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. 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 & 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 that are historically underrepresented 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 and/or predominantly staffed by individuals representing communities affected by structural racism, discrimination, or disinvestment.

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. Accordingly, we explored ways to support mid-career and executive-level 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 to offer Leaders for a New Chicago awards. These awards will support individuals who are leaders in their communities, professional fields, or interest areas. As Chicago redefines itself, this program advances equity and access to opportunity and fosters conditions that recognize and promote people who bring a broad diversity of background and experience to leadership positions.

Leaders for a New Chicago will award $50,000 to 10-15 recipients a year: a no-strings-attached $25,000 award for individuals and a $25,000 general operating grant for the individuals' affiliated charities, if applicable. The program will support 30 to 50 recipients over its first three years.


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. 

Measurement & Evaluation

The Chicago Commitment has engaged 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 ›


Updated May 2019

Representative Grants
Surge Institute
Chicago, Illinois 2018
$ 100,000 in support of its Surge Fellows leadership development program in Chicago.
Crossroads Fund
Chicago, Illinois 2018
$ 250,000 in support of leadership and capacity building programs.
Chicago Urban League
Chicago, Illinois 2018
$ 100,000 in renewed support of its IMPACT Leadership Development Program.
Chicago Community Trust
Chicago, Illinois 2018
$ 100,000 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.
Latino Policy Forum
Chicago, Illinois 2018
$ 100,000 in support of the Multicultural Leadership Academy.
View Grant Guidelines
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