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Fri, Jul

Issue 46 | Chicago’s Social Innovations, Social Enterprises, and Public Private Partnerships

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"Private donors -- many of whom have gained unprecedented personal wealth in recent years -- dread the endless cycle of fundraising pitches. While they might aspire to do world-changing work through their philanthropy, there isn’t a ready market for breakthrough ideas that they can tap into. So, it’s no surprise that many with the means and the heart to give big end up doing less than they dream of doing. And it’s why some of the world’s best-positioned change-makers, both doers and funders, feel forced to give up on their biggest dreams, and the possibility of creating truly audacious change is left underexplored."  

The Audacious Project

Dear Reader,

Across the globe and in the Greater Chicago Region, there has been a rapid rise in the number of social sector innovators and entrepreneurs who want to find innovative ways to solve or move the needle on society’s problems, and increasingly they are deploying the methods of business and private capital to help them do so.

This edition, titled: Chicago’s Social Innovations, Social Enterprises, and Public Private Partnerships, demonstrates how Chicago, the third largest city in the United States, is leading the international social impact and social policy movement. The Greater Chicago Social Sector Region has learned that creating social impact is not bound by tax status. New vehicles for social enterprise and social investing are spurring innovation and bringing new resources to the sector. 

Forefront, Illinois' statewide association of nonprofits, grantmaking foundations, advisors, public agencies, and social impact sector allies, is leading this movement by convening leaders in this field to grow investments and build the sector's capacity to work in new and innovative ways. Forefront is focused on achieving the goal of a thriving and innovative social enterprise sector in Illinois which utilizes the power of the marketplace to fund social change. Since 2015, Forefront convenes a Social Enterprise Roundtable comprised of funders, social entrepreneurs, universities, incubators, businesses, and others to discuss the current state of social enterprise in Illinois and how to better align organizations with the funding and resources they need to succeed. The Social Enterprise Roundtable evolved into a research study, funded by Dunham Fund and Delta Institute, that concluded with three key findings:

  1. Social enterprises seek a community of practice with their peers to share sector-based knowledge concerning evaluation, finances, funding and sponsors, hiring and diversity, and mentorship from enterprises that have already achieved scale.
  2. Social enterprises seek reliable, multi-year sources of funding, matching grants, and/or low-interest loans.
  3. Social enterprises seek funds for securing consulting sources, such as strategic planning assistance, market research, feasibility studies, critical strategy decisions, accounting, financial planning, branding and marketing, and administrative structure.

More recently, actors in the social innovation and enterprise industry have concluded that although social innovation organizations and social enterprises are achieving better social impact goals, there continues to be a need for them to engage more directly in the world of public policy and systems change. Although social innovation and enterprise are sparking change, large-scale change can only be achieved through national, state, and local policy changes that embrace innovation and new social sector models. Nonprofits and social enterprises are Social Capital Agents, as such they are motivated by social good and are focused on long-term change. They foster, formulate, perform, and evaluate society’s policies to advance public good. 

The current status is evident, and though difficult, a path forward has been laid out. By creating spaces of encounter for academia, state, the private sector, and civil society the next steps towards more sustainable and innovative models and necessary policy change are crystal clear.

We hope you read the articles (summarized below) of this publication to gain a sense of the promise that innovation holds for the future of Greater Chicago’s Social Sector.  


Nicholas Torres
Tine Hansen-Turton


Eric Weinheimer
Kim Casey


Article Summaries

The Talent Imperative: A Grounded Theory Study on Accelerating the Impact and Sustainability of Social Enterprise Organizations
Lauri Alpern, Ph.D.

This article is a summary of a dissertation research study to investigate the state of talent management within the context of social enterprise organizations, through the lived experiences of organizational leaders and teams in 15 diverse organizations across North America. The study used a qualitative grounded theory approach to address the research question: to what extent are nonprofit social enterprises using talent management philosophies, principles, mindsets, and practices? Semi-structured interviews, conducted with 26 participants from 15 organizations, were the primary source of data for the study. Additional data was collected from a demographic background survey, as well as through a review of organizational documents. Data analysis through multiple phases of coding and theoretical sampling revealed five themes explored in this article.

A New Tool to Enhance the Efficiency of Buildings Throughout Chicagoland
Geraldine Sanchez Aglipay

Buildings are responsible for a third of harmful greenhouse gas pollution from U.S. electricity use. Many of the nation’s buildings use more energy than they need, especially those with limited resources for energy management. Fortunately, energy efficiency initiatives like the BIT Building Program (BIT) help building owners and operators cut energy use and pollution, while saving money. BIT is especially applicable for existing buildings whose age, resources, and operations put other industry standards -- like LEED and Energy Star -- out of reach. One of the most important aspects of the BIT program will be its focus on underserved communities that have not been able to take advantage of sustainability opportunities in the built environment.

Grant Acquisition: Closing the Gap Between the Doers and the Writers
Andrea Dakin, PhD, MA, Senior Director of Program Development, AIDS Foundation of Chicago

Most non-profits assign grants management activities, including application development/submission and reporting, for private and public funding sources to fund development (or fundraising) departments. The AIDS Foundation of Chicago (AFC) operates an innovative alternative model to grants management. AFC’s Program Development (PD) team includes grants management personnel with programmatic content expertise. The PD department is located within the programs division of the agency and each member is assigned a program portfolio for which they perform grants management activities. Overall, this innovative and unique structural change to embed grants management staff within the programs department has resulted in a more efficient use of programmatic and fundraising staff resources to identify and secure private and public funding for the agency.

How Focusing on People and Outcomes Help Us Transform Public Schools
Hemali Desai, Associate Director of Innovation at the Academy for Urban School Leadership

Over the last several decades, Chicago, and our country at large, has wrestled with the challenge of providing access to a high-quality and equitable public education for all children, with reform efforts having varied impact. A key avenue that has emerged and persisted in better serving all students is leading reform using student and school outcomes data. Many organizations, when thinking about using data as a lever to deliver on the promise of high-quality and equitable public education have developed little by way of clear and replicable strategies to capture the full potential of the opportunity. As an innovation zone working in partnership with Chicago Public Schools (CPS), the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL) is focused on leveraging data across our efforts to train new teachers, develop teacher and school leaders, and transform the school environment to enable high-quality teaching and learning to occur – and they have successfully done so for nearly two decades.

A Path to Investment in Black Women and Girls on Chicago's South Side
Jessyca Dudley, Founding Member, South Side Giving Circle

For many women seeking impact through collective action, giving circles provide an opportunity for leadership and civic engagement. Much like the mutual aid societies that shaped the development of African American giving, giving circles are a growing movement that have attracted more than 150,000 people across the United States. Giving circles are of value to communities for the monetary investment that they provide but equally important is their value as a catalyst for building capacity and increasing the visibility of the community organizations that they are driven to support. The South Side Giving Circle of Chicago Foundation for Women (SSGC) recently launched as an effort to mobilize the philanthropic resources of women to invest in the economic, social, and political power of black women and girls in metropolitan Chicago. Focused on embracing the experience of service and the opportunity for leadership SSGC is providing a newly formed space for authentic, people-centered giving strategies that are responsive to the needs of the community.

Disrupting Justice
Bob Glaves, Executive Director, The Chicago Bar Foundation

Thousands of Illinoisans every week encounter legal problems that can have a huge impact on their health, stability, and economic wellbeing. Many can afford to pay something for legal assistance but too often are not getting the necessary legal help from lawyers due to a failure in the market for legal services for middle-income individuals and small businesses. In 2011, The Chicago Bar Foundation (CBF) recognized this broken market and developed an innovative solution to address it by tapping into a growing number of talented and entrepreneurial lawyers interested in socially conscious law careers: the Justice Entrepreneurs Project (JEP). A small business incubator that fosters innovation in an inherently conservative field, the JEP brings principles of entrepreneurship and experimentation common in the tech startup community to the problem of access to legal services. In 2017 alone, JEP attorneys helped more than 4,000 low to middle-income clients and they brought in more than $4 million in revenue in the process.

Elevating Frontline Jobs in the Workforce Development Field 
Ellen Johnson, MSW, MPA; Director of the Frontline Focus

For individuals who are unemployed, workforce development programs serve as an important second-chance system, providing relevant career readiness training, connections to necessary social service supports, and access to employment opportunities. Often overlooked, however, are the staff -- case managers, job developers, and trainers -- who serve as the first point of contact for job seekers. Given the difficult nature of preparing job seekers for career path employment and catering to the hiring needs of businesses, frontline staff must possess a complete tool box of knowledge, skills, and strategies. This is where the Chicago Jobs Council’s Frontline Focus Training Institute (FFTI) serves as an essential resource, ensuring frontline workers access to tools, resources, and conditions necessary to succeed and thrive. Since inception, FFTI’s work has been informed by and responsive to the changing workforce development field, and laser focused on ensuring best practice research, curriculum, and resources get into the hands of frontline providers to enhance and standardize the delivery of services nationally.

P3 Models Deliver More, Better, for All
Rose Jordan, Marketing Director, Fresh Coast Capital

Climate change-driven urban flooding impacts everyone, but hits low income communities hardest. Unable to invest in climate resilience and rarely included in the funded solutions, these communities are reliant on the public sector, which currently faces an estimated $105 billion gap in funding for water infrastructure. Chicago-based Fresh Coast Capital, a women-owned B Corp, has assembled a team of experts from community engagement, utility, and cleantech spaces to adapt their proven playbooks for the stormwater industry. The result is a public private partnership (P3) model designed to accelerate cities toward comprehensive green infrastructure, which is a cost-effective solution with a cadre of documented co-benefits (e.g., improved public health, crime reduction, and social cohesion). The Chicago-based Yagan Family Foundation and Midwest-based Kresge Foundation are among the early investors funding the growth of Fresh Coast’s impact-driven, community-first P3 model that is currently being pressure tested in cities like Peoria and Youngstown.

Better Together with Integrated Care
Gordon Mayer, Owner Gordon Mayer Communications and Molly Bougearel, Vice President for Strategy & Development at Heartland Health Centers

People with Serious Mental Illness, SMI, live on average 25 years less than others, often due to chronic medical conditions. Heartland Health Centers provides primary care to people with SMI in the facilities of partners Trilogy Behavioral Healthcare, Thresholds, and Community Counseling Centers Chicago. From check-ups to psychiatry to shared medical records, there is intense collaboration across the organizations. These partnerships have shown patients do better on weight loss, smoking cessation, blood pressure, and other indicators, while patients’ satisfaction with care increased. Yet, care integration for people with serious mental illness remains rare in Illinois and beyond. This article will document key components to successful partnerships and provide recommendations on how to strengthen and expand integrated care.

SimpleGrowth is a Lifeline for Chicago Entrepreneurs Struggling to Get Loans
Lindsey Mueller

Although the number of minority-owned businesses in Cook County grew by 30 percent from 2007 to 2012, Chicago's entrepreneurs, particularly, women and minorities, struggle to access the capital they need to grow their businesses. Small Business Majority is working to boost entrepreneurship and close the lending gap in underserved communities in two ways. First, Small Business Majority directs entrepreneurs to local technical assistance organizations that can provide free advice and tools like business planning, marketing, licensing, and more. Second, with the support of Chicago City Treasurer Kurt A. Summers, Small Business Majority, Fundera, and Accion launched a free, online tool called SimpleGrowth that helps match Chicago's underserved small businesses with mission-driven lenders committed to helping small businesses succeed. SimpleGrowth is easy to use, offers unbiased comparisons of lending options, and for those who are not yet loan ready, helps match small businesses with the educational resources they need to eventually obtain a loan.

Social Good Doesn’t Have a Price Tag
Eve Pytel, Director of Programs at Delta Institute

This article outlines the critical factors in determining what makes a viable social enterprise. Nonprofit led social enterprises work to maximize mission impact by selling a product or service that enhance social, economic, and/or environmental benefit. The hype around social enterprises has resulted in attempts to receive funding through services typically funded by local and state governments or through private philanthropy. Many social enterprises face challenges, such as complicated labor groups, hard-to-work in locations, or hard-to-garner materials. By addressing these challenges, social enterprises can better achieve their mission goals.

Directing Energy Savings Back to Vital Community Organizations
Dara Reiff, Elevate Energy

Elevate Energy is a nonprofit organization with the mission of delivering smarter energy use for all. They accomplish this by developing and implementing programs that reduce costs, protect the environment, and ensure the benefits of clean and efficient energy use reach to those who need it most. Elevate Energy’s Nonprofit Program is designed to make it easy and affordable for other nonprofit organizations to undertake energy efficiency improvements, with the long-term goal of ensuring that they can sustainably serve their communities. By focusing on improving a nonprofit’s facility, they are able to help organizations provide a myriad of services such as affordable childcare, stable housing, accessible healthcare, and quality education long into the future. This article shares success stories and best practices for saving money on energy costs and redirecting vital resources back towards the missions of the nonprofits they serve.

Groundbreaking Program Achieves Educational Success through Stabilizing Housing for Homeless Students
Erin B. Ryan, MSW, MPH, Senior Vice President, The Night Ministry

Homelessness and housing instability greatly impact a student’s ability to stay in school and achieve educational goals. The urgency of this problem motivated The Night Ministry to partner with three other local organizations -- Empower to Succeed (an independent nonprofit of Old St. Patrick’s Church), North Lawndale College Preparatory High School, and Youth Outreach Services -- to launch Phoenix Hall last year. Phoenix Hall is an innovative new residence for high school students experiencing housing instability in the North Lawndale neighborhood of Chicago. It is one of the first housing programs in the country, and the first in Chicago, designed to improve educational outcomes by providing housing for homeless students of a particular high school. The program’s impact is measured at the student and family levels, as well as school and community levels. The intention is for Phoenix Hall to serve as a model for student housing in the community and beyond. 

The Triple Bottom Line: Raising Money, Providing Individuals Support Services, and Impacting the Socio-Economic Environment
Neli Vazquez Rowland, Co-Founder and President of A Safe Haven Foundation

At A Safe Haven Foundation (ASHF) we apply social innovation in a profound and comprehensive manner to help end the cycle of poverty and homelessness. We challenge the current health care delivery system, plagued by high price tags -- both financial and human, low outcomes, and high rates of recidivism -- by replacing it with a sustainable and scalable cost-effective social business enterprise model. The ASHF model brings in impressive funds from private and public sources while fostering mental health services, sustained housing and employment, education, and other wrap-around services to impact people’s lives for the immediate present and long-term to change the trajectory of poverty and homelessness for future generations. For more than two decades, ASHF has served men and women, children, veterans, the reentry population, homeless and addicted individuals, transforming formerly disenfranchised people living in dire crisis into productive and healthy citizens living life to their full potential.

Making Child Care Subsidies Easier Makes Our Society Better
Chelsea Sprayregen, Co-founder and CEO; Hannah Meyer, Co-founder and COO; Sophie Mann, Business Operations

Pie for Providers uses technology to help child care providers build stronger businesses. We offer a digital assistant that helps providers navigate government programs so they can increase their revenue and spend less time on administrative work. Through simple tools like a case management dashboard and interactive checklists, we are creating the conditions for a better child care economy. We envision a future in which providers have stable careers and low-income families have better access to care. Pie for Providers is bringing business software into a new environment where it is not often used and where it will have big impact. The Pie for Providers platform is mobile first and uses text messaging to communicate with customers. They serve providers through three verticals: subsidies, licensing & accreditation, and expense tracking. Key features include a case management dashboard, automated form filling, daily checklists, policy updates, and expense reports.