In year two of its 10-year strategy to close metropolitan Chicago’s racial and ethnic wealth gap, the Trust is starting to see the fruits of its first year of funding–even while addressing acute challenges related to the ongoing pandemic. Through some 40 grants totaling more than $24 million in the first quarter alone, the Trust has supported efforts to remove systemic barriers holding back Black and Latinx residents while addressing the region’s critical needs.
“When we started down this path, we identified certain populations and communities that have been historically left out of opportunities, and those same communities were hardest hit by the pandemic,” said Peggy Davis, the Trust’s vice president of community impact. “At the crux of all of the issues we are trying to address–both through our 10-year strategy and We Rise Together–is inequity. Our region cannot prosper unless all of our communities do.”
Davis added that the first year of grants helped lay a firm foundation for the four key strategies the Trust is pursuing to close the wealth gap: growing household wealth, catalyzing neighborhood investment, building collective power, and addressing critical needs. Supporting the resilience of communities and the organizations that serve them is a long-term goal. In the short term, said Davis, that may also mean layering additional support through We Rise Together, a three-to-five-year strategy for an equitable and just economic recovery from the pandemic.
“We Rise Together is complementary to our long-term strategy, as both are supporting essentially the same populations and issues,” said Davis. “For example, We Rise Together will address the acute issue of job losses as we continue to stay focused on the bigger drivers of wealth-building over the next 10 years.”
A common thread through the Trust’s first quarter grant making was building the capacity of entrepreneurs, community-based organizations, and community organizers. The Trust also continued to provide grants in response to COVID-19, including five grants totaling some $550,000, through the Addressing Critical Needs strategy.
During the COVID outbreak in Chicago, 69 percent of Black households and 63 percent of Latinx families reported having financial problems. The Trust’s Growing Household Wealth strategy is intended to increase the share in economic prosperity for Black and Latinx individuals and families.
Supporting small business development is an integral part of this strategy: It’s proven that self-employed entrepreneurs experience faster earnings growth than the average worker, and the wealth gap between white and Black households narrows significantly for entrepreneurs.
That’s why, in the first quarter, the Trust made 20 grants worth more than $22 million through the Fund for Equitable Business Growth. Grant recipients are organizations and partnerships that improve and expand access to capital, specialized business consultation services, and other supports for Black and Latinx entrepreneurs in the Chicago region. Most of this funding, including approximately $18 million for the Women’s Business Development Center, was aligned in support of the Cook County COVID-19 Recovery Small Business Assistance Program.
“We launched the Fund for Equitable Business Growth in 2019 before COVID, with the idea that our region needs to sustain a growing number of small businesses led by people of color,” said Davis. “We were starting to see businesses that were ready for growth, and then some of them had to close during the pandemic. Our focus remains on improving the ecosystem for these entrepreneurs even as we work to sustain businesses, so that we’re not starting from scratch post-pandemic.”
Through this strategy, the Trust is funding efforts to revitalize disinvested Black and Latinx communities to ensure everyone in our region has access to quality jobs, transportation options, and goods and services. In the first quarter, five $25,000 Flexible Funding Program grants were awarded from the Searle Funds at the Trust to assess and identify organizational development opportunities for small community developers.
“If you remove barriers for entrepreneurs and community developers, it enhances their capacity–but it’s not about telling them, ‘You have to do it this way,’” said Davis. “The ecosystem as it exists now does not support the work that smaller nonprofits and community developers are trying to do. The people in the places we are focused on are doing the good work, and they need flexible resources.”
In the first quarter, the Trust awarded nearly $800,000 in grants to efforts that are building the power of People in under-resourced and under-invested communities. The People initiatives foster “communities of practice” in which individuals and organizations doing similar work–for example, with youth in the arts–regularly gather to exchange strategies, support one another, and identify collective efforts.
In addition, the Trust made a $250,000 grant to the Field Foundation Media and Storytelling initiative, which aims to strengthen the diversity of the local media ecosystem with strategic support to African, Latinx, Asian, Arab, and Native American (ALAANA) outlets and the development of innovative media collaborations.
“The Field Foundation program is an important discovery channel for the Trust,” explained Daniel Ash, associate vice president of community impact for the Trust. “The collaboration helps us identify emerging Black and Latinx-led media and storytelling. As such organizations matriculate through Field’s program, they become prospects for larger direct grants from the Trust.”