2016 Lane Reports

Chicago's Commission On Social Innovation: Enlisting Impact Entrepreneurs To Boost The Economy

The Lane Report, July 2016
Friday, July 1, 2016 10:00 am
by Anne Field

For social entrepreneurs in Chicagoland, there’s a new resource, one that could be a model for other cities.

It’s an initiative called the Commission on Social Innovation. Recently formed by the Cook County Board, the Commission aims to help meet the needs of the area’s struggling underprivileged population, in part, by encouraging the activities of social enterprises.

The county, of course, is a bit of a basket case. With a population of 5.2 million, it has a poverty rate of 17%. It also had a bigger population decline last year than any other county in the U.S. Then there is a lot of gun violence. The hope is that a creative all-hands-on-deck partnership between government, nonprofits and businesses with a social purpose might boost economic development and opportunities for the area’s many impoverished residents.

“We’re marrying the social mission of a government program with the market-driven approach of business,” says Marc J. Lane, vice chair of the Commission and a Chicago-based lawyer and financial advisor. “It’s all about engaging businesses to pursue market-driven strategies that have a financial and social return.” Lane, by the way, also says he’s well aware of Chicago’s reputation for dysfunction.

The chair of the Commission is Jesus “Chuy” Garcia,  the Chicago politician who ran for mayor of Chicago. He lost to incumbent Rahm Emanuel last year in a highly contested election.

Ultimately, Lane wants the initiative to be a model for other cities and counties.

Specifically, according to Lane, some of the Commission’s plans, which are still in their very early stages, include:

  • Making the most of major place-based institutions. The idea is explore how to  tap the buying power of universities, museums and other place -based anchors, turning them into customers of social enterprises run by the unemployed and underemployed. One example: working with the Illinois Medical District to develop mission-driven healthcare businesses.
  • Addressing food deserts. The plan is to help residents in areas that lack affordable–or any–supermarkets to build neighborhood grocery stores.
  • Revitalizing the crumbling Port of Chicago. The Commission wants to work with such government units as the Illinois International Port District to revitalize the Port, largely through a combination of impact investment and philanthropy.
  • Redeveloping blighted areas. By partnering with the Cook County Land Bank Authority, the goal is to help entrepreneurs redevelop abandoned, vacant or foreclosed properties, rebuilding neighborhoods while creating  opportunities for businesses.

According to Lane, the Commission also can weigh in on any legislation or regulations being considered by the county to ensure officials are making the most of the rules’ potential positive social impact.

“The county has a role as a convener, as a collaborator and as a catalyst for business,” says Lane. “But it’s looking at business through the lens of  solutions that address poverty and the problems that come with poverty.”

Reprinted from Anne Field's June 20, 2016 article which appeared on Forbes.com. ©2016 Forbes.com LLC™ All Rights Reserved.

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