UChicago launches Civic Leadership Academy for city’s nonprofit, government professionals

Program combines interdisciplinary courses with hands-on learning, coaching for Chicago's emerging leaders

Calmetta Coleman
Director of Communications for Civic EngagementUniversity Communications

Nonprofit organizations and local government institutions in urban areas often have two things in common: tackling difficult social issues and doing so with limited resources, including time to invest in developing leaders. A new program at the University of Chicago will help strengthen capacity within nonprofits and government agencies in Chicago by bringing together emerging leaders from both sectors to learn critical skills and the means to find solutions to challenges they face.

The Civic Leadership Academy at the University of Chicago, established by the Office of Civic Engagement in partnership with Local Initiatives Support Corporation Chicago and the Civic Consulting Alliance, targets rising professionals in nonprofit organizations and local government within the city of Chicago and Cook County. Academy fellows will benefit from rigorous coursework led by faculty from five UChicago professional schools, experiential learning and cross-sector collaboration.

A key component of the program will be a capstone project, through which each participant will apply knowledge and insights gained through the Academy to address a significant challenge facing their organization. Fellows will submit project ideas as part of the application. Individuals who complete the program will receive a certificate in civic leadership from the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy.

“The University of Chicago is a research and education institution with important partnerships across the city,” said President Robert J. Zimmer. “The Civic Leadership Academy taps the intellectual strengths of the University of Chicago to enhance those partnerships while providing a distinctive opportunity for nonprofit and government professionals to work together in developing leadership skills that will benefit the city and region as a whole.”

In addition to Chicago Harris, UChicago partners in the Civic Leadership Academy are the School of Social Service Administration, University of Chicago Booth School of Business, University of Chicago Law School, Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies, and Institute of Politics. Courses will be led by faculty from each of the schools, including professors such as Daniel Diermeier, dean of Chicago Harris; Harry L. Davis, the Goetz Distinguished Service Professor of Creative Management; Linda Ginzel, clinical professor of managerial psychology at Chicago Booth; Robert J. Chaskin, associate professor and deputy dean for Strategic Initiatives at the SSA; and Rayid Ghani, senior fellow at Chicago Harris. The Institute of Politics will provide guest speakers and lecturers through its fellows program. The Office of Civic Engagement will provide administrative support and organization.

To shape the program, the University worked closely with the LISC Chicago, an organization that supports strong neighborhoods by connecting them to technical and financial resources, and the Civic Consulting Alliance, a partnership of corporations and educational institutions that invests $15 million of pro bono services each year to make Chicago more livable, affordable and globally competitive. LISC and CCA continue to serve as advisers, recruiters and instructors in the Civic Leadership Academy.

“Collaboration among civic leaders is essential to advancing new solutions to support a vibrant, innovative and dynamic city,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “The Civic Leadership Academy at the University of Chicago is an opportunity for government and nonprofit leaders to pool their collective knowledge and advance their leadership skills while working on projects that will strengthen communities in Chicago.”

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle added, “Nonprofits and government agencies depend highly on their staff, who don’t have as many professional development opportunities as their private sector peers. By providing these up-and-comers with a forum for gaining new knowledge, insights and skills, the Civic Leadership Academy will help them deepen their impact in the communities we serve.”

Applications due by Nov. 15

The Civic Leadership Academy will offer sessions on Thursday evenings and all day on Fridays, every other week, for six months. The curriculum will include UChicago-faculty-led courses designed around cutting-edge approaches to leadership challenges, and will cover topics such as leadership, financing, human capital, data analytics and communications. Participants will apply knowledge and insights gained through the Academy toward a current project for their organizations. Participating organizations and agencies will receive a $2,000 stipend to use toward up to two University of Chicago courses offered through the Graham School. This stipend will allow the organizations to continue to invest in their rising leaders.

The full value of the Civic Leadership Academy is $25,000 per fellow. Thanks to a generous grant from the Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust, the University is able to offer the program at a cost of $5,000 per student. Financial assistance is also available.

The academy will be accepting applications for its first class of participants through Nov. 15, 2014. Courses will begin in January 2015. Applicants must be nominated by their organizations.

“Chicago has some of the most innovative leadership in the public and nonprofit sector, and faces some of the most complex community development issues that require even greater collaboration between the two sectors,” said Susana Vasquez, executive director of LISC Chicago. “The Civic Leadership Academy will contribute to advancing the next generation of professionals equipped to find innovative solutions together.”

Brian Fabes, CEO of the Civic Consulting Alliance, added, “The Civic Leadership Academy fills a unique and much-needed role in Chicago. This program will equip developing leaders in these important sectors with the skills and tools to drive positive change for Chicago—and a collaborative network that ensures enduring results.”

Increasing local capacity and impact

The Civic Leadership Academy enhances the University’s growing commitment to strengthen leadership and impact for individuals and organizations in Chicago. Related programs include the Chicago Urban League’s IMPACT program at Chicago Booth, aimed at developing African American business leaders; and the Community Programs Accelerator, which supports nonprofit organizations that benefit mid-South Side neighborhoods.

“These programs and partnerships will help expand the capacity of our city’s institutions and its leaders,” said Derek Douglas, UChicago’s vice president for civic engagement. “They will also fuel a growing network of civic leaders who will contribute to a mutually beneficial exchange of ideas within the University of Chicago community and across the city of Chicago.”

The Civic Leadership Academy’s Advisory Council will help recruit potential candidates, be involved in the interview and selection process, and lend professional expertise when necessary. The Advisory Council is co-chaired by Douglas and Kerwin Charles, deputy dean and the Edwin and Betty L. Bergman Distinguished Service Professor at Chicago Harris.

The Office of Civic Engagement will host three information sessions for individuals and organizations interested in learning more about the Civic Leadership Academy.