Cook County Board Commission on Social Innovation

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= "the Commission aims to help meet the needs of the area's struggling underprivileged population, in part, by encouraging the activities of social enterprises".



Anne Field:

"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."



Marc J. Lane (vice-chairman):

"While public- and social-sector programming has improved the lives of countless people, increasingly so have market-based strategies. So the commission — as thought leader, convener, collaborator and catalyst — will empower social-purpose businesses, impact investors, nonprofits and philanthropists, each defining success in terms of both financial and social returns.

The commission’s tools include all those that social enterprises customarily put to work. It will catalyze impact investment. It will leverage philanthropy. It will be guided by empirical data. It will hear from subject-matter experts and will seek to apply models that have been effective elsewhere. And it will scale those solutions that prove out.

Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, chair of the Cook County Commission on Social Innovation. The commission has its work cut out for it. The nation’s second largest county, serving 5.25 million residents including all the residents of Chicago, is under enormous stress. The Cook County Department of Public Health recently reported that the county’s south and west districts suffered an unemployment rate of around 12 percent. Nearly 30 percent of the population lives at less than 20 percent of the federal poverty level, and roughly 26 percent of adults over the age of 25 in the Department’s jurisdiction don’t have a high-school diploma. Violent crime plagues the county, particularly in its poorest precincts where too many people are incarcerated and too few rehabilitated.

Yet the commission has good reason to believe its efforts will effectively drive positive social change. Its members are visionary disruptors. And the county’s resources are rich; its talent pool abundant; and its nonprofit, business and investment communities deeply committed to social progress. So, multi-stakeholder and cross-sector social ventures are well within the commission’s reach.

Among the commission’s targets are the Illinois Medical District, the largest in the nation, which the commission plans to help spawn mission-driven, health-related business; and the Illinois International Port District with which the commission intends to collaborate to revitalize the Port of Chicago, collateral damage of de-industrialization. The goal is not only to maximize its commercial potential in concert with other Great Lakes ports, but also to maximize its social potential as an engine of economic development in the distressed communities it borders.

The commission will evaluate opportunities to help county residents in food deserts band together to build and maintain neighborhood stores. They might adopt membership models, connect with local businesses or nonprofits, and even rely on newly sanctioned crowd-funding opportunities.

The commission also intends to work constructively with the Cook County Land Bank Authority, supporting the efforts of social entrepreneurs and investors eager to redevelop and reuse vacant, abandoned, foreclosed and tax delinquent properties throughout the county in an effort to promote affordable housing, economic development, conservation and job creation.

And in conjunction with the Chicago chapter of Social Enterprise Alliance, the commission will soon offer capacity building workshops for nonprofit leaders throughout the county.

These initiatives and others the commission considers won’t be zero-sum transactions. The commission’s aim is nothing short of transformation.

The Cook County Commission on Social Innovation hopes to serve as a model for other government units throughout the nation. May our success inspire others."

Source: by Marc J. Lane, vice chair of the Cook County Commission on Social Innovation.