Why Chicago’s Future Depends on Cross-Sector Collaboration


Three key steps in addressing social issues that Chicago youth face today.
Seventy-seven neighborhoods and nine districts comprise the city of Chicago. These vibrant and passionate communities have been the backdrop of cultural milestones and social change for more than 180 years.
Today, when Chicagoans watch the local news, we unfortunately see stories illustrative of some of the worst statistics in the nation surrounding community crisis, education, health and income inequality. Chicago’s joblessness rate above the national average, and more than 80 percent of youths between ages 16-19 are not working. Without jobs in their neighborhoods or role models to look to, youths often turn to illegal markets or sit idle, and Chicago’s business community loses the opportunity to access their untapped talent.
For these reasons, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and PwC convened Chicago leaders from civic, cultural and corporate organizations to talk about the root cause of Chicago’s issues. As we explored meaningful and impactful strategies for addressing these issues, and the pivotal role businesses play in creating solutions, three takeaways surfaced:

Change will come from bold thinking

Chicago is home to fearless, disruptive and change-driven leaders. Their advocacy is critical as we look to revitalize Chicago neighborhoods. The answers to how we tap into talent from these neighborhoods and improve Chicagoans lives, while also protecting the viability of our city, will not come from one sector. Leaders have to dig deeper. They have to reimagine existing programs, and create new ones. Rethink the talent pipeline – how are we accessing these neighborhoods and cultivating growth in individuals? Shari Runner, CEO of the Chicago Urban League, urged leaders to think differently about new hires.  As she put it, “It is critical that leaders know that an entry-level candidate may not look like or have the typical experience we expect for an entry-level position. But that’s the opportunity. Find these new candidates and show them they are important and that you’re willing to invest and hire.”

Be the voice within your organization

At PwC, we are encouraging our employees to openly discuss and think differently about sensitive issues. Our U.S. Chairman, Tim Ryan, recently enlisted other U.S. leaders to join the CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion initiative, which includes the commitment of over 270 executives to facilitate open dialogues and share effective strategies for how to approach diversity and inclusion. The CEO Action helps reimagine the narrative, and creates a culture of change to approach challenges in more dynamic ways.
 To form solutions and create change, as leaders, we must be vocal within our organizations and networks. We have to be the change champions, not only start the difficult dialogue but sustain it. We can be the ones, regardless of our industry or function, to use our voice to meet directly with principals and nonprofit leaders. We can be the ones to adopt new hiring practices and share our successes with others. That is what it means to lead.

Listen to understand

Until I got involved with the Chicago Urban League, I didn’t fully appreciate the obstacles and daily struggles facing some of Chicago’s youth. A panel of young people from Chicago’s South and West communities joined us at the conference to share their unique perspective. A female high-school aged panelist from the Foreman neighborhood – who loves art and aspires to be an obstetrician – asked attendees to understand their obstacles, and be more involved with youth. She went on to explain that she wants to be around people who seek success and want to achieve things in life, but many of her peers are conditioned to believe it is not possible.
As leaders, we have the power to help create change for these young people. We can help give students and graduates new experiences, see things through a new lens. But until we listen with purpose, we won’t know how to properly direct our efforts to be effective. If we don’t listen to understand, if our insights aren’t grounded in real experiences and perspectives, the communities and Chicago’s economy will suffer.
As leaders, we have a responsibility to the future of our city’s economy and its residents’ well-being. We can’t afford to talk about change and progress in the abstract. Every leader needs to take the next step, and then keep driving towards tangible progress. The viability of our city’s future – from every angle – depends on it.  
[Editor's Note: This article originally appeared here. Jim Kolar recently spoke at a forum co-hosted by PwC, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, and the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce called Business-led Solutions to Revitalize Chicago Communities.]