Image of Chicago star Investor Report 2021


Investor Report 2021

We are inspired by the urgent inventiveness of our portfolio organizations and the resilience of the communities they serve.”

Our impact has never been greater. Our mission has never mattered more.

In 2021, A Better Chicago expanded both its scope and its reach, investing in groundbreaking new programs and serving more young people than ever before. Our portfolio organizations provided crucial supports to more than 45,000 youth throughout the city. This population is concentrated on the South and West Sides — communities most affected by the lasting challenges of Covid-19.

Responding strategically to those needs, we welcomed eight organizations to our portfolio through the Chicago Design Challenge. We identified and elevated innovative local programs that target learning recovery and social and emotional well-being.

We are inspired by the urgent inventiveness of our portfolio organizations and the resilience of the communities they serve. And we are grateful for your continued partnership, which makes these bold investments possible.

Together we can move beyond the setbacks of recent years and build a Chicago where all young people can grow and thrive.

Beth Swanson

Portfolio Impact Snapshot

Our portfolio served 45,644 youth – from cradle to career – in 2021
  • An increase of 2,539 more youth than in 2020
  • Our Venture and Growth Funds are operating on an average of 12.8 percent above their respective benchmarks.
89% of our portfolio beneficiaries are from low-income backgrounds
Our portfolio of 25 organizations includes
  • 7 Early learners’ programs
  • 9 High school persistence programming
  • 5 College access programs
  • 4 Career and employment support programming


A Better Chicago’s unique model dramatically improves opportunities for low-income Black and Latinx youth by leveraging the collective power of Chicagoans who want to make our city more equitable. In 2021, we invested over $6.5M in funds in our growing portfolio of 25 local, high-potential, high-impact organizations supporting the needs of youth from low-income backgrounds from cradle to career.

About Us

A Better Chicago fights poverty by investing in bold, innovative ideas that provide opportunities for Chicago’s youth. We raise and pool funds, then direct those resources to support youth from low-income, underserved communities. We invest in high-potential, high-impact programs and leaders that serve young people from cradle to career and provide both dollars and strategic support to empower organizations to grow their impact. We know that giving our young people the support and tools they need to thrive – steady access to essential supports, a world-class education, a wage that can sustain a family – can lead to breaking the cycle of poverty for this generation and generations to come.

Racial Equity Statement

A Better Chicago is committed to advancing racial equity and ensuring Chicago youth are economically mobile and thriving in education, career, and life. Given this nation’s longstanding history of systemic inequity, we focus our efforts on funding and scaling ideas that expand opportunities for Black and Latinx youth, with particular emphasis on those ideas coming directly from the communities we serve. Read our full statement here.

Investment Funds

We strategically invest in organizations via the three funds to maximize our impact of support.

Venture Fund

Venture Fund investments are made in organizations that have proven program models, demonstrate strong early results, and are poised to scale in the city of Chicago. Through funding and management support, our partnership is designed to help organizations articulate their long-term vision for impact and begin to scale with model fidelity.

Catalyst Fund

Catalyst Fund investments are made in early-stage, community-embedded programs with promising approaches to serving youth across the South and West sides of Chicago. Through funding and management support, we partner with organizations to support model codification, impact measurement, and with attracting additional dollars to promote sustainability and longevity. With a priority on investing in BIPOC-led organizations, through our Catalyst Fund we have an intentional focus on elevating non-profits historically overlooked by philanthropy.

Growth Fund

Growth Fund investments are awarded to well-established organizations with proven impact and aspirations for meaningful scale. Through funding and management support, our partnership is designed to help organizations continue to increase impact through participant growth, program innovation, and ultimately influencing systems.

Management Support Projects

In tandem with unrestricted funds, we support our portfolio organizations with strategic management support to boost their ability to scale and grow operationally.


invested in management support (to-date)


management support projects in 2021

Since its inception, A Better Chicago has supported over 200 management support projects. This additional support is deployed to help our portfolio organizations address a number of challenges, including strategic planning, financial modeling, and leadership development.
West Side United – Data Collection and Visualization

West Side United's Cluster of Care Community Hub (Community Hub) provides students and their families wraparound services and resources within schools. In 2021, Innovare began to assist the Community Hub with identifying, collecting, and visualizing critical data to support methods to improve youth outcomes and community health..

iMentor – DEI Training

iMentor Chicago worked with DEI consultant Liberated Development to address regional challenges and opportunities to promote a team culture that prioritizes inclusive leadership, robust collaboration, and anti-racism commitments.

Alternatives – Curriculum Design

Alternatives Inc. improved its social and emotional learning (SEL) curriculum to incorporate racial equity and developmentally appropriate content into all curriculum for school-aged youth in its SeeIt program. The organization worked with Meridian Metamorphosis, LLC and consultant Richla Davis, LCPC, to design the curriculum and to incorporate DEI and SEL best practices.


We are challenging the way Chicago fights poverty, by investing in programs that support communities most impacted by systematic inequities. Our portfolio organizations drive meaningful change by breaking down the barriers to success for low-income, Black, and Latinx communities. In 2021, our portfolio organizations supported youth through another challenging year by continually innovating their operating models to deliver impact-driven programs.

2021 Portfolio Coverage

Our portfolio continues to grow and is now compromised of 25 organizations.

Catalyst Funds


  1. Austin Childcare Providers Network: Austin
  2. The Bloc: West Humboldt Park
  3. MAAFA Redemption Project: West Garfield Park
  4. Cluster of Care Community Hub (West Side United): Tri-Taylor
  5. VIP Program (Firehouse Community Arts Center): North Lawndale
  6. Lion’s Pride Mentoring: Pilsen

Venture Funds


  1. Intrinsic: Kilbourn Park
  2. College Possible: Cabrini-Green
  3. Braven: Loop
  4. iMentor: Loop
  5. National Louis University: Loop
  6. Pitch In: Loop
  7. Roosevelt University: Loop
  8. Chicago HOPES for Kids: West Loop
  9. VOCEL: West Loop
  10. BARR: Minneapolis, MN
  11. Leading Educators: New Orleans, LA
  12. LEAP Innovations: River North

Growth Funds


  1. Bottom Line: Loop
  2. Chicago Scholars: Loop
  3. Noble Schools: Loop
  4. One Million Degrees: Loop
  5. KIPP Chicago: Pilsen
  6. Alternatives, Inc.: Uptown
  7. Juvenile Protective Association: Oldtown

In our commitment to data-driven results, we carefully track our portfolio's performance and share results. The benchmark is our estimate of a grantee-specific comparison group. To develop the benchmark, we consider the unique characteristics of students served by the grantee and use publicly available data to estimate what happens to similar students, not in the program.

Students On-Track

Fewer students in low-income zip codes are on grade level compared to schools in higher-income zip codes1.


Across all grades, the percentage of students who are ready for grade-level work has decreased in all schools. However, in schools serving mostly Latino and Black students which historically are located in lower-income neighborhoods, only 20-30 percent of 8th graders are learning on grade level in mathematics and reading compared to the 40 percent of 8th graders in schools serving majority white students1.



100 percent of Pitch In’s 8th-grade class matriculated to the best fit high school and were academically on track at the end of the school year.

Pitch In

Venture Fund

At the district level, 86 percent of 2020–2021 CPS Freshmen were considered OnTrack2. As a program that prepares students to successfully transition to high school, Pitch In’s continued success with matriculation to best fit high schools and freshman on-track rates is encouraging to see. In the 2020-2021 academic year, 100 percent of Pitch In 8th-grade graduates matriculated to best fit high schools, and 100 percent were academically on track at the end of the school year. Paired with serving 134 students, these strong outcomes were consistent with data from the previous year as well.

College Persistence and Enrollment

As the pandemic continued to disproportionately impact communities of color, low-income Black, and Latinx college students had to balance financial and family responsibilities with college enrollment.


As a result of those challenges and uncertainties, college enrollment and persistence saw a decline. In Chicago, a little more than 13 percent of the first-year students enrolled in spring 2020 did not return to college in the fall. Black and Latinx students returned at a rate between 77–89 percent compared to 92–94 percent of white students.3


National Louis University

Venture Fund

National Louis University offers an innovative approach to addressing the most critical barriers to bachelor’s degree attainment among first-generation college students from low-income backgrounds who are unlikely to attend or succeed in traditional four-year degree programs. Despite the ever-changing environment, in 2021, NLU served 1,477 students and reported that student on-track rates for actively enrolled students were at their highest rates to date. Eighty-One percent of first years, 84 of second years, 84 percent of third years, and 91 percent of fourth years were on-track at the end of the academic year.


Ninety-one percent of National Louis University’s fourth-year students were reported active and on track at the end of the academic year.

Bottom Line Chicago

Growth Fund

Of the 1,503 students served, 100 percent of Bottom Lines 1,503 students enrolled in two- or four-year colleges, outperforming a 73 percent benchmark. Furthermore, 100 percent of Bottom Lines 1,503 students enrolled in two- or four-year colleges, outperforming a 73 percent benchmark.


One hundred percent of Bottom Line Chicago students enrolled in two- or four-year colleges compared to 72 percent of students with similar backgrounds.

College Possible

Venture Fund

College Possible provides intensive coaching and support to students from low-income backgrounds to help them get into and graduate from college. Their support continues beyond high school by providing college transition coaching and intensive support for students through college graduation. In 2021, Chicago Possible continued to significantly outperform the benchmark of college persistence of high school graduates while serving 1,085 students. College Possible’s college persistence of high school graduates stood at 76 percent compared to a benchmark of 43 percent. Furthermore, despite national declines in college enrollment, College Possible students enrolled in college at a rate of 85 percent, 26 percentage points above benchmark.


Eighty-five percent of College Possible students enrolled in college—26 percentage points above benchmark.

Degree Attainment

By 2027, 70 percent of all jobs will require some education beyond high school4.


This development will decrease the job opportunities available for people with no degrees and increase opportunities for those with associate degrees.

Only 1 in 5 CPS 9th graders earn a two- or four-year degree5

For every 100 CPS 9th graders:

83 will graduate from high school on time

48 will enroll in a full time 2- or 4-year degree program

30 are still enrolled a year later

22 will graduate with an associate’s degree within 3 years or a bachelor’s degree within 6 years


One Million Degrees

Growth Fund

One Million Degrees (OMD) empowers highly motivated community college students from low-income backgrounds to succeed in school, work, and life by providing academic, professional, personal, and financial supports. Forty-seven percent of OMD two-year college enrollees obtained their associate degree or certificate, beating a 22 percent benchmark. A steady attainment rate over the course of the pandemic is an impressive demonstration of the program’s resilience despite adversity.


Forty-seven percent of OMD two-year college enrollees obtained their associate degree or certificate, beating a 22 percent benchmark.


The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic fallout caused significant financial hardship in low-income, Black, and Latinx communities.


In 2021 Black teens experienced the highest increase of unemployment from 9.3 percent in June to 13.3 percent in July6. Almost 30 percent of Black young adults reported that they were not working due to COVID-19 for reasons including loss of employment or inability to work due to illness7. With joblessness and poverty more concentrated in certain areas, it is even more critical that youth are connected to positive pathways to prevent them from being susceptible to survival through illegal means.

Unemployment Rate 2020–20216

Ages 16–19







Ages 20+








Firehouse Community Arts Center

Catalyst Fund

The Firehouse Community Arts Center interrupts the cycle of violence by youth and young adults in North Lawndale by connecting young men to educational opportunities and offering support for employment attainment. The six-month VIP program acts as a safe space for participants to work toward their life mission, build character, and gain job skills. In 2021, 80 percent of its 15 participants advanced their school and career goals.


Eighty percent of Firehouse participants advanced their career goals.

These data represent a sample of the impact our portfolio of 25 high-potential, high-impact organizations has made in the past year. We are proud to support amazing programs and leaders committed to improving the lives of Chicago’s low-income, Black, and Latinx youth.

Learn more about each organization here.

Year in

2021 was a year of unprecedented impact for A Better Chicago. In continued response to the effects of COVID-19, we collaborated with communities to strategize equitable recovery. We also launched the Chicago Design Challenge, hosted exciting youth-centered events, and collaborated with the philanthropic community.


Partnered with WTTW for the Living in Poverty series

We partnered with WTTW to explore intergenerational poverty in the Living in Poverty docuseries. This multi-platform initiative included reported stories, expert talks, and community discussions focusing on the firsthand perspectives of people facing critical issues in Chicago.


Launched the Chicago Design Challenge

We launched the Chicago Design Challenge to identify and invest in our city’s most promising solutions and innovations to accelerate learning recovery and promote well-being in communities disproportionately affected by the pandemic. The design challenge was a collaborative effort in partnership with The Chicago Public Education Fund, University of Chicago Education Lab, Chicago Public Schools, and the City of Chicago.


Published Our Perspective on Reimagining Learning

Our CEO Beth Swanson offered her reflections on moving forward one year into the pandemic in her Crain's Chicago Business op-ed article, Now is the Time to Reimagine Learning.


Participated in the Mapping COVID-19 Recovery Project

The Mapping COVID-19 Recovery Project is a collaborative effort that standardized data through a series of maps to illustrate where public, private, and philanthropic sector investments are going in communities of color devastated by the pandemic. The goal is to guide recovery through strategic reinvestments, eliminate historic funding gaps, and rebuild stronger communities.


Hosted Fireside Chat with Dr. Janice Jackson

Former Chicago Public Schools CEO Dr. Janice Jackson joined Beth to discuss Dr. Jackson’s legacy as an education leader and advocate in our city. The two reflected on the opportunities for sectors to collaborate to serve our youth in holistic, impactful ways.


Participated in ASU+GSV Summit

Beth Swanson presented alongside Arne Duncan and our grantee KIPP Chicago at the ASU + GSV Summit to discuss how we can better support the educational achievement and economic success of Black and Latinx students nationwide.

Celebrated One Year of One West Side

We celebrated the first year of One West Side, a multi-year, multi-million-dollar commitment with the Chicago Blackhawks Foundation to invest in Chicago’s West Side. This powerful partnership pairs the platform of professional sports with A Better Chicago’s philanthropic expertise and management resources to support local organizations and leaders. One West Side gained immense support from the Chicago community, including United Airlines, who joined the collaborative, bringing additional strategic and pro bono support to our portfolio organizations.


Invested $7M in Chicago Design Challenge grantees

After awarding planning grants during the summer of 2021 through our Chicago Design Challenge, we invested $7M in local organizations to support holistic programs that will aid Chicago youth in learning acceleration and improving mental health.

We hosted two-panel discussions featuring grantees identified through the Chicago Design Challenge and industry experts. These engaging conversations focused on bold approaches to learning acceleration and mental health that ensure students of all ages have the necessary support to thrive in school and their careers.

The Chicago Design Challenge was created in response to the significant effects COVID-19 has had on low-income, Black, and Latinx students.

In partnership with, The Chicago Public Education Fund, University of Chicago Education Lab, Chicago Public Schools, and the City of Chicago, we prioritized identifying and scaling promising solutions and innovations that both accelerate learning and provide holistic support including mental health and SEL (social-emotional learning) to students. The challenge is supported by a deep commitment to understand and share best practices and key learnings with the sector broadly beyond the initial cohort of investments. The ultimate goal is to elevate promising innovations to reach a system-level scale with the support of public funding over time.
In response, the Chicago Design Challenge is targeted to support students who:
  • Are significantly behind grade-level standards
  • Had limited to no participation in remote learning
  • Are transitioning to new school levels (e.g., rising kindergarteners, rising ninth graders)
  • Are in temporary housing or have experienced homelessness
  • Are undocumented
  • Are English Language Learners
  • Reside or attend school in neighborhoods hardest hit by COVID


In 2020, low-income and BIPOC students were expected to experience 150–200 percent more learning loss compared to white peers.


At the start of the fourth academic quarter, 37 percent of homeless high schoolers were absent from remote and in-person learning

And, the Chicago Design Challenge supports programs designed to improve:
  • Literacy for early learners
  • Math gains for students K–8
  • High-school success
  • Mental health services and trauma-informed care for youth pre-K–12 grade
  • Age-specific social-emotional learning and development


In Chicago, nearly 50 percent of all young people have experienced an increase in at least one mental health symptom during the pandemic

A Better Chicago welcomed eight organizations to our portfolio through the Chicago Design Challenge. Each provides an innovative approach to achieving learning acceleration and providing holistic support.

The Chicago Design Challenge Grantees and the areas they serve

Map Color Key



Alternatives, Inc

Alternatives, Inc (Alternatives) launched the Systemic Evaluation, Enhancement, and Institutional Training (SEEIT) program, which offers mental health-focused screening and resources to students and schools, including therapy services for youth and SEL-focused training for staff.

By year three, Alternatives Inc aims to serve 7,500 students at 25 partner schools.

Juvenile Protective Association

JPA’s (Juvenile Protective Association) Connect 2 Kids (C2K) offers an SEL and mental health approach that helps enhance educators’ relationship-building skills and their ability to meaningfully support children exhibiting behaviors that are often due to trauma and other adversities.

By year three, JPA aims to support nearly 300 students in 25 schools.

Roosevelt University’s Metropolitan Chicago Tutoring Corp (MCTC)

Roosevelt University’s Metropolitan Chicago Tutoring Corp (MCTC) aims to provide high dosage tutoring to elementary school students while bolstering Chicago’s teacher and school leader candidate pipelines.

By year three, Roosevelt aims to serve 1200 students in 24 schools through its Metropolitan Chicago Tutoring Corps.


VOCEL provides direct service programming for children aged 0-5 and trained and supported early childhood educators, school leaders, childcare providers, parents, and caregivers. VOCEL has expertise in adult cohort-based programming and is leveraging this to implement a new fellowship program designed to equip educators with the tools and competence required to accelerate post-COVID learning recovery in their students.

By year three, VOCEL aims to create a cohort of 50-70 teachers to serve nearly 1750 students across 25 schools.

Leading Educators

Leading Educators partners with districts across the country to eradicate racial inequities by transforming teaching, leadership, and conditions at scale. Leading Educators supports educators at all levels in four complementary domains that promote equitable learning opportunities for students: Learning Conditions, Equity, Content in Math and ELA, and Leadership.

In year two, Leading Educators aims to partner with 20 schools serving 13,680 students.

Chicago HOPES

Chicago HOPES for Kids provides educational, enrichment, and mentoring support for children living in Chicago’s homeless shelters. Chicago HOPES has a successful track record and long history of supporting youth experiencing homelessness – a particularly vulnerable, difficult-to-engage population with unique needs.

By year three, Chicago HOPES plans to serve nearly 200 middle school youth.

Lion’s Pride Mentoring, Inc.

Lion’s Pride Mentoring, Inc uses a peer-to-peer mentorship model to foster empowerment in high school students. The program pairs ninth graders with high-performing upperclassmen to support the holistic success and well-being of both students.

By year three, Lion’s Pride aims to have programming in 13 Chicago-area high schools, translating to nearly 500 students.

LEAP Innovations

LEAP Innovations’ Next Generation Learning Model features the LEAP Learner Hub. The technology platform holds both individualized student profiles and a curated marketplace of program providers across four categories: tutoring, mentoring skill-building, and enrichment. Together, the Next Generation Learning Model supports educators in holistically understanding individual students, and their needs, and resources.

By year three, LEAP aims to serve nearly 20,000 students at 35 partner schools.


A Better Chicago’s model ensures that we consistently make strong investment decisions. We invest in organizations that offer compelling models that produce a meaningful increase in key life indicators for low-income, Black, and Latinx youth. We support leaders capable of mobilizing resources, building strong teams, and driving results.

Catalyst Fund

Early-stage, community-embedded programs with promising approaches to serving youth across the South and West sides of Chicago.

Venture Fund

Organizations that have proven program models, demonstrate strong early results, and are poised to scale in the city of Chicago

Growth Fund

Well-established organizations with proven impact and aspirations for meaningful scale.


In our mission to provide opportunities for Chicago’s youth, we have found ourselves uniquely positioned to elevate promising initiatives that tap into the leadership, talent, and ingenuity born from the same neighborhoods in which our youth live.

Our Team

Colin Baker

Portfolio Manager

Nataly Barrera

Portfolio Director

Domonique Battle

Portfolio Director

Becky Betts

Chief Marketing and External Affairs Officer

Blair Bryant

External Affairs Coordinator

Brian Davis

Investments and Impact Manager

Augustin Flores

Portfolio Manager

Emily Harris

Special Assistant to the CEO

Chelsea Huszar

Director of Development

Melanie Matar

Manager of Development

Rob McCloskey

Chief Finance and Administration Officer

Danisha Moore

Manager of Communications and Engagement

Wesley Quevedo

Portfolio Associate

Marshana Roberts Pace

Director of Investments

Gabe Rojas

Impact and Innovation Associate

Sarey Snieg

Portfolio Manager

Beth Swanson


Our Board

Stephen Beard

President and CEO

Adtalem Global Education

Sean Berkowitz

Partner & Global Chair of Litigation

Latham & Watkins LLP

Eric Chern


Chicago Trading Company

Becky Elrad

Civic Leader

Ricardo Estrada

President & CEO

Metropolitan Family Services

John Gilligan


Riverspan Partners

Dr. Janice Jackson

Chief Executive Officer

Hope Chicago

Jack Keller


Keller Group, Inc.

Chris Keogh

Co-Head of Midwest

Goldman Sachs & Co.

Timothy Knowles


Carnegie Foundation

Liam Krehbiel

Founder + Board Chair

A Better Chicago

Taylor O’Malley

Co-Founding Partner & President

Balyasny Asset Management LP

Ginger Ostro

Executive Director

Illinois Board of Higher Education

Tracy Schwartz-Ward

Managing Principal

Schwartz Capital Group

Timothy Schwertfeger

Chairman Emeritus

Nuveen Investments, Inc.

Christian Zann

Chief Investment Officer and Founder


Our Leadership Council

Jeff Akers

Partner & Head of Secondary Investments

Adams Street Partners, LLC

Shakeeb Alam

Co-Founder & President

East Bridge Capital Management

Adam Butler

President of Kraft Heinz Canada

The Kraft Heinz Company

Micah Carr

Chief Brand Officer

Blue Meridian Partners

Kevan Comstock

Managing Director


Richard Copans

Managing Director

Madison Dearborn Partners, LLC

Chuck Dauk

Vice President, Business Development

US Venture, Inc.

Scott Daum

Managing Director

Parallel49 Equity

Adrienne Eynon

School Counselor

Catherine Cook School

Katherine Finnegan


Finnegan Family Foundation

Jeremy Franklin

Managing Director

GEM Realty Capital, Inc.

Rachel Geller

Managing Director

Insight Partners

Sara Guderyahn

Executive Director

Chicago Blackhawks Foundation

Adam Hitchcock

Co-Founder & Managing Partner

Sovereign Infrastructure Group

Duane Jackson

Co-Founder & Managing Partner

Jackson Private Capital

Sami Kamhawi

Managing Director

Goldman Sachs

Rich Parisi

Founding Partner

Catania Capital Partners

Manoj Patel

Co-Head of Global Infrastructure Securities

DWS Group / RREEF America, LLC

Caroline Reckler


Latham & Watkins LLP

Arnaldo Rivera

Chief Administrative & Equity Office

Navy Pier

Michelle Schumaker

Vice President, Go-To-Market Enablement


Nick Scodro

Head of Business Development

RBN Insurance Services

Mike Siska

Partner & Managing Director

William Blair & Company, LLC

Kathleen Steele

Managing Director

Equity Group Investments


A Better Chicago would like to extend a special thank you to Kelly Jones for her leadership and contributions over the last six years.
We would like to thank Bark Design for their work on this report.