Image of Chicago star Investor Report 2022

Bold Opportunities
for Youth

Investor Report 2022

We are more determined than ever to scale these promising initiatives because we know our investment model works.”

We are at a critical moment for Chicago’s youth. For decades, Chicago Public School students were on an upward trajectory. Chicago’s growth rates in reading and math were higher than 96% of all school districts in the United States. The average Chicago students’ test scores improved by roughly six grade-level equivalents in five years’ time—20% more growth on average.

Although the pandemic fractured this foundation for academic growth laid in previous years, we are not deterred.

Rather, we are inspired by the innovative social entrepreneurs undertaking initiatives that improve the lives of youth in their communities. We are more determined than ever to scale these promising initiatives because we know our investment model works. The once nascent programs we steadily invested in—One Million Degrees, Bottom Line, Noble Charter Schools, KIPP, and others—over the years since our founding in 2010, are now among the most impactful youth-serving organizations in the city.

We intentionally partner with community-embedded leaders so that all young people can grow and thrive. In 2022, we strategically invested $7.6 million. We grew our portfolio by welcoming 3 new organizations. We increased our reach to support more than 49,000 youth. And we expanded our capacity to encompass social emotional learning to combat declining attendance rates, pantries to eliminate food insecurity, life coaching to support positive mental health, and more.

Transformational change depends on new and ambitious ideas, and it also requires proven programs with a track record of changing lives. A Better Chicago taps into the ingenuity of local leaders and provides the resources to power positive change.

Together, we can supercharge these bold ideas to become life-changing opportunities for youth.

Beth Swanson

Portfolio Impact Snapshot

Our portfolio served 49,160 youth – from cradle to career – in 2022
  • An increase of 4,513 more youth than in 2021
  • Since 2010, we have invested over $65M and provided more than $2M in management support across more than 250 capacity-building projects
  • Our Venture and Growth Funds are operating on an average of 18.5 percent above their respective benchmarks.
85% of our portfolio beneficiaries are from low-income backgrounds
Our portfolio of 28 organizations includes
  • 3 Early childhood initiatives
  • 7 Early and middle grade initiatives
  • 9 High school persistence initiatives
  • 5 College access initiatives
  • 4 Career and employment support initiatives


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 2022, we invested over $7.6M in unrestricted funds in our growing portfolio of 28 local, high-potential, high-impact organizations supporting the needs of youth from low-income backgrounds from cradle to career.

About Us

While traditional philanthropies focus on established nonprofits, A Better Chicago aims to find and nurture promising early initiatives, or ones just beyond that stage that are on the cusp of expansion. Often, they are run by local leaders who live or grew up in the communities they serve.

We employ a venture capital approach: We raise money from donors who want to maximize their impact, and we invest in innovative youth-serving nonprofits that have the potential to expand exponentially. We vet them rigorously before investing, and our continued support depends on them meeting mutually agreed milestones.

As with a venture capital fund, our goal is for our investments to eventually flourish without us.

We provide unrestricted funding, renewed annually based on performance. We also provide customized, in-house expertise and access to our vast network of resources to help nonprofits grow. We support strategic planning, marketing and communications, executive development or hiring, and much more.

Our administrative expenses are covered by our board, ensuring that every donor dollar is deployed to the nonprofits we support.

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. Management support projects vary by investment and are customized to meet the strategic priorities of our portfolio organizations. See highlights below.


invested in management support in 2022


management support projects in 2022

Since 2010, A Better Chicago has invested a total of $2M in 250 management support projects across our portfolio.
MAAFA – Data Infrastructure and Collection

MAAFA’s mission is to repair and rebuild West Garfield Park by improving the quality of life of emerging adult Black and Brown men and their families. MAAFA focuses on creating a holistic “oasis of opportunity” for these young men to equip and empower their movement from “at risk” to thriving.

A major challenge for MAAFA was inconsistent data tracking. This challenge was not surprising given the complex configuration of supports needed to achieve the program’s comprehensive goals for its participants. However, the lack of data fidelity meant that some metrics were impossible to objectively quantify.

A Better Chicago’s own Data and Impact team stepped in to facilitate a digitization of participant-related data and outcomes. We implemented several foundational data infrastructure tools and processes that life coaches now use to collect and track participant progress, enabling a more objective evaluation of MAAFA’s program supports.

National Louis University – Strategic Planning and Implementation

The Undergraduate College (UGC) at National Louis University was formed to advance the university’s commitment to being an equity-driven college. Working with the Founding Dean of the college, A Better Chicago supported the implementation of a vast range of evidence-based strategies considered best practices for driving strong and equitable undergraduate outcomes. As a result, NLU undergraduate enrollment more than doubled, going from 1,700 students in 2015 to over 4,000 students currently. The UGC received national recognition for its significant growth, innovation, and students’ success, and brings the UGC closer to achieving NLU's vision of equity in higher education.

The Bloc, West Side United and National Louis University – Building an Infrastructure to Address Essential Needs

The pandemic exposed the high number of families unable to meet the essential needs of their children. To support family health and ensure youth could come to programming ready to learn, we partnered with several of our portfolio organizations to build infrastructures to address essential needs, like food security.

  • The BLOC established a pantry food and implemented a hot meal program for both participants and the broader North Lawndale community. The organization served 750 clients and distributed over 1,500 bags of fresh produce, nonperishables, and toiletries.
  • West Side United launched an at-home food delivery program through a partnership with Herzl School of Excellence and distributed fresh produce valued at $40 per month, for 6 months to 100 families.
  • National Louis University improved access to food for their students and student beneficiaries. The university Improved their food pantry’s technology and infrastructure to sustain operations and increase efficiency, distributing over 9300 lbs of food in 1,446 visits.


Our goal isn’t to sustain small nonprofits that serve dozens of kids, no matter how great those programs are. We identify and elevate early-stage initiatives that have the potential to work at scale — serving, for example, the entire city’s community college system or all of Chicago’s public schools.
We invested a total of $7.6M in our portfolio in 2022 and added 3 new innovative organizations
  • A House in Austin, prepares children to enter preschool utilizing a two-generational service model emphasizing enriching parent-child interactions
  • Dream On Education unites the best and brightest 6-8th graders from low-income communities with industry and community leaders
  • Lost Boyz engages youth through the sport of baseball while delivering structured academic and social-emotional supports.

Boosting Lifetime Earnings Thru College Persistence

Research shows that an associate degree translates to $222,000 in additional lifetime earnings.

Our investment in One Million Degrees exemplifies how we partner with our portfolio organizations to expand their impact and break the cycle of poverty for thousands of Chicago students.

It’s a proof point of our work and a snapshot of our ability to scale Chicago’s most promising nonprofits.

A Better Chicago supported OMD steadily as it grew from serving 120 students in 2013 to 740 in 2022.

  • We invested $4.6M in capital
  • We facilitated collaborations with other institutions, including City Colleges of Chicago
  • We helped guide, plan and secure funding for strategic projects, such as a pivotal eight-year randomized controlled trial to quantify its results

Today, OMD is poised to scale its work within systems such as Chicago Public Schools and City Colleges of Chicago, potentially reaching thousands of Chicago students annually. Click here to read our case study.

The Evidence

Scholars Served

Catalyst Fund

We see many more opportunities to scale impactful solutions throughout our portfolio and we aim to create many more success stories out of our earlier-stage grantees.

Catalyst Fund

The Catalyst Fund was established in 2020 to supercharge Community-embedded social entrepreneurs undertaking bold, innovative initiatives often overlooked by traditional philanthropy. The youth- serving nonprofits in this fund already show promising signs of exponential growth and our support is amplifying their impact.

We invest in…

Community-embedded social entrepreneurs dedicated to increasing opportunities for youth

Emerging youth-serving nonprofits with the potential to expand exponentially

Bold, innovative initiatives often overlooked by traditional philanthropy

Opportunities to scale

Participants served through our Catalyst Fund is projected to increase by 5x

Geographic and Programming Considerations
  • Expectations to scale in Catalyst Fund are different than other portfolio funds
  • Some organizations view expansion through a hyper-local lens, while others network with neighboring communities
Impacts of COVID-19
  • Organizations struggled to maintain participant enrollment early in the pandemic
  • Participants served increased starting in 2022, a turning point in the COVID-19 pandemic
Total Catalyst Fund Participants Served

Increasing Revenue

Revenue increased more than 1.7x indicating A Better Chicago’s influence

Organizations’ revenues significantly increased
  • Revenues increased by 74% for organizations in the Fund since 2020
  • Investment from ABC signals credibility, positively influencing other investors
Catalyst Fund Average Organizational Revenue

The Chicago Design Challenge Catalyzed Critical and Innovative Initiatives

The pandemic fractured the foundation for academic growth laid in previous years

Chicago’s 2022 national test scores show steep declines in math and modest declines in reading, erasing gains made over the past decade. These key milestones are indicators of students’ abilities to thrive in the future.

Our Priorities

Programs focused on improving…

Literacy for early learners, with specific focus on meeting grade-level norms by third grade*

Math gains for students in early and middle grades*

High school success, likely indicated by freshman on-track and/or high school graduation rates*

Mental health services and trauma-informed care for youth pre-K through high school

Age-specific social-emotional learning and development

And targeting students most in need, such as those who…

  • Are significantly behind grade-level standards
  • Have 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 as identified by the Chicago COVID Mapping Project

* All initiatives focused on academic outcomes must also address the social-emotional needs of students and educators in conjunction with learning interventions

Key Successes To Date

Illuminated and supported well-researched yet unknown initiatives

Targeted hardest to reach populations

Piloted Peer to peer mentoring models proving their effectiveness

Supported teacher training and professional development

Amplified SEL supports as essential for academic success

Accelerating Learning Recovery

Revenue increased more than 1.7x indicating A Better Chicago’s influence

Increased reach presents opportunities to scale
  • As initiatives gain traction, the # of youth served is projected to increase significantly
  • Systems-level influence is already occurring (i.e., Leading Educators’ impact on the district-wide rollout of Skyline)
# of Youth Served by CDC Investments

* Projected

Addressing Youth Mental Health and Well-Being

Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Development

SEL is key to defeating increasing absenteeism; truancy, and other behavioral symptoms of the pandemic
  • All investments are embedding SEL to support students’ mental health and well-being
  • Initiatives also aim to facilitate healthy connections to the wider school community

Example: Chicago Hopes for Kids exceeded their SEL target by 1.6x

% of youth improving SEL competencies
Chronic Absenteeims Rates1

1. ISBE. Chronic absenteeism rate defined as % of students who miss 10% or more of school days per year.

Year in

2022 was a year of impressive impact for A Better Chicago. In response to the ongoing effects of COVID-19, we continued our collaboration with communities to strategize equitable recovery. We also shared our learning through opinion pieces and a case study, hosted thought-provoking events, and collaborated with the philanthropic community.


Published our perspective on the role nonprofits play when students and parents are left in the lurch

Our CEO Beth Swanson offered her reflections on the critical role Chicago’s nonprofits play in the Crain’s Chicago Business op-ed article, Who Steps Up for Chicago’s Children When Others Walk Out.


Presented Mapping Equity to Drive Impactful Philanthropy at South by Southwest 2022

A Better Chicago along with 24 Chicago foundations, nonprofits, public agencies, and private sector entities came together to voluntarily share data—some previously not public- and map out long-standing systemic inequities in Chicago, examine how investments shifted during COVID, and determine how to amplify impact.

The data showed how historical disinvestments and structural racism drive disparities in Chicago, and where future investment should align to strengthen communities.

Creating an equitable future requires understanding our past and this presentation focused on lessons of the project, its effect on investment patterns, and how other cities can use the strategy.


Participated in Increasing Impact: Organizational Evolution As Innovation at ASU+GSV

This global summit led by Arizona State University (ASU) and Global Silicon Valley (GSV) connects “leading minds focused on transforming society and business around learning and work.” We presented alongside our partners and fellow leaders to highlight how A Better Chicago and its portfolio of organizations have evolved to holistically support students’ ability to thrive in the classroom and beyond.


Hosted Inaugural Grape + Grain

Grape + Grain, a fine wine and spirits auction and dinner, brought together over 200 civic and business leaders. Net proceeds went towards advancing A Better Chicago’s mission to invest in bold, innovative opportunities for Chicago’s low-income youth.


Partnered with Start Early to host Change the First Five Years and You Change Everything

This engaging panel discussion brought together early childcare experts across the field to discuss the interconnected areas of early learning and why the partnership between parents, teachers, and the community is essential to foster growth.


9000+ community college students poised to benefit through partnership facilitated by A Better Chicago

Nearly half of college students begin their higher education at community colleges, which offer a low-cost pathway to economic mobility and opportunity. But an array of barriers leads many to drop out and contributes to declining enrollment. Since 2013, we have invested $4.6M in One Million Degrees to broaden access to academic, financial and professional supports that dramatically increase graduation rates and change lives.

To celebrate an expanded partnership between One Million Degrees and City Colleges of Chicago, we hosted a panel discussion, Overcoming Barriers to Community College Success, and published a case study, A Better Chicago Fights Poverty by Scaling Promising Opportunities, to highlight A Better Chicago’s investment approach and role.


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.


We remain steadfast in our mission to fight poverty with opportunities for Chicago’s youth, and we are grounded in objectively measuring what works. At the same time, we have found ourselves uniquely positioned to uplift the voices of youth living in Chicago’s communities. Their lived experiences and insights are powerful. And we believe that the more we listen, the more we can learn and accomplish.

As we look ahead, we see more opportunities to combine firsthand perspectives from youth along with our best-in-class research to identify and supercharge the most promising, scalable solutions helping youth escape poverty.

Because together, we can build a better Chicago for everyone.

Our Team

Beth Swanson


Nataly Barrera

Portfolio Director

Becky Betts

Chief Marketing and External Affairs Officer

Augustin Flores

Portfolio Manager

Emily Harris

Chief of Staff

Chelsea Huszar

Director of Development

Melanie Matar

Manager of Development

Rob McCloskey

Chief Finance and Administration Officer

Megan Mineau

Portfolio Manager

Ashley Mitchell

Development Associate

Marshana Roberts Pace

Director of Investments

Onel Abreu

Director of Data and Impact

Wesley Quevedo

Portfolio Associate

Shanel Singh

Data and Impact Associate

Perla Torres

Investment Operations Coordinator

Our Board

John Gilligan



Riverspan Partners

Stephen Beard

Vice Chair

Chief Executive Officer

Adtalem Global Education

Beth Swanson


A Better Chicago

Arjun Aggarwal

Operating Partner

Rubicon Founders

Sean Berkowitz

Partner & Global Chair of Litigation

Latham & Watkins LLP

Eric Chern


Chicago Trading Company

Ricardo Estrada

President & CEO

Metropolitan Family Services

Dr. Janice Jackson

Chief Executive Officer

Hope Chicago

Jack Keller


Keller Group, Inc.

Chris Keogh

Consumer and Wealth Management

Goldman Sachs & Co.

Timothy Knowles


Carnegie Foundation

Liam Krehbiel

Founder + CEO


Taylor O’Malley

Co-Founding Partner & President

Balyasny Asset Management LP

Ginger Ostro

Executive Director

Illinois Board of Higher Education

Matt Raino

Managing Director

Madison Dearborn Partners

Tracy Schwartz-Ward

Managing Principal

Schwartz Capital Group

Timothy Schwertfeger

Chairman & CEO Emeritus

Nuveen Investments, Inc.

Our Leadership Council

Jeff Akers

Partner & Head of Secondary Investments

Adams Street Partners, LLC

Adam Butler

President, U.S. Beverages, Snacks & Desserts

The Kraft Heinz Company

Germayne Cade

Senior Client Partner,RPO Client Solutions North America

Korn Ferry

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

Joe Elegante

Managing Director, Senior Portfolio Manager

UBS Global Equities

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

Harisha Haigh

Managing Director

Northwestern University

Adam Hitchcock


Great Lakes Global Holdings

Duane Jackson

Managing Partner & CEO

Jackson Private Capital

Sami Kamhawi

Managing Director

Goldman Sachs

Diane Marks Longoria

TWG Global

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

Senior Director, Global Sales Readiness


Mike Siska

Partner & Managing Director

William Blair & Company, LLC

Kathleen Steele

Managing Director

Equity Group Investments


A Better Chicago would like to recognize and thank Bill Conway, Becky Elrad, and Christian Zann for their many years of effective leadership on A Better Chicago’s Board of Directors.
We would also like to extend a special thank you to Sarey Snieg, Brian Davis, and Gabe Rojas for their valued contributions to the A Better Chicago team.
We would like to thank Bark Design for their work on this report.