Portfolio Partner Profile
In April 2016 The Chicago Community Trust, the MacArthur Foundation and Calvert Impact Capital launched Benefit Chicago (ARC Chicago, LLC) to mobilize $100 million to finance nonprofits and social enterprises throughout the Chicago region. These organizations often lack access to traditional financing because of a lack of collateral, the need for customized terms and/or perceived risk. Benefit Chicago aims to finance these types of enterprises, so they can create impact in their communities.
The fund's goal is to build wealth in or for communities through economic development, grow community assets, support for community-based entrepreneurs, create jobs that are accessible to community residents--particularly those for whom access to employment can be a challenge--and enhance job readiness and skills for those seeking to find, maintain, and advance in employment.
Powered by deep philanthropic commitment, knowledge of the social sector in Chicago and long-standing impact investing experience, Benefit Chicago provides a new way for individuals, organizations and institutions that care about Chicago to invest for impact and make this region a better place for all.
Featured Impact Story
Meaningful employment for adults with autism
AutonomyWorks provides meaningful employment for adults with autism. The organization contracts with national and international marketing organizations that need detail and task-oriented employees to effectively support their digital and online marketing efforts. These employment opportunities are well-suited for individuals with autism. Little attention has been paid to the needs of autistic individuals once they leave the education system. Unless there is a change, experts estimate that 80 percent will be unemployed or employed in low-skill, low-wage jobs, at an estimated annual cost of $125 billion per year in the United States. But many individuals with autism excel at detailed, repetitive and structured tasks.
AutonomyWorks employs people with autism who possess these core competencies, matching them with companies who recognize the value in the unique characteristics these individuals bring to the workplace. AutonomyWorks contracts with a variety of firms with a need for digital marketing and analytics and draws its employees from a wide range of social service agencies and the Illinois Department of Human Services Division of Rehabilitation Services. Employees are paid competitive wages and receive occupational support, job-coaching and social and life skills training in the workplace. With a $600,000 loan from Benefit Chicago, AutonomyWorks is expanding their marketing and hiring. Over 10 years, more than 330 people will be employed, 140 of them a direct result of growth made possible by the loan.
Creating sustainable local employment and wealth
Garfield Produce is creating sustainable local employment and wealth in East Garfield Park by producing and selling high-quality fresh produce year-round. Garfield Produce Company is an indoor, vertical hydroponic vegetable farm that creates sustainable local employment and generates wealth in disinvested neighborhoods through the production and sale of high-quality fresh produce year-round. East Garfield Park is one of Chicago’s most economically challenged neighborhoods battered by the loss of manufacturing, retail, jobs and population. Unemployment is currently at 19 percent, nearly half of area residents are children under 18 or persons over 65, an estimated 43 percent of families live below the poverty line and more than 21 percent of adults do not have a high school degree.
Additionally, the community is one of seven Chicago neighborhoods that are home to a majority of the formerly incarcerated men and women who have great difficulty in securing employment. Garfield Produce provides residents – particularly those who have been previously incarcerated –with high-quality jobs that promise a future. Garfield Produce employees learn the intricacies of the growing process and the skills of packaging and selling products in the marketplace. Employees receive competitive wages along with life skill support to aid them on their paths to financial and social self-sufficiency. Garfield Produce is utilizing their $500,000 loan from Benefit Chicago to expand its operations and build a broader base for its products among the city’s restaurants and retailers, resulting in the organization’s ability to hire and train more employees.
Job training for community residents who have had difficulties finding gainful employment
Sweet Beginnings provides job training to community residents who have had difficulties finding gainful employment. A wholly owned for-profit subsidiary of the North Lawndale Employment Network (NLEN), Sweet Beginnings uses the production of beelove™ – a line of honey-based products – to provide job training to community residents who, due to former incarceration or other circumstances, have found it difficult to procure gainful employment. beelove™ products are sold at Whole Foods, Mariano’s and other retail outlets.
Sweet Beginnings serves the North Lawndale community, which is one of the city’s most under-resourced: 43 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and 57 percent of adults have been formerly incarcerated. Sweet Beginnings tackles the linked problems of incarceration and poverty by providing residents with transitional jobs from which they can move to employment in the broader economy. Employees gain vital experience while making and packaging beelove™ products, tracking inventory, monitoring sales and working with honeybees and hives. 75 percent of Sweet Beginnings workers transition to unsubsidized employment after three months; 90 percent retain that employment for 30 days or more; 85 percent retain it for 90 days or more; and 75 percent for more than 180 days.
A $500,000 loan from Benefit Chicago is being used to expand production and sales so that Sweet Beginnings can expand the transitional hiring period from three months to six months and meet its goal of training more than 300 North Lawndale residents over the next five years.
A seat at the table for families managing dietary restrictions and allergies
Evey Body Eat founders Trish Thomas and Nichole Wilson realized the challenges families managing dietary restrictions and allergies face when it comes to sharing food. As a solution, they created a clean and inclusive snack brand with the mission to give everyone a seat at the table, literally and figuratively. The team built an end-to-end top-14 allergen, gluten, and corn free supply chain to produce their snacks, which are available to consumers online and in 1,300 retail and food service locations across the US. Currently, Every Body Eat employs 26 individuals in Chicago, many of whom have been promoted several times and have increased their salaries by up to 25%. Trish and Nicole value their team and offer a comprehensive benefits package and financial resources to help stabilize the lives of their employees outside of the workplace.
Revitalizing a neighborhood with life-changing employment opportunities
DL3 is a real estate development and advisory firm that aims to revitalize emerging communities through high-impact commercial real estate projects. In 2019, DL3 acquired a former retail property in the Chatham neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. The community was left with disappointment when the retail chain closed its doors. However, DL3 helped redevelop the property and in July of 2022 a Discover Financial Services call center opened, creating a new beginning for the Chatham residents. The property now serves as a substantial place of employment and economic opportunity for the community. The center employs 300 individuals and is expected to reach 1,000 by 2024, with almost 90% of employees living within a 5-mile radius of the location. With the customer care center in town, employees are able to spend more time with their families and stay active within their community by supporting local businesses.
The Discover Customer Care Center offers benefits to employees including the opportunity for free college education in partnership with Chicago State University. A chance to work for a company like Discover can be life changing, as Brock Thurman, a Customer Service Representative at the Customer Care Center, expressed during the 7th Annual Employment Champions Breakfast. Brock shared his love for jobs that allow him to interact with people. After leaving Mississippi Valley State University to support his family when his grandmother passed, Brock tried various positions at restaurants, the YMCA, and a steel mill, before finding a Customer Service role at a bank. He was then laid off during the COVID-19 pandemic. In search of a new role, Brock learned of the customer service positions at Discover from a former coworker. Since being hired, Brock explained, he feels like his “...future is in reach – because I can see it.” This role at Discover gives him the opportunity to work alongside mentors and meet his long-term goals. Developers like DL3 play an integral role in the revitalization of communities. DL3 invests private capital in new commercial projects that help emerging communities make an equitable transition to become socially vibrant, economically diverse, and poised to attract much-needed services and jobs.