The Chicago Urban League’s IMPACT Leadership Development Program team was launched in 2014 to give midcareer African American professionals tools to thrive in increasingly responsible leadership roles, both in their careers and in the community. “We want these professionals to go into institutions and make a difference and to move the needle in terms of equity in leadership positions,” says Mavis Laing, the program’s executive director.
IMPACT’s name is an acronym of its mission to create a pipeline of informed, motivated, perceptive, authentic, connected talent to fill critical roles in Chicago’s business, public, and nonprofit sectors. The program admits about 30 new fellows each year.
The Urban League’s partner in IMPACT is the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, whose MBA program faculty helped develop the curriculum, and who teach its business ethics, negotiations, decision-making, and interpersonal dynamics modules. Chicago Booth also hosts the program’s monthly meetings at its Gleacher Center in downtown Chicago. “Not only do we get a great deal of value from the pro bono space and teaching Booth provides, but the Booth brand attracts highly qualified people to our program,” says Laing.
Other components of the IMPACT curriculum include leadership development; perspectives on Chicago history, politics, and current issues; presentations by successful leaders such as Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Ariel Capital Management founder John Rogers; and one-on-one mentoring by senior African American executives.
George Wu, the John P. and Lillian A. Gould Professor of Behavioral Science at Booth, was IMPACT’s founding faculty member and teaches two of the curriculum’s leadership modules. “We do the kinds of things that are hallmarks of the University: help fellows think more clearly about challenges that exist in Chicago, and think critically about solutions,” he says. “And we’re also helping to network a bunch of really talented people in different sectors and industries, from private companies to city and county government to nonprofits.”
The impact of IMPACT is significant: In 2019, 100 percent of fellows said that they made integral connections, expanded their professional networks and increased their understanding of their own leadership styles. Laing also reports that fellows now serve in significant leadership roles in every sector of the city, from finance and manufacturing to state and local government, and scores of fellows have joined local nonprofit boards.
“We see our fellows doing more in their careers than they did before,” says Laing. “We give them the courage to do stuff that’s a little risky,” adds Wu. “Transmission of knowledge is obviously something I do a lot, but believing in yourself is also a huge thing. It’s really rewarding to see how people change during this program — and then to see how that translates into impact on Chicago.”
“The secret sauce of IMPACT is the opportunity to connect with people at varying levels of their careers across multiple industries, all looking at the same problems from different perspectives. We’re all gaining a better lens on approaching issues across the city so we can collaborate broadly and make purposeful decisions that benefit disinvested communities.”—Michael A. Jones, Rush University Medical Center manager of talent acquisition and 2020 IMPACT fellow