This New Venture Philanthropy Fund Is on a Niche Mission for At-Risk Youth

We've written often about two key trends in philanthropy: The rise of intermediaries that raise money and then grant it out; and the growing popularity of a venture funding model, often with a big focus on metrics. We've also written about where these trends are converging, like in the work of New Profit and the NewSchools Venture Fund. 

Here, we take a look at a new, super-focused philanthropic venture fund called Chicago Beyond, which was launched by a former high school principal, Liz Dozier, this past April, with goals of supporting early-stage ideas about success in college and engaging youth in work in school.

According to the UChicago Consortium on School Research, only 18 percent of incoming public high school freshmen in Chicago will earn a four-year college bachelor’s degree by their mid-20s. Over 45,000 youth between the ages of 16 and 24 in Chicago are out of work and not in school, which is four percent greater than the national average. Meanwhile, the city's homicide rate has been rising, accounting for half of all deaths of African American males 15 to 24. 

These at-risk young people are the focus of Chicago Beyond beyond work, which describes its mission as investing in "innovative ideas and scalable programs to amplify impact in two areas that are flip sides of the same coin – youth safety and educational attainment."

What does that look like in practice? Well, a trio of nonprofits in Chicago recently secured nearly $3 million in grants from the fund as part of a competitive grant challenge. More than 200 groups applied for these new innovation grants, but only three emerged as winners, landing some serious support. 

An effort called Dovetail Project received $990,000 for its support for youth fathers. This group provides a 12-week curriculum and year-long case management in regards to young fathers’ employment, GED completion, and wages. The venture also gave Changing Voices a $900,000 grant for an arts program targeted at youth recently released from correctional facilities. The money is also being put to use to study how the program affects participants’ recidivism and long-term employment.  

In regard to college matriculation and graduation, the big winner was Genesys Works Chicago, which received $790,000 to help at-risk high school seniors with internships, workforce training, college prep and ongoing college support. Chicago Beyond’s money will also be going towards research to study the program’s effectiveness.

We can’t help but notice the heavy research components in these new commitments, as Chicago Beyond is using a portion of the grant funds to study program effectiveness in addition to making the programs happen. The studies will be conducted by researchers at the University of Chicago’s Urban Labs. Clearly, Chicago Beyond sees strong research on impact as essential for pulling in more funding. According to a press release, “Over time, Chicago Beyond aims to leverage its findings to spark further public and philanthropic investments in work that does the most good per dollar to improve the lives of Chicago’s young people.”

This is Chicago Beyond’s very first year, and it’s definitely still in the learning phase about local grantmaking and program evaluation. It's important to reiterate that this is a philanthropic venture capital fund, not a traditional foundation—one that raises money from investors and then regrants that money. It's not yet known who is backing this pass-through funder, but the Chicago Tribune reports it already has moved $12 million to four large programs as part of another initiative called Go Together.” This next initiative is all about personalized learning, college success, high-risk students, and summer opportunities for teens.

So stay tuned, because Chicago Beyond is just getting started. We expect to see announcement about the next investment cycle in early 2017. 

Related: With Violent Crime Spiking in Some Cities, Can Philanthropy Make Any Difference?