Millennial Trains Project (Follow-Up)

Millennial Trains Project (Follow-Up)

As mentioned in last week’s post, the Millennial Trains Project pulled into Chicago on Tuesday morning. With its focus on encouraging Millennials to get involved with social innovation, Millennial Trains Project shows incredible promise in terms of engaging individuals. Holding a small reception (with speakers) at Coalition: Energy, we were graciously invited to witness the event. Today’s post is a summary of events from the Millennial Trains Project’s event, as well as some encouraging news. (For those who attended – if we’ve forgotten anything, please let us know below in the comments)

Fabian Elliott, Founder and CEO of Black Tech Mecca Inc., kicked off the Millennial Trains Project event with some remarks about both of the day’s speakers. Starting with Jimmy Lee of Good City Chicago, Elliott discussed how the organization helped Black Tech Mecha acquire fiscal sponsorship and formal 501c3 nonprofit status after launching in June. But it was his remarks about Kurt Summers that were the most striking, referring to the City Treasurer as a potential “future mayor of Chicago.” In discussing Summers, Elliott discussed how Summers first engaged Black Tech Meca back in January, when they launched a “State of the Black Tech Ecosystem” event. After learning about the event, Summers eagerly offered assistance, even to the point of giving opening remarks at the event. Summers wanted to be involved, seeing it as an opportunity to open the City Treasurer Office’s doors to the greater community.

Following Fabian Elliott’s opening remarks, Jimmy Lee of Goodcity Chicago then spoke at length about his past and current work. In fact, Mr. Lee described how the participants in the Millennial Trains Project were the kinds of individuals that Goodcity Chicago was looking for, and that their mission was to develop social change entrepreneurs in the city of Chicago. Jimmy Lee’s professional career took some interesting turns – choosing to become an engineer out of three potential choices (two of which were “lawyer” and “doctor”), Mr. Lee then found himself wanting to get involved in a nonprofit organization, but then gained an internship within the Governor’s office. Within two months, Mr. Lee oversaw an agency within state government, and after a brief engagement with politics, began work with a foundation and traveled to 35 countries. In his words, Mr. Lee had “set out to make a difference”, and his experience with NGOs and nonprofits led him to observe that financial investments change the fabric of a society….and also led him to ask “Is money the only way to invest in organizations?”

Returning to Chicago, Mr. Lee wondered how an organization could foster entrepreneurship, which led to his involvement with Goodcity Chicago. Goodcity Chicago is a nonprofit/social innovation incubator. Noting that most nonprofit organizations are started due to funding (and not necessarily a community need), Goodcity Chicago decided to focus on quality versus quantity when it comes to supporting nonprofit organizations. In fact, Goodcity Chicago also takes a slightly different approach to investment, creating a portfolio of investment for organization rather than direct funding. (With an emphasis on impact investment, Goodcity Chicago’s donors are between 25 – 45 years old, donate approximately $1500 – 3000 per year, and women make up 77% of the total donor pool). In reaching out to Millennials around the need for social innovation, Mr. Lee cited several traits that drive Millennials in this area, including a sense of community, a need for significance, and a desire to make an impact. His goals for Goodcity Chicago include moving the organization from an incubator into becoming a “human investment firm”, with the ability to scale their work. Mr. Lee ended by citing research from a professor at Loyola University, which cited that the two main qualities that define professional success are not money and training….but hope and motivation.

Mr. Lee was quickly followed by City Treasurer Kurt Summers, who provided insights and input around social innovation, as well as overall community, economic, and business development. His main theme centered on the idea of “changing the value proposition of Chicago”. In the past half century, Chicago has lost a million people in its population (due to “white flight” as well as a shrinking middle/working class), and with a new economy evolving in the US, many manufacturing/industrial-based companies are leaving cities. One of the key challenges for the City Treasurer’s office is to continue to track investment and talented people throughout Chicago, but also the continual need for investment moving forward. (One of the highlights of his talk was discussing Fund 77, which would be focused on neighborhood investment to be owned by local entrepreneurs and local business owners). One of the other insights that Summers discussed centered around a paradox: Chicago becoming on of the top cities for attracting foreign investment, but really cannot become a world-class city if other segments are left behind.

This is one of the key ideas behind social innovation and social entrepreneurship: seeing business impact beyond the immediate profit margin, and into how business functions impact the greater community. Summers cited McDonald’s plans to move into the West Loop as a model: although they are bringing a network of individuals and companies with them, this ecosystem will have an immediate impact on other functions on other community aspects such as public transportation and local housing. Summers also cited the example of Under Armorin Baltimore, whose corporate philosophy and functions allow for the growth of the company to provide for the advance of Baltimore. One of the key concerns that Summers addressed was economic empowerment of African-American communities in the Chicago area. Citing that as the primary concern of the next half century, Kurt Summers stated that efforts should be made to foster everyone’s path to economic growth while managing to maintain the overall fabric of the community. (Summers also pointed out some ideas that would support this, such as the city’s current plans to increase the minimum wage, as well as a “Responsible Contractor Policy” and maintaining a healthy relationship with unions.

Much of this strikes at the heart of the Millennial Trains Project’s mission…and why having them stop in Chicago was so critical. As a current “hotbed” of technological innovation, Chicago holds a unique place. We reside in a state that has taken huge strides in driving social innovation and entrepreneurship as an engine of economic development. If we are fostering the next generation of social entrepreneurs, it is vital that we begin developing policies and thinking within our civic structures. (For those who believe we’re downplaying the efforts of nonprofits and other mission-driven organizations, we strongly believe that when it comes to social change, it’s all hands on deck. Everyone has a stake in community improvement).
To be honest, there’s much more I could write about…but putting it simply, Millennial Trains Project is getting it right. Its mission is taking on social innovation and social change on an incredible level. This was one organization that I’m proud to have gotten to know.

Comments? Questions? Ideas for other organizations to check out? Please feel free to let us know in the comments below or via our Facebook page. (If you want to reach me directly, simply use this “Contact Me” form)

And as always, thanks for reading!

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