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A Better Chicago Launches Multi-Million-Dollar Initiative to Support Chicago Students Facing Pandemic-Related Learning Challenges

Written by A Better Chicago on Feb 17, 2021

CHICAGO – A Better Chicago, a nonprofit that fights poverty by investing in ideas, programs and leaders serving youth from low-income communities, today announced the launch of the Chicago Design Challenge. The multi-million-dollar initiative will identify and invest in the city’s most promising innovations to accelerate learning recovery and promote wellbeing in communities disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

The Chicago Design Challenge is launching with initial funding of more than $6 million from a diverse group of donors, including Citadel Founder and CEO Ken Griffin, the Chicago Community Trust, the Chicago Education Equity COVID-19 Response Fund, the Chicago Blackhawks Foundation, the Chicago Community COVID-19 Response Fund, and the Chicago Bulls. The challenge will be fueled by a powerful collaborative effort across sectors with A Better Chicago spearheading the day-to-day work of sourcing, vetting, and funding grantee organizations. Investments will be focused on high-impact innovations designed to accelerate learning recovery and holistically support students, particularly those from low-income, Black, and Latinx households.

“As an organization that has always put our city’s youth first, we are launching the Chicago Design Challenge to funnel significant resources and educational support to the Black and Latinx students most impacted by this prolonged disruption to learning and assistance,” said Beth Swanson, CEO of A Better Chicago. “We are eager to hear ideas from the community leaders, educators, parents, and students closest to this issue. Addressing the impact of COVID-19 on our schools and students will take imagination and new ways of collaboration. With the Chicago Design Challenge, we want to elevate promising innovations through initial financial and strategic support with the goal that they are adopted at a larger, system-wide scale over time.”

In partnership with the City of Chicago and Chicago Public Schools (CPS), A Better Chicago has identified priority areas for funding and populations most urgently in need. Investments made through the challenge will emphasize programs serving pre-kindergarten through high school that focus on:

  • improving literacy and math skills
  • promoting high school success; and
  • providing mental health services and trauma-informed care.

“Our highest mission as a city is to deliver the education, resources, and love our young people need to grow and thrive,” said Mayor Lori Lightfoot. “Helping our children heal is what a holistic and inclusive recovery looks like, and one we look forward to achieving with committed and dynamic partners like A Better Chicago and inspiring programs like the Chicago Design Challenge.” 

“COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted our Black and Latinx students, which is why it is essential that we leave no stone unturned in our effort to develop holistic supports for students and families,” said CPS CEO Dr. Janice K. Jackson. “We are grateful to partner with A Better Chicago and the city’s philanthropic community in this collaborative effort to address unfinished learning and support the students and families who need us most.”

Grantees will be identified through a selection process that leverages A Better Chicago’s impact investing approach and insights from key policymaker and research partners, as well as input from community leaders, parents, and educators. The University of Chicago Education Lab will provide strategic data analysis and technical support on data and research to grantees and core partners during the design phase and implementation. Additionally, The Chicago Public Education Fund (The Fund) will lend its experience in supporting youth-centered innovation to assist grantees, especially those who hope to work in partnership with educators in schools. The Fund’s workshops will ensure that Chicago Design Challenge applicants can engage in user-centered design thinking and have access to data on school community needs as they shape their projects.

A Better Chicago will award multi-year grants to interventions and ideas that reimagine ways to holistically support youth in a post-pandemic world. Given the immediacy of student need, the organization will also work with key partners to provide one-time grants to a small set of programs focused on learning acceleration this summer. In the coming months and years, A Better Chicago will continue to collaborate closely with the City of Chicago and CPS to identify opportunities for system-wide adoption of select innovations.

Prospective applicants are encouraged to attend an informational webinar on February 23 to learn more about the Chicago Design Challenge before the application opens on February 26. Donors, corporate partners, and potential grantees interested in the Chicago Design Challenge can visit for more details.


About A Better Chicago

A Better Chicago is fighting poverty by leveraging the collective power of Chicagoans who want to make our city more equitable for everyone. We raise funds through public donations and direct those resources to support youth in low-income, underserved communities. We find high-potential, high-impact programs and leaders that serve young people from cradle to career. Then, we invest both dollars and strategic support to empower organizations to grow and make an even greater impact. We know that giving our young people the support and tools they need to thrive—a great education, a wage that can sustain a family, the ability to buy a home and live in a safe community—can lead to breaking the cycle of poverty for this generation and generations to come.

Since 2010, we have raised more than $40 million, invested in dozens of nonprofit organizations and supported over 100 capacity-building projects—ranging from strategic planning to leadership development—to strengthen the organizational capacity of our grantees. In total, our portfolio serves over 37,000 youth annually in the Chicago area. Learn more at

About The Chicago Public Education Fund

The Chicago Public Education Fund (The Fund) is a nonprofit organization that improves public schools in Chicago by investing in the talented educators who lead them. For more than 20 years, we have supported efforts at the school- and city-level to develop and maintain strong leaders in schools. We are a catalyst for accelerating student learning and a long-standing champion for educator-led change. To learn more about the principals we serve and the work we do, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

About University of Chicago Education Lab

The UChicago Education Lab was launched in 2011 to learn about what works to reduce disparities in educational achievement and attainment and to help scale the most promising policies and solutions. The Education Lab works closely with students, community-based organizations, practitioners and policymakers to engage with strategic data analysis and to generate evidence on how cities can best to support its young people in their academic lives and beyond.


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