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LISC Chicago Business District Leadership Program

LISC Chicago’s Business District Leadership (BDL) program brings together nonprofit and public sector leaders to support training, education and capacity building for organizations offering services to business districts throughout the City of Chicago.

Inspired by the award-winning Coro New York Neighborhood Leadership program, BDL addresses the professional development and networking needs of the growing field of commercial district practitioners.

Commercial district professionals are charged with leading change in their neighborhoods with limited resources, high expectations from the community and the agencies that fund them and competing priorities of multiple stakeholders. Through the Business District Leadership Program, participating organizations benefit from enhanced leadership skills, exposure to strategies, resources and networks – including federal, city and county departments – that are critical to cultivating a vibrant commercial corridor.  

Candidate Requirements

Approximately 20 nonprofit management professionals whose work is focused on commercial revitalization are selected for each Business District Leadership cohort. Selected participants reflect the demographics of Chicago with representation from across the city. The requirements:

  • Work in Chicago as a full-time employee for a nonprofit organization whose work is focused on commercial revitalization
  • Minimum of five years of work experience in the field
  • Letter of support of supervisor to participate fully in program
  • Passion and curiosity about developing new leadership skills germane to problem solving in Chicago
  • Interest in joining the BDL network

Why Join?

The Business District Leadership program offers a number of benefits to participants and their organization:

Building Your Network. The program is rooted in network and relationship building – both among participants and with key leaders in the field who are dedicated to supporting one another and to improving the city in which we live and work. The ability to reach out to a strong peer network for feedback and guidance at critical junctures is a critical benefit for program participants.

Leadership Development. LISC Chicago’s BDL program provides an immersive experience in building individual and collaborative capacity for practicing leadership and bringing about change in the communities. BDL presents participants with an array of leadership development tools and challenges to push them to explore all aspects of an issue and to work more collaboratively in a group. The “Adaptive Leadership” framework specifically helps participants develop and practice the “soft” leadership skills and tools needed to implement change at the neighborhood level.

Experiential Learning. This field-based training engages program participants directly with content relevant to their work. BDL uses the City of Chicago as a lab to explore, test and build effective commercial revitalization strategies to adapt and thrive in challenging environments.

Neighborhood Change Project. Participants use the training to execute a project of their choosing to apply what they’ve learned in real time in the neighborhoods where they work. The program offers active opportunities for participants to request feedback from the cohort as they advance their Neighborhood Change projects.

How It Works

The initial program ran from February 26– July 8, 2015. It included a three-day opening retreat to provide participants an opportunity to build the relationships that are critical for peer-to-peer feedback, then all day every third Wednesday and all day every first Saturday for six months.

Leadership Days. Participants gather monthly for four-full day workshops (one Saturday a month for a total of four days). These session focus on leadership skills that serve as the foundation for the BDL program, including: purpose, vision, partnership, inquiry, personal ecology and goal setting.

Strategy days. Participants gather monthly for strategy days (one weekday a month for a total of four days). These sessions focus on exposing participants to Chicago-based practitioners on key revitalization strategies, including; administrative management, retail sales, small business support, redevelopment, tenant mix and performance accountability.

The full value of the Business District Leadership program is $12,000 per participant. However, through support of Polk Bros. Foundation. LISC Chicago is able to offer the program at a cost of $1,000 per participant.

Upon successful completion of the program LISC Chicago will provide a $1,000 grant to the participant’s organization to advance the Neighborhood Change project. 


Read the 2017 Business District Leadership brochure 

See the 2016 Business District Leadership calendar

Read the 2016 BDL participant bios

Posted in Economic Development

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About LISC Chicago

Local Initiatives Support Corporation Chicago connects neighborhoods to the resources they need to become stronger and healthier.

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