Coalition Spotlight: Thrive Chicago

by Opportunity Nation   •  

This is a monthly feature that shines a light on the work of one of Opportunity Nation’s Coalition members. This month we’re highlighting Thrive Chicago. Thrive Chicago organizes the ecosystem of youth-serving organizations and drives collective action to make systemic changes.

What are Thrive Chicago’s current priorities and how do they align with Opportunity Nation’s goal of restoring the American Dream?
One of our main priorities is reducing the number of the nearly 60,000 Opportunity Youth in Chicago. We recently held an Opportunity Youth Summit in an effort to engage stakeholders to align practices and outcomes to better support Opportunity Youth. There were over 300 individuals representing nearly 150 organizations from both the private and public sector in attendance to announce the 10,000 Reconnected Campaign, a campaign launched in partnership with the Mayor’s office with a citywide goal to reconnect 10,000 youth to school or work by 2020.

As a city, we need to address the barriers faced by Chicago youth that hinder their ability to achieve economic mobility. We strongly believe Opportunity Nation’s goals of restoring the American Dream resonate with our goals and the vision we have for Chicago’s youth.

How are you engaging young people and/or local communities in your work?
The great advantage of working directly with service providers is they bring their youth into conversations to inform the work. We have held numerous focus groups with youth to obtain their feedback and opinions, and moving forward we aim to include youth directly in our Action Teams (more on that below) and our planning tables.

We also partner with the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership to host the 100K Opportunities Initiative’s hiring and resource fairs to support youth in securing gainful employment. To date, we held five fairs all co-driven by community partners on the south and west sides of Chicago (with 5,090 youth attendees and over 1,200 job offers made by employers to youth onsite). This summer we are engaging with MapsCorps on a research project where youth will explore youth employment in three Chicago communities.

What are you working on right now?

  1. Thrive Chicago facilitates three Action Teams that stem from the Opportunity Youth Working Group. The Reconnection Action Team works directly with service providers to determine and implement the best practices around how to identify and engage the most disconnected youth and connect them to the myriad of services they need to begin their return to school and/or work. The Learn and Earn Action Team works with a group of stakeholders to expand opportunities for youth to learn while getting paid work experience. The Youth Employment Action Team works directly with nonprofit organizations and employers to build better supports for Opportunity Youth to ensure their long-term employment and success. Anyone interested in learning more about these three action teams can contact us.
  2. The “summer melt” initiative aims to decrease the number of low-income students who do not start their freshman year of college, despite having been accepted. This initiative seeks to engage high schools, colleges, local school districts and other stakeholders interested in implementing best practices to address Chicago’s summer melt issue.
  3. Our 100K Opportunities Initiative, a nationwide initiative comprised of a coalition of leading companies committed to training and hiring Opportunity Youth. By 2021, over one million youth will be connected to opportunities nationally. This initiative works closely with community-based organizations and employers to test innovative practices and tools to recruit, prepare and connect Opportunity Youth to entry-level jobs through a series of hiring fairs in neighborhoods that have the city’s worst violence and highest youth disconnection rates.
  4. We expanded our Thrive Data Partnership from five to 29 community-based organizations. This partnership gives access to real-time academic and district data that is matched to programmatic data. We just started a Community of Practice where non-profit organizations who serve youth in Chicago will meet to discuss how data can be used for continuous quality improvement.

What are some recent collaborations or partnerships you’re most excited about sharing with the Opportunity Nation Coalition?
In partnership with the University of Chicago Urban Labs, we created the Opportunity Youth Data and Research Project to pioneer a new model for linking research and practice to help address the issues of disconnected youth. By deeply and directly engaging a large community of providers and funders around issues of data, program impact and evidence generation, we aim to intensify the collective impact of nonprofit organizations in Chicago and help policymakers direct public funding to interventions that improve lives for Opportunity Youth. The project aims to examine who Opportunity Youth are, where they live, their barriers, how disengagement happens, who is at risk, best practices for re-engagement and what the current capacity is to serve these youth in Chicago. This collaboration will complement the work of the three Opportunity Youth Action Teams because it will provide them the latest data and research.

Another project is the aforementioned Thrive Data Partnership. In 2016, Thrive made its first investment in an unprecedented data tool that automatically connects program data (from nonprofit organizations) with student data from Chicago Public Schools in real-time. We onboarded five pilot organizations and recently began the process to onboard 24 new organizations. This tool allows youth-serving organizations to see how program participants are doing academically and aims to not only improve the services delivered to youth, but also to utilize the aggregate data to inform citywide strategies.

What is something you wish more people knew about Thrive Chicago’s work?
We do our work through the following seven steps:

  1. Identify and bring together critical collaborative partners focused on moving an outcome
  2. Bring in research and data
  3. Design a solution
  4. Raise resources to execute solution
  5. Drive execution of solution with partners
  6. Measure effectiveness of solution
  7. Scale solution for systematic impact

Do you have any guiding principles for your work?
First, we work in the spirit of inclusivity and collaboration. This means that we seek to engage a variety of stakeholders including: youth, practitioners, funders and researchers. Together we attempt to develop the most comprehensive strategies to improve outcomes for Chicago’s youth. This also ensures that the initiatives are community-driven innovations that community members are passionate about and fully committed to.

Second, we are hyper data-driven. This means we challenge ourselves and those we engage with to continuously seek ways to use data to inform our work, and to ensure we are adopting best practices so that we can efficiently tackle complex challenges. With this idea in mind, we built relationships with researchers from The University of Chicago- Urban Labs and Chapin Hall, The University of Illinois at Chicago – Great Cities Institute, and Education Systems Center at Northern Illinois University. These partnerships help us understand and share the most recent data and research. (This also includes working with the local school system to give providers access to real time academic data to inform programming for youth.)

Lastly, we are action-driven. Not only is it important for us to be data-informed but it is also important that we use that data to inform our current practices. For instance, those three action teams previously mentioned used data from the Opportunity Youth Working Group which met in 2016, and will continue to use data to understand how we can improve outcomes for youth.

Best way to stay updated with your work?
Our Thrive Chicago website is the best way to find more information about us. We are also very active on social media — Twitter and Facebook — where we post news and updates on many of the projects we work on. We’re always interested in learning from others, so please reach out to us if you have a great resource Chicago could learn from. Resources and any questions can be directed to

Interested in learning more? Check out:
Opportunity Youth Summit Program
StriveTogether Blog Post featuring Thrive Chicago
Chicago Tribune article on 10,000 Reconnected Campaign
Chicago Tonight WTTW Story
City of Chicago Press Release
Chicago 100K Initiative
Chicago 100K Video
Auburn Gresham Reconnection Hub Video

If you’re a part of the Opportunity Nation Coalition and you’d like to be a part of our Coalition Spotlight, please contact Juanita Tolliver.

Opportunity Nation Opportunity Nation is a bipartisan, national campaign comprised of more than 350 cross-sector organizations working together to expand economic mobility and close the opportunity gap in America. Opportunity Nation envisions the United States as a nation where everyone – regardless of where they were born – has equal access to opportunity, economic mobility, and success at all stages of life.

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