In our ongoing effort to build an inclusive and equitable future, we find it inspiring to examine successful initiatives conducted by like-minded organizations. One such organization is Chicago United, a leading advocacy group focused on promoting multiracial leadership in business to advance parity and economic opportunity. Through their proactive approach, Chicago United has managed to build a regional ecosystem that emphasizes and advances inclusive procurement. This case study explores their journey, strategies, and successes, with the hope of providing valuable insights for those who share their vision to enhance supplier diversity.

Chicago United: An Introduction

Chicago United is a forward-thinking organization that has been fostering racial diversity in corporate leadership for over 50 years. They believe that inclusive business practices and diverse leadership drive competitive excellence and create stronger ties with the community. This commitment is reflected in their various programs that focus on inclusive leadership, business diversity, and economic opportunity.

Building a Regional Ecosystem for Inclusive Procurement

Chicago United has successfully built a regional ecosystem for inclusive procurement through a multi-faceted approach that is centered on engagement, education, and advocacy in their community.

  1. Fostering Engagement: Understanding the importance of bringing diverse stakeholders to the table, Chicago United has created various platforms and events to encourage engagement. Their annual Bridge Awards Dinner, for example, provides an opportunity for corporations and minority business enterprises (MBEs) to network and form connections, thereby facilitating inclusive procurement relationships.
  2. Promoting Education: Chicago United recognizes the need for businesses to understand the value and benefits of inclusive procurement. They provide resources, research, and education that highlight the economic advantages of supplier diversity and explain how businesses can integrate inclusive procurement practices into their operations.
  3. Advocating for Policy: Chicago United also actively lobbies for policies that support inclusive procurement. They engage with policymakers, corporate leaders, and other advocacy organizations, pushing for rules and regulations that encourage diversity in procurement and provide equal opportunities for MBEs.

Regional Inclusive Procurement in Action

Chicago United’s commitment to building an ecosystem for inclusive procurement has resulted in several notable successes. Their Business Leaders of Color (BLC) program has highlighted hundreds of individuals who have made significant contributions to their industries and communities. Many members of the BLC network have been appointed to corporate boards, expanding the influence of diverse leadership in their region.

Chicago United’s Five Forward Initiative, designed to strengthen the local economy and enhance job creation, encourages corporations to commit to doing business with five local MBEs over five years. This innovative program has resulted in partnerships that not only drive economic growth but also create more diverse and inclusive regional supply chains.

Engaging Community Stakeholders

Understanding that inclusive procurement is a collective effort, Chicago United also worked to engage various community stakeholders in their mission. They partnered with local government agencies, community organizations, and educational institutions to build broader support for their work. They also involved local communities in their initiatives, thereby fostering a sense of ownership and commitment among these communities towards inclusive procurement.

Promoting Success Stories

To inspire further action and demonstrate the benefits of inclusive procurement, Chicago United made it a point to highlight success stories from their region. They celebrated local minority-owned businesses that had achieved significant growth and had positively impacted their communities. They also recognized corporations that were leading the way in inclusive procurement practices. These stories served as powerful testimonials to the value of their work and inspired others in the region to follow suit. When asked on ABC News about the message Chicago United was seeking to send with their annual awards gala, President and CEO Tiffany Hamel Johnson replied, “We believe that coalitions and the representation of everyone at the table – there’s power in that. No one left behind. There’s enough for all of us.”

Impact and Future Prospects

Chicago United’s efforts have yielded considerable results, creating a regional ecosystem that promotes and advances inclusive procurement. They have successfully fostered an environment where diverse suppliers thrive, corporations realize the benefits of diverse procurement, and the local economy benefits from increased job creation and investment. As a result of their continual efforts, Chicago United member companies in the Top 50 lead in overall minority representation in both the C-Suite and the Executive levels (26% vs. 18% and 23% vs. 18% respectively).

Lessons for Today and Beyond

Chicago United’s story offers several key insights for others committed to promoting diversity and inclusivity:

  • The importance of fostering engagement between diverse suppliers and corporations.
  • The need for education on the benefits of inclusive procurement.
  • The impact of policy advocacy in creating an enabling environment.
  • The potential of innovative programs and initiatives to drive inclusive procurement.

Chicago United has set a remarkable precedent for how to build a regional ecosystem that advances inclusive procurement. Their comprehensive approach provides a roadmap that other communities and organizations can emulate, and their work in building a regional ecosystem for inclusive procurement is a testament to the power of intentional, concerted action towards diversity and inclusivity. 

Key Takeaways:

  • Chicago United’s Commitment: Chicago United has been instrumental in creating a regional ecosystem for inclusive procurement. Their commitment to supporting minority-owned businesses and fostering an inclusive business environment has been a cornerstone of their success.
  • Local Supplier Support: By focusing on capacity-building initiatives for local suppliers, Chicago United has played a key role in equipping these businesses to meet corporate procurement needs and compete in the marketplace.
  • Building Collaborative Networks: Through networking events and forums, Chicago United has facilitated valuable connections between regional minority-owned businesses and larger corporations, fostering meaningful partnerships and strengthening the local economy.
  • Policy Influence: Chicago United’s advocacy for inclusive procurement policies has played a significant role in shaping the business landscape in Chicago, creating a more level playing field for diverse suppliers.
  • Engaging Community Stakeholders: Their partnerships with various community stakeholders, including local government agencies, community organizations, and educational institutions, have helped build broader support for inclusive procurement.
  • Celebrating Successes: By highlighting and celebrating the success stories of local businesses and corporations that have embraced inclusive procurement, Chicago United has inspired further action and demonstrated the tangible benefits of such practices.