Business for a Better World: YWCA of Metropolitan Chicago

  • Photo courtesy of YWCA of Metropolitan ChicagoInaugural graduates of the Breedlove Accelerator pose with Chief Economic Inclusion Officer and General Counsel Robert Johnson

    Photo courtesy of YWCA of Metropolitan ChicagoInaugural graduates of the Breedlove Accelerator pose with Chief Economic Inclusion Officer and General Counsel Robert Johnson

  • Robert Johnson

    Robert Johnson

Updated 8/25/2022 12:05 PM

Answers from Robert Johnson, Chief Economic Inclusion Officer, General Counsel, YWCA Metropolitan Chicago.

YWCA of Metropolitan Chicago


Industry: Philanthropy

Annual revenue: $44 million

Number of employees: 298

Q: Describe your company / organization.

A: The YWCA Metropolitan Chicago's Economic Empowerment Institute is an integrated set of programs designed to close the racial wealth gap in Chicago and suburban communities by incubating new businesses, creating jobs, training people for jobs with a livable wage through our workforce development programs and offering a comprehensive suite of housing services. These interconnected programs available in the metro area invest in communities so families can work and shop in the neighborhoods where they live, play and pray.

Q: Do you plan to hire any additional staff or make any significant investments in your company / organization in the next year?

A: We will strengthen our housing program, which is a newer area of services for us. We'll also provide more resources related to financial education.

Q: What will your main challenges be in the next year?

A: The main challenges we anticipate in the coming year are helping those we serve deal with financial trauma, as an overlay to the physical trauma of the pandemic. And now a possible recession, inflation, tightening job market, increasing interest rates, increased commodity prices, tightening of the credit market will disproportionately impact women and of color. The people we serve will have less access to capital, which will impact folks who want to buy a home, start a business or send kids to college.

Q: What's the hottest trend in your industry?

A: In the workforce arena, the rise of micro credentialing and certification programs. Employers are seeing the benefit of foregoing requirements for four-year college degrees and instead training on job-specific skills. Folks will continue leaving the workforce to become entrepreneurs, choosing to better themselves, particularly black women -- the fastest growing group among entrepreneurs. Companies are recognizing this trend: both JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs now have initiatives focused on black women entrepreneurs, recognizing their value in marketplace, by providing funding, access to capital and support services.

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Q: Is your company minority-owned or minority-focussed? Woman-owned or focused? If so, what are the challenges you face?

A: The Economic Empowerment Institute invests in communities so families can work and shop in the neighborhoods where they live, play and pray. We're promoting franchising as a way to close the racial wealth gap. Our Thrive 2025 goals exist to counter the social determinants of wealth and create synergies at the intersection of entrepreneurship, workforce development and housing.  

Q: What does your organization do regarding DE&I (diversity, equity & inclusion)?

A: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion are core to our organization's mission. We have woven facilitated introspection into our engagement with all stakeholders. Importantly, we introduced our Inclusion Chicago practice to help businesses, nonprofits and government agencies improve Diversity Equity and Inclusion in their organizations, recognizing that in order to create real change, we must evolve the mindset of those outside our own organization.

Q: Does your company donate time or money to any philanthropic causes?

A: If so, what causes? YWCA Metropolitan Chicago is the recipient of philanthropy and through donations. We provide solutions to problems stemming from systemic racism and inequities built into the everyday lives of communities of color throughout suburban and the metropolitan Chicago area. The YWCA of has programs that address the problems that have long held back women and communities of color.

Q: Please describe what your company / organization does to make your community better?

A: Regardless of race or economic status, the YWCA provides individuals and families with the support and tools they need to heal from trauma, obtain skills and credentials, access resources and opportunities, and build stronger communities.


Q: What do you do to make your business / organization a good place to work for your employees?

A: We utilize a human-centered approach that is designed to unleash the full potential of our team by investing in their growth and well-being and by allowing folks to bring their full selves to work.

Q: Do you have a company mantra?

A: From surviving to thriving to catalyzing.

Q: What is one interesting fact about your company / organization that most people may not know?

A: Many people don't know that we provide housing counseling as well as a full suite of financial education and tools to help people achieve their financial goals. We provide access to a banking tool to empower the unbanked and underbanked, help them build credit, provide credit counseling to help achieve homeownership, rental assistance, mortgage assistance, foreclosure counseling and more. Our partners Best Money Moves offer a plethora of services to individuals and businesses: employee benefits, retirement planning, assistance renegotiating student loan payments and short-term loans.

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