Benefit Chicago Executive Director William Towns looks at the South and West sides of the city of Chicago and easily sees the possibilities.
“We’re seeing the change up North and downturn and think we’re in a position to take advantage as businesses continue looking to expand,” he told Illinois Business Daily. “You can only go south and west so far and we want to make sure these communities are in position.”
With Towns one of those at the controls, Benefit Chicago recently announced a $5 million investment in Self-Help Ventures Fund aimed at supporting entrepreneurs, small businesses and nonprofit service providers across the city, especially on the South and West sides. Self-Help Ventures Fund bills itself as a Community Development Financial Institution dedicated to business and nonprofit lending to entrepreneurs of color and women.
“Through efforts like this we can continue to ensure businesses and communities prosper as neighborhoods continue to evolve over time,” Towns added. “We work with nonprofits in our city and we’re incredibly excited to provide this capital to move projects.”
Founded almost four decades ago, Town points to Self Help’s recent acquisitions and investment in such minority-led financial institutions as Seaway Bank on the South Side and Second Federal on the West Side as evidence of the impact it can have in some of the city’s urban communities
“We invested in Seaway and Second Federal and they’re still serving their communities,” he said. “We want to encourage that. Self-Help’s commitment to preserving the legacies of Second Federal and Seaway Bank is critical to the continued economic development in the neighborhoods they serve.”
And Benefit Chicago’s reach doesn’t end there. On the city’s South Side so-called pipeline loans from the $5 million investment have been earmarked for such projects as a nonprofit social services hub and a church community center.
“These kinds of opportunities through Benefit Chicago are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities,” Towns added.
Towns came to Benefit Chicago from the University of Chicago, where he was an assistant vice president and led the Office of Civic Engagement’s Anchor Strategy, which looked to understand how a university could support equitable economic change.
He also serves on such boards as the Chicago Community Land Trust Board, the Advisory Council on Agriculture, and Small Business and Labor for the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. Towns is also an adjunct lecturer of Social Impact at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.
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