Building a Stronger Democracy in Illinois

by Dr. Shawn Healy, Democracy Program

The McCormick Foundation’s Democracy Program aims to strengthen democracy in Illinois through informed and engaged individuals and communities, and responsive systems of government.

The program’s strategies center on youth civic engagement, journalism, and governmental reform, and take place at three levels of our democratic system in Illinois: individual, community, and systems. We recognize that individuals engage with one another to solve problems in their communities. They work within democratic systems to resolve them or to reform the systems themselves, ultimately to the benefit of both individuals and their communities.

Partners and grantees of the Foundation will recognize significant continuity in this strategy. Youth civic development is supported through a range of investments in civic learning opportunities and our own Democracy Schools Initiative. The commitment to journalism also remains robust across a continuum that encompasses youth media, healthy local news ecosystems, and investigative reporting. And we still seek to make public institutions more accessible, responsive, and representative.

Changes center on the integration of these previously distinct strategies in the democratic context of individuals, communities, and systems. Youth engagement, local journalism, and institutional reform provide opportunities to work at all three levels of our democracy to improve its functioning. We will also be more purposeful about the reinforcing nature of these strategies.

This strategic refresh represents a deeper commitment to racial equity and serving under-resourced communities in Chicagoland and throughout Illinois. We seek to improve overall democratic outcomes and close the civic empowerment gap by providing resources, creating opportunities, and advocating for policies to address disparities for people of color.

In addition to our efforts to grow the statewide Democracy Schools Network through recruitment of schools serving racially diverse student bodies, we continue to lead implementation of Illinois’ new high school civics course requirement and K-12 social studies standards. Beyond endorsing this work, we presented forty grants for Board approval totaling $5.8 million and representative of all three strategies and the individuals, communities, and systems streams within. This document articulates these strategies in greater detail and correlates them with approved grants.

It is an honor to partner with allies in the civic learning, journalism, and good government sectors to build a healthier democracy in Chicagoland and Illinois.

Review the overall Democracy Program strategy and the full list of grants.


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