Cultivate: Women of Color Leadership(Cultivate) is a joint effort of the Crossroads Fund, Chicago Foundation for Women (CFW), Woods Fund Chicago, the Chicago Community Trust, and Walder Foundation. Cultivate seeks to build a cadre of emerging women of color leaders engaged in social, economic, and racial justice movements and whose collective voice and power can be leveraged to realize a shared vision of the Chicago region’s future. By bringing together women who lead intersecting but separate justice efforts that may include gender and racial equity, labor rights, civil rights, LGBTQ rights and immigrant rights, among others. Cultivate aims to transform these movements from the inside, fortify relationships among participants, and foster collaborations across organizations to advance a shared vision towards equity and justice for all. Cultivate supports the personal and professional development needs of each participant.

Mission Statement

Cultivate nurtures and builds on the power and strength of women of color as they build just and equitable communities. Through collective leadership, women of color will transform the culture and practice of organizations, communities, philanthropy and society.

Vision Statement

Cultivate envisions a world where women of color are wielding their innate and collective leadership to free society from structural racism and all systems of oppression. Through this work, they will bring forth a world where women of color are fully accepted, celebrated, respected and valued.



The Chicago Foundation for Women, Crossroads Fund and the Woods Fund launched the Women of Color Capacity Building Project (it was a working name) to interrogate: what was unique about women of color organizers in a field the leaned more male and white then; what would happen if women of color organizers and those working on advocacy come together to explore their work through a gender, race, sexual identity, class lens; what would cross issue organizing led by women of color look like?  This was done to provide a space where women of color would come together for mutual learning and support in a city known for geographic isolation and single issue organizing. 


(A pilot year) – The first group of 13 women helped design and inform the leadership program, working on a wide array of development topics such as: self-care, need of women of color in leadership, specific leadership styles of women of color, and a roundtable discussion with funders.  This established the model for co-creation where both the participants and foundation staff informed all elements of the program.


The first official cohort was launched with 15 women participating, many from the pilot group. The Chicago Community Trust joins as the 4th funder for Cultivate.


The 2015 cohort had 17 participants.


The 2016 cohort saw 19 participants, the largest cohort by far.  Learning from this cohort was: smaller cohort size, participants with similar work experiences and the importance of tighter coordination to allow participants to engage fully in the program.


15 women participated in the 4th run of the program.


Cultivate partnered with Become: Center for Community Engagement and Social Change (Become) to survey past participants and evaluate the program thus far. Recommendations on improving the program included: having a more expansive definition of gender and ensuring that the program had structures to accommodate this; aligning coaching with program activities; incorporating self care more deeply and intentionally; formalizing the program.


Cultivate partners with Rockwood Leadership Institute based in California to provide a week long “Art of Leadership” training for 19 alums of the program that was hugely successful.


Cultivate does not launch a cohort, instead focuses on a year-long redesign process in partnership with ARISE Consulting, Inc., which was informed by data and feedback from the Become evaluation.


Cultivate hires its first staff, Alhelí Irizarry.


The latest Cultivate cohort launched, with 18 new participants and with the incorporated new ideas and design! Walder Foundation joins as a 5th funder for Cultivate.


The running cohort and alumni activities are all moved online as the coronavirus pandemic hit our world. The women had to adjust to this new way of being, while also dealing with all the social and racial turmoil that the US is facing. However, the spirit of Cultivate was able to be carried through online meetings, as we are learning to use this space in a way that allows, respite, rest and openness.

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Cultivate Woman are…

Woman of color

Emerging leaders in a nonprofit organization in greater Chicago, that include:

  • new executive directors
  • program directors
  • organizing directors
  • policy directors
  • lead organizers

Leaders who are funded by a Cultivate participating foundation

Leaders who have 2-6 years' experience in the non-profit sector

Review our Full Criteria

Foundation Partners

Be a part of our next cohort

The deadline to apply is coming up soon!

Application deadline:

Next application will open on September 2021

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