Tovah McCord improves the city she loves through communication and collaboration.
Tovah McCord (CLA'19)

A long-time Chicagoan, Tovah McCord (CLA’19) loves her city. Still, through her work in public education, in the nonprofit sector, and now as the Foundation Director of the Chicago Blackhawks, she knows there are many issues within the city that must be addressed. 

“What inspires me is really my love for the city of Chicago,” she said. “I think it’s a beautiful city, but it has a lot of trouble as well.”

McCord was brought to the Chicago Blackhawks Foundation to lead its transition from being an organization focused on charitable giving to one that designs its own programming. She now works to develop programs for communities using sports as a tool for learning. She also oversees their strategy for grant giving. 

To aid her work in making the city better, McCord applied to the Civic Leadership Academy. The six months she spent with the program provided her with tools to make Chicago a better place – and she learned more about herself in the process, as well.

“I was really looking for an opportunity to gain new skills, to grow as a leader, and skills around communication were especially important to me,” she said. “I also felt like the University of Chicago would attract really smart people, and I was looking forward to expanding my network.”

Through CLA, she met representatives from other types of organizations around the city, which helped her expand her network and understand how different agencies operate. She said she was not too familiar with their areas of expertise beforehand.

Getting to know her fellow cohort members helped McCord to see who was behind the work at these institutions and how they bring a similar mindset to the work they do. Even though their work may be in a different sector and look different from her work at the Blackhawks Foundation, they have similar intentions.

Those who came from government agencies in particular provided McCord with new insight. She was able to better understand how to partner with them and how they function. 

“There’s a role for everyone to play in this, and no one sector can do it alone,” she said. “If you understand how you can be a good partner, it’s just so much easier to get things done.”

When the cohort traveled to London for the Global Practicum, they became even closer and learned more about tackling social issues on a global scale. The speakers came from a variety of disciplines. While some worked with a singular focus, serving one very specific population, others worked on a larger scale to make an impact across generations. 

While learning about the work done by those in the UK, they learned more about each other as well. They spent their days hearing from speakers, then sat down at dinner to share what they learned. 

Traveling with people helps you get to know them better, McCord said. They were separated from distractions and away from their day-to-day environments, allowing them to focus more on what they were learning. 

Stepping away from the day-to-day is one of the most important strategies of the Civic Leadership Academy, said Sadia Sindhu, Executive Director of the Center for Effective Government, which houses CLA.

“CLA intentionally creates space and time for fellows to reflect on the big picture of the work they are doing as individuals and collectively as organizations across the city,” Sindhu said.

In addition to the experience she gained in London and the friendships she formed with the other members of the CLA program, McCord said her greatest curricular takeaway was communication. The professors provided multiple opportunities for them to work on how to speak – both with their head and their heart.

“There’s certainly a place for facts and figures, especially when you’re making the case to get more resources,” McCord said. “But at the end of the day, what’s in your heart is really going to move people more.” 

She said before CLA, she would hide her passion behind data in her communication. Since the program, she has worked on being more authentic about who she is – and has noticed projects progressing faster.

One of the greatest benefits of the program for McCord was the confidence it gave her. She said she now has a chance to put her ideas into the world and fight for them. 

“I think that the vision I have for the work that I want to do in the city has much more opportunity to be successful because I’m bringing my full self and the confidence that I’ve gained in the program,” McCord said. 

CLA helped her gain a clearer picture of all the people who have a similar motivation in their work: to help the city of Chicago.

“I’m inspired by the people that I get to partner with who are doing their best to make it a better place for all of Chicago,” she said. “I’m driven by a desire to make our city and our society more equitable for all people.”