Year in Review
2014 – 15


This was a transformational year for The Chicago Council on Global Affairs. The inaugural Chicago Forum on Global Cities, one of the most ambitious and visionary endeavors in the Council’s history, was highly successful in convening key voices from around the world to advance critical dialogue on the growing stature and influence of global cities. We also celebrated the 40th anniversary of our flagship Chicago Council Survey of American public opinion on US foreign policy, issued a report urging the US government to address the scourge of global malnutrition, hosted the first major foreign policy address among the current field of presidential candidates, published a report that helped transform the political and policy debate on the conflict raging between Russia and Ukraine, and expanded our communication capabilities to extend the reach of, and engagement with, our work. Finally, we received the largest gift in Council history – $10 million from the Crown family – in honor of Lester Crown and his outstanding leadership as Chicago Council chairman for more than a decade.

Chicago Forum on Global Cities

“This is the century of cities, and among the most important of these are global cities.”

- Ivo H. Daalder, May 27, 2015

More than 600 delegates and 70 speakers representing 25 countries converged in Chicago in May for the inaugural Chicago Forum on Global Cities, hosted by The Chicago Council in partnership with the Financial Times. Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt, UN Development Program Administrator Helen Clark, Rijksmuseum Director Wim Pijbes, Pritzker Prize-winning architect Wang Shu, former head of Interpol and Singapore police commissioner Khoo Boon Hui, CEO of MasterCard Ajay Banga, and former US Treasury Secretaries Henry Paulson and Robert Rubin were among the array of global thought leaders who convened to discuss the influential role global cities play in shaping political, social, and economic policies, and in addressing critical world challenges.

The three-day forum, held May 27 to 29, facilitated a new international dialogue around the major pillars of urban life – business, education, arts and culture, and civics. Sessions addressed global cities driving the global economy, the scarcity of resources, terrorism and 21st century security threats, and how a global city’s arts and culture offerings contribute to international diplomacy, among other topics. To coincide with the forum, the Council published On Global Cities, by Richard C. Longworth, which traces the emergence of global cities through globalization and defines the essential elements required to make a city global in nature. On Global Cities also marked the first e-book published by the Council.

Chicago’s landmark and leading institutions helped immensely with laying the foundation for this inaugural event. Fifty-four collaborated as local knowledge partners, and 21 iconic and cultural institutions served as venues for sessions, tours, and experiences, including public opening and closing programs at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park and Navy Pier, plenaries at the world-renown Art Institute of Chicago as well as special evenings at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Steppenwolf Theatre. Two thousand Chicagoans attended the forum’s public sessions, and the audience nearly doubled with those watching from around the world via live stream.

We raised $5 million in sponsor support of the inaugural Chicago Forum on Global Cities from 10 Chicago-based global companies: AbbVie, Aon, The Boeing Company, Hyatt Hotels Foundation, Kirkland & Ellis LLP, Motorola Solutions, Northern Trust, UL, United Airlines, and Walgreens Boots Alliance. In January, we also received a $1.5 million, three-year grant from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation for our global cities work, and The Chicago Community Trust is funding our study to help develop a global engagement strategy for Chicago.

Global Insight and Influence

The Chicago Council continues to be a go-to place for world leaders and other international experts to offer their insights on vital global issues. In 2014-15, we hosted more than 200 public and leadership programs with a total attendance of more than 40,000, in person and online. In addition to our well-established Global Economy Series and Women and Global Development Forum, we covered a wide range of global issues including US relations with Russia, cyber threats, and China’s changing political and economic landscape.

We also convened thought leaders for studies and reports that influenced policy discussions on critical global issues of our time, including US public opinion on foreign policy, nutrition and food security, and the Ukraine crisis. And Chicago Council experts and fellows provided commentary on the global economy, trade, and immigration.

  • Public Opinion

    The year 2014 marked the 40th anniversary of the Chicago Council Survey of American public attitudes on US foreign policy. Few public opinion surveys on foreign policy have the historical data and perspective offered by the Council’s surveys. Over the decades, Americans have consistently supported US international engagement. In stark contrast to the ongoing dialogue suggesting the American public has become more isolationist, the Chicago Council Survey revealed that 6 in 10 Americans continue to say that the United States should play an active part in world affairs. For the first time in 10 years, we also surveyed foreign policy opinion leaders and compared the results with public views. Across party lines the public and opinion leaders largely agree on the general direction of American foreign policy, though there are large partisan disagreements among opinion leaders on several key issues, including Iran, the use of US troops abroad, and US participation in some international treaties. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation provided generous support for our 2014-15 public opinion survey work.

    Majorities in both parties share similar concerns about top threats, and they differ little in their preferred approaches toward China, Iran, Ukraine, and Syria. The sharpest differences lie in attitudes toward immigration, climate change, and Middle East policy.

    – Dina Smeltz and Craig Kafura in the Washington Post, October 6, 2014

  • Global Agriculture and Food

    This year The Chicago Council issued a report urging the US government to leverage the food system to reduce the reality and risks of global malnutrition. More than 430 attended our Global Food Security Symposium 2015 in April in Washington, DC, where the report was released. US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Purdue University President Mitchell E. Daniels, Jr., delivered keynote addresses. The report also was discussed at special events in London and Seoul, with additional report release events scheduled in Uganda and Delhi for fall 2015. In May, the Council released a report calling for increased US investment in agricultural research to meet projected global food demand. Other global agriculture studies focused on how US trade policy could advance food security in Africa and position American businesses to tap that burgeoning market, and the need for greater transparency in how agricultural development funds are being invested. These activities represented year two of our global agriculture work support by a three-year, $3 million dollar grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

    It is time to use the biggest tool at our disposal—the multitrillion-dollar global agriculture and food sector—to increase the quality, not just the quantity, of our food and give billions more people access to the nutrients they need to thrive.

    - Doug Bereuter and Dan Glickman, Huffington Post, April 16, 2015

  • Global Security

    The Chicago Council partnered with the Atlantic Council and Brookings Institution on a research report urging the United States and other NATO countries to provide arms to Ukraine so it can defend itself against Russian aggression. Released in advance of the Munich Security Conference in February, the report shifted the discussion on Ukraine. The idea of providing defensive weapons to Ukraine was hotly debated during the conference, where German Chancellor Angela Merkel was peppered by questions about her opposition to helping Ukraine defend itself. The issue also dominated the question and answer session at President Obama’s press conference with Chancellor Merkel. The report garnered more than 400 media mentions, including a New York Times front page story and masthead editorial. The report also prompted a range of commentary in the Washington Post, The New York Times, and Chicago Tribune, among others. Chicago Council President Ivo H. Daalder wrote on the topic for the Financial Times, appeared on BBC Newsnight, and spoke about it on NPR’s All Things Considered and Weekend Edition.

    Three think tanks totally transformed the political debate in Moscow, Europe, and Washington. If we think Europe can solve this problem without Washington, we're kidding ourselves.

    - Sir John Scarlet, former chief of Britain’s intelligence agency, MI6

  • Immigration

    We continued to expand our leading work on immigration this year. In September 2014, the Council released a report on immigration policy and innovative initiatives advanced by Midwest leaders. This was followed by an October survey brief on decreasing American public concern over immigration. A December 2014 Chicago Council report warned that a continuing stalemate on US immigration reform compromises global competitiveness and means lower food production, higher food costs, and economic and job losses in Midwest agriculture. In March, we released a report detailing how states in the Midwest are not uniformly prepared to implement immigration policies promoted by President Obama, potentially jeopardizing $650 million in additional tax revenues.

    Immigration is, at its core, a local phenomenon, playing out where people actually live and work — and as such, local initiatives will continue to play a critical role in long-term immigration policy, either working in concert with a future federal reform or continuing to fill the void caused by a prolonged congressional stalemate.

    - Juliana Kerr and Paul McDaniel in the Chicago Sun-Times, October 22, 2014

  • Global Economy

    This past year, Chicago Council Senior Fellow Philip I. Levy wrote extensively for Foreign Policy magazine and other media on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the fast-tracked US trade bill, and more. Levy and Richard C. Longworth authored a report on the impact of manufacturing and trade on Chicago’s economy and status as a global city. In December 2014, the Council hosted US Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, US Trade Representative Mike Froman, and Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang for a discussion on trade at the time of the Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade meeting in Chicago—only the second time it has been held outside of Washington, DC, or Beijing. Finally, more than 1,365 attendees joined us for this year's Global Economy Series, featuring Governor of the Reserve Bank of India Raghuram Rajan, the Financial Times' Martin Wolf, former Governor of the Bank of England Mervyn King, and economic historian Barry Eichengreen.

    – Philip I. Levy in Foreign Policy, May 8, 2015

The Next Generation

Recognizing that the next generation of Chicago’s leaders is increasingly global – in their interests and responsibilities – the Council has continued to expand its efforts to engage and educate them on global affairs through its Emerging Leaders and Young Professionals (YP) Programs.

  • In September, the Council welcomed 22 individuals as the seventh class of its Emerging Leaders Program. The group includes the best and the brightest new leaders in the city from, among others, Aon, Chicago Public Schools, Exelon, Mayer Brown, Mondelēz International, the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago, Heartland Alliance International, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. These rising global leaders spent the year examining key issues affecting the world and Chicago’s global future. In June, the Emerging Leaders class of 2015 released four research reports spotlighting vital issues of global importance, including: teaching Arabic in Chicago public schools, growing opportunities for investment in Africa, the rise of energy resources in the Mediterranean, and how to improve diversity on the boards of civic organizations throughout Chicago.

  • Offering a wide array of programs and networking opportunities, The Chicago Council YP group is a “must join” for globally minded young professionals. YP membership is up to almost 2,300, and YP events attracted more than 6,300 professionals in 2014-15. This year’s Next Generation Discussion series and YP Conversations fostered professional development and networking and allowed YP members to consider global topics and share personal experiences. Annual social gatherings – like the New Years Party and town hall conversation with Chicago Council President Ivo H. Daalder in January and the Global Affairs Pub Quiz in June – drew huge crowds.

Global Reach and Impact

Over the past year, our presence in the print, broadcast, and digital media has grown substantially. We have actively sought opportunities to build relationships with journalists and showcase our thought leadership and resident experts on topics such as American public opinion on US foreign policy, global cities, the global economy, and global agriculture. Media mentions of The Chicago Council have increased by 70 percent compared to last year – including Council references in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, BBC, CNBC, CNN, all three network nightly newscasts, The Daily Show, Financial Times, and NPR. Our Ukraine report, published in partnership with the Atlantic Council and Booking Institution, appeared on the front page and the editorial page of the New York Times. We are also exploring media partnerships to help extend the presence and reach of our programs, research, and experts.

Enhancing The Chicago Council’s communications efforts to help support the important work we do is a key priority. We expanded our communications team this year, adding strong new leadership and expertise in media relations, social media, digital marketing, and public relations. We hired our first ever vice president of communications to provide strategic leadership and direction to our communications.

Our digital platforms are foundational for extending The Chicago Council’s reach. This year, we launched a new, dynamic, and responsive Chicago Council website, and a site specifically for the Chicago Forum on Global Cities. We leveraged the new platform to live stream more than 50 programs, increasing our total audience by 18 percent, and produced original audio podcast content – most recently through a series of interviews conducted with global city leaders and experts in advance of the Chicago Forum. We’ve also increased our followers on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. On Twitter alone, we’ve increased our followers by more than 50 percent, generating more than 3.8 million impressions.

Looking Forward

This year promises to be as exciting and transformational for The Chicago Council on Global Affairs as 2014-15, and many of our activities and events are already generating interest.

  • We partnered with POLITICO to release the findings from our 2015 survey of American public opinion on US foreign policy on the same day as the second GOP debate.
  • Highlights of the 2015-16 program season include Ben Bernanke talking with Martin Wolf as part of our Global Economy Series; Anne-Marie Slaughter kicking off our Women and Global Development Forum; and presidential candidates from both parties speaking in the lead up to the 2016 elections.
  • Several new fellows – experts on global cities, energy, water, and key regions throughout the world – will join us, expanding our capacity to address vital global issues.
  • Our new Lester Crown Fellowship Program will offer promising young leaders across the nation a career‐defining experience through a year in residence at the Council.
  • We are examining the impact of immigration reform on US national security as well as the economic impact of immigrant entrepreneurs in high-growth industries.
  • We will unveil recommendations from our task force that is developing a foreign policy for the City of Chicago.
  • Our 2016 global agriculture report and symposium in the spring will focus on urbanization and food security.
  • And finally, we will build off the success of the inaugural Chicago Forum on Global Cities and partner again with the Financial Times to host this signature annual event on June 1-3, 2016.


Generous support from our members and donors make it possible for The Chicago Council to organize and host more than 200 public and leadership programs each year and to influence important global policy debates and issues through studies, public opinion surveys, conferences, and task forces. In 2014-15, individuals provided more than $7.5 million in total support, corporations more than $7.7 million, and foundations more than $2.3 million.

In June, more than 700 of Chicago’s civic, corporate, and philanthropic leaders joined us to honor outgoing Chicago Council Chairman Lester Crown at the Global Leadership Awards Dinner. The event raised a record-breaking $2.7 million to support the Council’s mission. At the dinner, we also announced our largest ever gift – $10 million from the Crown family to establish the new Lester Crown Fellowship Program.

None of the accomplishments and initiatives highlighted in this report would be possible without the efforts of our talented and dedicated staff and the active engagement, leadership, and generosity of our board of directors, which has been led by Lester Crown for the past 11 years. In June, the board unanimously elected Glenn Tilton the new chairman of The Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Under his leadership, we will continue to implement our bold vision for the Council’s future and further advance our ability to generate new ideas about and have an impact on the critical issues confronting the nation and the world.