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December 19, 2017
At an early age, William W. Towns became aware of the dysfunctions in civic and urban services when he moved from the South Side to the North Side of Chicago. Questioning these stark contrasts, he became committed to understanding these civic and social disparities. It’s a complex issue Towns wants to solve as he earns a Ph.D. in Organization Development (OD) at Benedictine University.
A community activist, Towns has made it his life’s work to help institutions and nonprofits develop policies and initiatives that help serve the community. Towns is the executive director of Benefit Chicago, an investment fund aiming to invest in and support Chicago area social enterprises that are working to build wealth, create jobs and enhance job readiness.
Towns leads the day-to-day operations to help socially-motivated businesses and nonprofits access capital needed to create and grow. He also sets the strategic vision and works with investors, investees, community organizations and the media.
“I’ve always had a passion and a desire to work with organizations that are looking to have positive change or impact,” Towns said.
Towns’ biggest initiative is to raise $100 million in investment capital to provide flexible power and capital to organizations in the Chicago area who would not otherwise get capital.
“Benefit Chicago has been in existence for a little over a year. In a short period of time we have made significant investments in local businesses that has allowed expansion of operations and organizations,” Towns said. “We have also been fortunate to win the Collaboration Award at this year’s Chicago Innovation Awards. Being able to provide capital to organizations is exciting and what makes me most proud.”
Prior to that, Towns worked at the University of Chicago where he developed policies and strategies to fuel economic growth, better health outcomes and increased sustainability in South Side communities.
The dynamic and fast changing times in business organizations and environments are what motivated Towns to enroll in Benedictine’s Ph.D. in OD program.
“Benedictine provides an excellent avenue that’s both academically rigorous in a way that allows you to take the information you learn in the classroom and apply it to your organization immediately,” he said.
Towns’ dissertation deals with building collaboration between universities and the surrounding communities.
“In many of our cities, neighborhoods and towns, the universities must coexist with the places around them. They have a responsibility to the people around them, not just the students,” he said. “Government programs are cutting back and universities will be the anchor that will allow these communities to thrive and attract talent to these areas.”
Through his research, he’s seen that these relationships take time.
“It takes significant courage on both sides. The community’s feelings and genuineness in what they’re trying to do and respect from the universities themselves will be critical to not damage the relationship,” he said. “How do we start an appropriate dialogue where these differences will be appreciative and advantageous to a positive outcome?”
Building relationships with other professionals and experts through the Ph.D. in OD program has been valuable to his professional development.
“The experts within their particular disciplines have been extremely approachable and want to see the students be successful. They have been supportive and willing to push back on debates to get us to be critical thinkers and prime researchers in the fields we’re concentrating on,” he said.
“Even while he works on his research in the program, William continues to seek opportunities to improve his academic and professional skills to solve civic issues and help businesses and nonprofits grow,” said Therese Yaeger, Ph.D., a professor in Benedictine’s Master of Science in Management and Organizational Behavior and Ph.D. in OD programs.
Towns is balancing work and a management program at MIT while completing the Ph.D. in OD program by 2018.
“The Benedictine program is ideal for the working scholar,” he said. “The program, be it rigorous and very demanding, still allows time to get your work/life/school balance to a somewhat workable situation. It’s not easy, but for the working student seeking this level of rigor, this is an ideal balance.”
The Ph.D. in OD program is recognized as an international leader in providing education toward managing the human side of enterprise, which includes global interdependence, workforce diversity and the management of change – the hallmarks of excellent managers and leading-edge companies.
In addition to business, the OD program prepares individuals for high-level careers in human resources, health care consulting, research, higher education and public administration.
“The program sets you up for a future of continued research and challenging of the status quo in how businesses are run and how organizations are led,” Towns said.
“This ability to stand confidently in research-based critique is particularly important as we go through changes that impact and penetrate our lives.”