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P.D. Soros Fellowship for New Americans

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Samir Mayekar: Chicago's Deputy Mayor of Neighborhood and Economic Development

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For Samir Mayekar, the 2016 national election was a “call to action.” At the time, he was CEO of the six-year-old lithium-ion battery company, NanoGraf Corporation, which he founded and lovingly referred to as his “baby.” After the election, despite holding the roles of president of the Northwestern Alumni Association and trustee of Northwestern University, Samir poured his personal time into supporting candidates that he believed in at the local and federal levels.

In 2018, Samir met Lori Lightfoot who was considering a run for mayor of Chicago. “She just blew me away,” he said. One year later, in the spring of 2019 after a run-off election, Lightfoot was Chicago’s new mayor. Samir took part in the transition team and, at the age of 35, was asked to join the Lightfoot administration as deputy mayor of economic and neighborhood development.  

“Getting back into public service was an easy decision,” Samir, a child of Indian immigrants, said as he reflected on his decision to transition from his role as CEO of his company.

Samir was no stranger to politics. Before pursuing an MBA at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management as a 2011 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow and founding his company, Samir had worked for President Barack Obama’s campaign and in the White House as the director of national security personnel.

In his new role working for the City of Chicago, Samir is one of four deputy mayors and oversees a portfolio of Chicago departments engaged in economic and neighborhood development. He’s responsible for maintaining Chicago’s downtown growth, while also working with communities across the city, with a focus on those that are struggling economically.

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    Samir's last day of work in the Obama administration.

“The mayor has called for a Marshall Plan for the south and west side neighborhoods. They’ve had decades of disinvestment, they are losing population, and there was a message historically from the government that they didn’t matter. We want to show them that they matter and bring jobs and growth to those neighborhoods,” Samir explained.

To do this, Samir’s team is partnering with the philanthropic, university, and private sectors to help the city implement strategies from urban revitalization case studies in cities like St. Paul, Philadelphia, and Detroit. Having traveled around the world as CEO of NanoGraf, Samir is also looking to international cities to understand how neighborhoods are changing across the globe.

Samir is uniquely positioned to liaison with the business community because of his own experience founding and successfully scaling a business in Chicago. After receiving his MBA, Samir productized technology developed in the university setting, built his company NanoGraf around it, created jobs, and cultivated manufacturing in Chicago and Tokyo, Japan. “I understand the public sector, but I also understand what it means to run payroll,” he noted of his role.

Samir’s days are long. 16 or 17 hours to be exact. But his passion for the city is clear. Every week, he holds office hours in different parts of the city so that he can talk directly with residents and business owners.

“You meet remarkable people,” Samir said. “I was in Englewood where they’ve directly experienced disinvestment and I was visiting a few entrepreneurs, and we were talking about how city hall could help them and support them more. I met David McDonald, who sets up a chair at 63rd and Halsted St. and gives free haircuts to young people. You see these stories of resilience and of people who do beautiful things and believe in their communities—we need to invest in them by providing them with more resources to make the mayor’s vision for Chicago a reality.” ∎