President and CEO, North Lawndale Employment Network and CEO of Sweet Beginnings, LLC
Brenda Palms, President and Chief Executive Officer of the North Lawndale Employment Network, an urban workforce development agency, and founding social entrepreneur and CEO of Sweet Beginnings, LLC, a social enterprise using urban beekeeping to create jobs for those with significant barriers to employment, has served as President and CEO of NLEN since its founding in 1999. She launched NLEN’s wholly owned subsidiary social enterprise, Sweet Beginnings, in 2004 to ensure its hardest to employ clients could get jobs and gain a history of employment. Under Brenda’s leadership, NLEN has grown from two to 61 employees and generates an annual budget in excess of $5.5 million. Today, NLEN serves nearly 2,000 people per year. Sweet Beginnings has expanded from a cottage industry to distribution at more than 43 Mariano stores, both O’Hare and Midway airports, and has been awarded one of the first Benefit Chicago loans for social impact businesses.
NLEN has received numerous awards including one of the first MacArthur Foundation Awards for Creative and Effective Institutions (2006) and the prestigious Bank of America Neighborhood Builders Award (2015) and the 2018 Citi Foundation Community Progress Makers and the Google Impact Challenge award (2019), a Chicago Prize Finalist (2020); Chicago Jobs Council Field Builder Award (2020), and most recently, Brenda was recognized among Crain's 2021 Notable Black Leaders and Executives (2021).
Brenda has raised the national profile of NLEN, Sweet Beginnings, and the plight of people with barriers to employment through extensive media coverage including CNN, the NBC Today Show, CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley, a TEDWomen Documentary, and Lifetime. Brenda has published in the Wall Street Journal and appeared on ABC7 Windy City Live as a 4-Star Chicagoan. In recognition of her innovation and commitment to helping those in need, Congressman Danny Davis awarded Brenda the Cardiss Collins Trailblazer Award (2013).
Brenda is a graduate of Harvard’s Strategic Perspectives in Non-Profit Management program and the Chicago Urban League’s nextOne entrepreneurship program, which included classes at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. She holds a Master of Science in Nonprofit Management from the Spertus Institute in Chicago.