Michael Davidson named the next President and CEO of Openlands


A bearded man in a black shirt stands before a field. (Michael Davidson Openlands)

Openlands welcomes Davidson during milestone year


Contact: Huan Song, Director of Communications
hsong@openlands.org, 312-863-6153

CHICAGO (September 19, 2023) Openlands announces the appointment of Michael Davidson as its next President and Chief Executive Officer. Davidson will succeed Jerry Adelmann, who will retire this year. This appointment comes during the 60th anniversary of one of the nation’s oldest and most successful metropolitan conservation organizations.

JoAnn Seagren, Chair of the Openlands Board said, “Michael’s significant impact on underinvested communities and his passion for nature are just two reasons why we handed him the baton to lead the effort to address important environmental issues for the people of the Greater Chicagoland region.”

Davidson is an acclaimed leader with over 25 years of experience in mission-driven organizations, most recently as the Senior Director of Community Impact at The Chicago Community Trust. During his tenure at the Trust, he supported the transformation of the foundation from a traditional grant-making institution to a dynamically engaged civic and community leader with a focus on closing the region’s racial and ethnic wealth gap. Davidson led the 10-year effort to invest $100MM to improve built and natural environments in partnership with disinvested Black and Latinx communities. Under his leadership, the Trust’s Catalyzing Neighborhood Investment team awarded 215 strategic grants representing $21MM of impact since 2020. He was instrumental in the founding and success of bold initiatives such as Elevated Chicago, Community Desk Chicago, We Rise Together: For an Equitable and Just Recovery, Food:Land:Opportunity – Localizing the Chicago Foodshed, Illinois Agri-Food Alliance, and Proofing Station, where he presides as board chair on a new impact-first fund to capitalize local food system enterprises.

Davidson first worked with Openlands as part of the Campaign for Sensible Growth in the 2000s. Collaborating with the public, nonprofit, and private sectors, the coalition achieved pivotal legislative victories to curb urban sprawl in northeastern Illinois –notably, the establishment of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning. Later, Davidson would create and lead the Trust’s sustainable development funding priority, which helped launch the Next Century Conservation Plan, the first master plan of the Forest Preserves of Cook County, and Our Great Rivers, the first comprehensive vision for the entirety of Chicago’s river system. Davidson and his team invested over $5MM in projects and initiatives to make the system healthier and more accessible in underinvested Chicago neighborhoods.

“I could not be more honored to be chosen as the next President and CEO of Openlands. The costs of climate change and ecosystem degradation are here, and our most vulnerable people and places are paying the highest price first,” said Davidson. “But the solutions are also here, and I am eager to partner with expert staff, our communities, and leading innovators on conservation practices both tried and true and cutting edge as our region and world look more and more to the sustained and steady leadership Openlands is known for.”

The search committee appointed by the Openlands Board led a rigorous, national search in partnership with Russell Reynolds Associates, the global executive search and leadership consulting firm.

“We are thrilled that Michael has accepted our offer to serve as the next President and CEO of Openlands. Michael’s proven leadership roles at the Trust and his experience as a deliberative, thoughtful and collaborative partner, working with public and private stakeholders, have allowed him to address the complex needs of the communities in our region,” said Carrie McNally, Chair of the Search and Transition committee of the Openlands’ Board. “Michael will be well prepared to build upon the organization’s strong legacy while recognizing that continued evolution is critical for impact.”

Davidson was the founder of the Prairie State Local Government Sustainability Network and is a founding member of the Sustainable Communities Division of the American Planning Association. He earned a graduate degree from DePaul University’s School of Public Service and has authored and produced over 30 articles and technical reports on contemporary planning issues.

Davidson will start in his new role as President and CEO of Openlands effective mid-November, 2023 and plans to attend the Openlands 2023 Annual Luncheon on October 17th honoring outgoing President and CEO Jerry Adelmann with the organization’s Conservation Leadership Award and celebrating Openlands’ 60th anniversary.


About Openlands 

Founded in 1963, Openlands protects the natural and open spaces of northeastern Illinois and the surrounding region to ensure cleaner air and water, protect natural habitats and wildlife, and help balance and enrich our lives. Openlands works across area to advance nature-based solutions to climate change, improve the health and well-being of communities, and create a more verdant region for all. 

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