Megan Nakano is a community engagement consultant with more than 20 years of experience developing strategic partnerships among the public, private and nonprofit sectors. After earning a B.A. in political science from Northwestern University, she served as director of the Asian American Small Business Development Center providing pro bono consulting services to minority entrepreneurs. After some work in community banking, she returned to nonprofit work as director of marketing for the Chicago Minority Supplier Development Council, counseling Fortune 500 corporate members to help grow and promote their supplier diversity programs through personal introductions to certified Minority Business Enterprises, customized matchmaking events and targeted communications. She is the treasurer and a past president of the Chicago Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League, the oldest and largest Asian-American civil rights organization in the United States. She is also on the board of Heiwa Terrace, a 200-unit facility providing affordable housing and culturally competent services for seniors and disabled persons, and is a board member and past president of the Asian American Coalition of Chicago. Most recently, she co-founded the newly established Asian American Chamber of Commerce of Illinois and serves as its executive director.

What motivated your decision to work professionally in small business development and community partnerships?
Both of my parents were interned during WWII. My father’s family was evacuated from Alameda, California in 1942 and sent to the Gila River War Relocation Center in Arizona when he was two years old. My mother was born in 1943 at the East Lillooet Internment Site in British Columbia, Canada. After the war, Japanese Americans and Japanese Canadians faced brutal discrimination and were forced to rebuild their lives among people who viewed them as the enemy. Those who looked Japanese were refused housing, loans, even burial plots, so they were forced to rely on each other for support and survival.

At first, out of necessity, and later, out of loyalty, my parents always patronized Japanese-American-owned businesses and volunteered with organizations serving the Japanese-American community. The injustice of the Japanese-American experience instilled an appreciation for the fragility of civil liberties in times of crisis and the importance of protecting them in periods of war and peace.
The primacy of the community and the value of cooperation over competition were reinforced at Parker and also through my study of Buddhism, which emphasizes the concept of interdependence—whereby nothing happens in a vacuum and all of one’s actions, big or small, have a rippling effect throughout the universe for years to come.

I remember starting off each year at Parker with the Principal reading from Corinthians: “Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body… .” I also often think of the quote from Col. Parker over the stage in the Auditorium that reads, “A school should be a model home, a complete community, an embryonic democracy,” and that one senior class prank was rearranging the letters to say something about a “yummy condom.” (If anyone remembers what it said, please contact me!) 

Are there any partnerships you’ve been instrumental in creating that you’re particularly proud of?
I am excited to be launching the Asian American Chamber of Commerce of Illinois (AACCIL), which comes at a critical time for Asian-American business owners but feels like the natural outgrowth of decades of organizing and relationship-building.

The AACCIL will increase access to capital, resources and contract opportunities for Asian-American and other minority-owned businesses through advocacy, educational development and public-private partnerships. It will serve as a resource to Asian-owned firms and those seeking to do businesses with them. By encouraging communication, solidarity and civic participation amongst Asian-American entrepreneurs, we strive to elevate the voices of our underrepresented communities. Our programming will identify and address the diverse concerns of Asian-American business owners across Illinois and facilitate systemic solutions.

Although you have worked in the corporate world, you’ve also been an active volunteer leader at several nonprofits. How did those opportunities come about?
Most opportunities throughout my career have come from the relationships I’ve built in the community starting from a very early age. Growing up, my mother stressed our indebtedness to the community and encouraged me to volunteer at fundraising events and participate in youth programming—which I did, reluctantly at first, but usually came to appreciate by the end.

As a teen, I participated in retreats, essay and speech contests, internships and scholarship programs, which expanded my network, acclimated me to the sponsoring organizations and put me on their radars so that when I came of age, and they were seeking fresh perspectives, they thought to invite me onto their boards.

Recognizing the power of this type of programming, it has become a goal of mine to increase access to opportunities for those who have been historically excluded from them in this country.

What is especially satisfying about those activities?
Serving on the boards of nonprofit organizations has afforded me invaluable leadership experience. In larger corporate organizations, it’s possible to get siloed and told to “stay in your lane.” But in a smaller organization, you find yourself wearing many hats and having a wider range of responsibilities. Board work taught me how to negotiate, build consensus and balance the needs of different constituencies.

My mother had a stroke in 2019, and I left my position at the Council to care for her along with my brother, Matt Nakano (class of ’03). It has been a difficult adjustment for all of us, but it has certainly increased my awareness of challenges faced by people living with disabilities and their caregivers. I’m hopeful the lessons from working in the COVID era will translate into lasting flexibility and accommodations for the individualized needs of all employees, including parents, caregivers and those with disabilities.

What has occupied you since your most recent full-time position with the Chicago Minority Supplier Development Council?
During this time, I have been working on developing the AACCIL and launching my community engagement consultancy helping corporations and government agencies recruit and adapt to working with diverse employees, suppliers and community partners. Through strategic partnerships and collaborative programming aimed at inclusivity, businesses can attract diverse talent, broaden their customer base and develop more innovative products and services.

Were there individuals or activities during your time at Parker that influenced your decisions since graduating ?
Parker teaches you to think critically, challenge assumptions and value cooperation over competition. The school always emphasized responsible citizenship and one’s duty to give back through community service. I am influenced by these ideals every day. Also, I think Parker kids are very good at talking about their feelings and examining the root causes of their actions, which in turn makes them better listeners and communicators and generally more empathetic.

What are some  of your favorite Parker memories?
My favorite memories of Parker are definitely of the relationships I formed with the students, teachers and staff, many of which I maintain today. The best class I’ve ever taken at Parker, or anywhere else, was Psychoanalysis of History taught by Bernard Markwell, Ph.D. We studied one book, Life Against Death, a Freudian critique
of civilization and the human condition by Norman O. Brown. Markwell made some really outlandish concepts accessible and entertaining to a bunch of second-semester seniors who may have otherwise completely checked out.

What have you enjoyed about staying involved with the Alumni Association?
Helping to plan class reunions throughout the years has been a great excuse to keep in touch with my classmates and stay connected to the school. I’m also excited to serve on the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee, which I hope will find ways to improve the Parker experience for students of all backgrounds, identities and abilities.

What else do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I love catching up with friends any chance I get. If anyone is interested in connecting, you can reach me through my website at or email me at

Anything else you’d like to share?
My brother, Matt ’03, is working at Urban Kayaks on the Riverwalk and Monroe Harbor, which is owned by fellow Parker alumni Aaron Gershenzon ’04, Asher Gershenzon ’06 and James Morro ’04. They recruited Matt last year to help open and operate TacoRio, their soon-to-be sister business right next door. Due to 2020, they had to push back the opening of the margarita and taco bar, but construction is set to begin in September. Opening date TBD.
Francis W. Parker School educates students to think and act with empathy, courage and clarity as responsible citizens and leaders in a diverse democratic society and global community.