GNLI was established in 1994 by the Gwinnett Coalition for Health and Human Services from a Justice Department program grant, which enabled local communities to establish COPS programs. As a result of a needs assessment and action planning process, the Coalition identified a demand for more grassroots community leadership and citizen involvement in community action. Using best practices of models of leadership development programs, the current program was modeled after the DeKalb Neighborhood Leadership Institute.
The first GNLI leadership class graduated in May 1995. To date, there are over 450 alumni who continue their work for community improvement as volunteers. Their efforts contribute to nonprofit and for profit organizations, including mental health boards, crime prevention, parks and recreation, church boards and programs, environmental efforts, child protection and family service agencies.