August 2016

Participatory Budgeting: Decision-Making By Residents

People Voting

49th Ward Alderman Joe Moore addressed his guests on a warm Chicago evening this week from his backyard, using the steps leading to his Rogers Park home as a stage. It was a fitting setting for the topic of the night: advances in participatory budgeting. Fitting, because participatory budgeting brings together government and people in a way that empowers the public to decide how to strengthen the community. In this case, that community is a single Chicago neighborhood.   

The idea behind participatory budgeting (PB) is that public money decisions are funneled through a democratic process where the residents (in this case, in a neighborhood) decide how that money is spent. In the case of Moore, it is the Aldermen’s discretionary budget that is put to the people of the ward. The PB process, then, gives residents real decision-making power over budgets that impact them at the most local level. The end result, according to The Participatory Budgeting Project’s Josh Lerner, is a budget that is more equitable and targeted to community needs. I wrote about the practice itself more extensively here.  

Proponents of PB say that putting budgeting power in the hands of residents results in stronger communities and a deepening of democracy. Alderman Moore said that the most important thing an elected official can do is let people lead. And he sees PB as just that: “a transformation of democracy by putting resourcing decisions directly in the hands of the residents.” Further, it not only creates more civically active citizens, it builds new community leaders.  

PB has made some significant advancements recently in the wards that have adopted the process. For example, a high school in the Rogers Park neighborhood has given a portion of the school budget to students. They were provided with curricula and tools to usher the students through the PB process. This demonstrates that PB can be applied to all sorts of budgets, and to all types of citizens.

Further, the experimentation and recent advances in PB are not limited to Chicago. Lerner spoke of Seattle youth going through the process for a small portion of city funds. The students decided to focus on services for the homeless, demonstrating that the process has made them aware of their broader civic priorities.  

Lerner spoke of the notice that has been taken recently at the federal level. The White House has recognized the power of PB endorsed it as a best practice in civic engagement. In fact, The Participatory Budgeting Project is working with the White House to get federal funding to use the process to allocate HUD funds locally. Imagine this being the way that many agency dollars get allocated at the local level.

I came away from the evening convinced that now is a good time to capitalize on the momentum of PB. Why now? After all, let’s face it, this is an election year. And just as in election years prior, we are inundated with soundbites around citizens losing faith and trust in our nation’s democratic institutions, especially those deemed political.  

Part of the reason why I feel now is the right time is that, while PB has been around since 1989, technology has become woven into the fabric of cities and government to the point where it can spread the benefits of PB and accelerate the process. According to Hollie Russon Gilman in her book Democracy Reinvented, “citizen’s declining faith in political participation comes at a moment when remarkable advances in communications technologies offers increased agency…” She goes on to note that new technology “reduces barriers to entry for collective action.”  

Further, with society leveraging new ways to connect with each other at a dizzying rate, I believe that there is a genuine desire for people to connect with their government as well. There is no better way to establish that connection than showing citizens that their decisions can directly impact the neighborhoods where they live.  

Then there is the notion of trust.  It may take years for an individual citizen to see the impact of federal budget allocations, no less policy and administration changes.  When a citizen votes on a community-driven proposal, sees that proposal get funded, and then observes the results on his or her own street, library, community center, park, etc., trust is established.  

Bringing people to the table to identify problems and solve them together starts to create stronger relationships between elected officials and residents. But it can go beyond the citizen-government relationship. One alderman at the event said that it broke barriers in his segregated neighborhood, giving residents from different areas a reason and opportunity to work together. So there is the citizen-to-citizen trust factor to think about as well.  Strike while the iron is hot and you reap benefits at multiple levels.

Not every decision needs to be made in a directly democratic way. That, after all, why we are a republic. But if citizens get acclimated to process by which their ideas are heard, voted on, funded, and adopted, they will accept the power and responsibility required to make this effective. And if the process repeats over and over again, it simply becomes, to quote PBP, “part of the way government works”.  Power becomes vested where it belongs: with the people.

Civic Chat — Networking Our Neighborhoods: Ellen Ray, Center for Changing Lives

Shelley Stern Grach and Ellen Ray

The Center for Changing Lives (CCL) is an organization set on uplifting and impacting lives through financial, employment, and resource development coaching. Ellen Ray, Executive Director at CCL, has extended this commitment in her five years as CCL’s Program Director and beyond.

In Shelley Stern Grach’s latest Civic Chat — Networking Our Neighborhoods, she discusses the impact and advocacy behind CCL with Ellen Ray, focusing on how the Center for Changing Lives works with business and community members to improve people’s financial and technological literacy.

Watch Shelley’s chat with Ellen Ray live on Advisor.TV.

PowerBI Visualization: Community takes Commitment, Pt. 3

This is the third and concluding section to the three-part series of Detroit Crime statistics, causes and potential solutions. Microsoft’s Civic Tech Fellow Ivoire Morrell shares a powerful story of the history, economic impact and future narratives of Detroit’s most economically depressed communities. It is our hope that by shining a spotlight on the raw data, and illustrating the potential impact on Detroiters, that we can together build a stronger future.

In our last two discussions, we looked at Detroit Crime data and compared Detroit to other similarly sized cities. This discussion will focus on creative approaches to tangibly change Detroit’s impoverished neighborhoods, starting where the crime statistics are the most challenging.


My solution (presented on the visual above) to decrease the crime and improve the economy of Detroit is simple: cultivate urban communities. The data shown on this visual is from the motor city mapping dataset. Visual 4.1 (Top-Left) displays the number of unoccupied non-residential buildings in Detroit by neighborhood, with Harmony Village having the most unoccupied non-residential buildings at 253. Visual 4.2 (Top-Right) shows the number of unoccupied homes in Detroit by neighborhood, with Conner (2,325) having the most unoccupied residential properties. Visual 4.3 (Bottom-Left) displays employee statistics by zip code in Detroit. This chart presents the number of employees, the annual payroll, and the number of establishments per zip. Visual 4.4 (Bottom-Middle) displays a chart of all of the unoccupied nonresidential properties in the city of Detroit, which includes the address of the property, structure type, neighborhood, and the condition of the building. This property list is where the rebuilding process should begin. Unoccupied non-residential properties are potential building blocks that can be used to fuel economic, technological, social, and mental breakthroughs for impoverished communities in Detroit. With strategic planning – well positioned businesses, development centers, schools, medical centers, and other developmental institutions – internal liberation of citizens and external growth can be brought to fractured communities.

In order to effectively use the unoccupied non-residential properties in the city of Detroit as pillars to initiate change, two types of buildings/institutions should be strategically placed in impoverished, high crime communities: internal liberators and external generators.

By internal liberators, I am referring to infrastructure/institutions that promote the internal growth of citizens who have suffered far too long from living in the neglected urban communities in Detroit. Internal liberators function as support systems to help overcome internal struggles caused by the broken environments. These include, but are not limited to counseling centers, drug rehabilitation centers, skills development centers, and other facilities that target the personal development of citizens. In order to reconstruct an outer reality, change must come from within. Internal liberators also help with the professional development of citizens by equipping them with skills to achieve employment, particularly in fields of high demand.

By external generators, I am referring to businesses, organizations, and other institutions that promote healthy environments for citizens living in impoverished communities. External generators function as forges for long-term communal cohesion. Building hospitals, schools, libraries, community centers, and other facilities will bring positive socio-economic growth in these neighborhoods. New start-ups, tech companies, community owned grocery stores, construction businesses, and other forms of enterprise should be planted in these empty locations to give the citizens opportunities for employment in well paid, highly-demanded fields. Gardens, parks/playgrounds, greenhouses, artworks, and other outdoor establishments should be brought to each community as well. A visually stimulating landscape helps promote positive thinking and gives the community positive energy. Investing money to promote internal growth of citizens and the external growth of the environment they live in raises the morale of the citizens living in the communities. In turn, this promotes economic growth through new job opportunities, decreases crime, and ultimately makes Detroit a more desirable place to live.

The best example of internal liberators and external generators working together to bring positive change is in Downtown Detroit. The economic advancement and growth of Downtown Detroit over the past decade has simply been amazing. “Billions in investments” have been put into the development of downtown Detroit making it place where “where more people” want to live, “more people work and more people see potential for profits” (Gardner). Some of the most recent projects that have and will serve as external generators in Downtown Detroit include the “$1.2 billion plan by Olympia Development Co. to complete a new Red Wings arena” along with new office, housing, hotel and retail space”, “$950 million estimated for future riverfront development”, “$2.2 billion in property investment by Dan Gilbert’s Bedrock Real Estate”, “$279 million” toward the “renovation of Cobo Center” and “an estimated $2 billion in investment” towards the redevelopment of Midtown (Gardner). Downtown Detroit has also seen an increase in other external generators like restaurants (378, an increase of 77 from 2013), outdoor dining cafes (81, an increase of 32 from 2013), and retail stores (352, an increase of 41 from 2013) (Gardner). The increase of external generators has led to an estimated 58,000-person surge in the neighborhood’s workforce (Gardner).

Downtown Detroit is also home to internal generators like the Detroit Training Center; a cultivating organization that focuses on the enrichment of communities, families, and individuals through initiatives that improve “urban education, foster personal growth, and support training/employment initiatives for adults” (Detroit Training Center). The Downtown Detroit Partnership serves as an internal generator by “supporting advocates and developing programs and initiatives designed to create a clean, safe, and inviting Downtown Detroit” (Downtown Detroit Partnership). Companies like Grand Circus Detroit serve as internal generators by teaching individuals the art of computer programming through 10-week boot camps that equip them with the necessary skills to achieve employment in high demand technical fields. Businesses like Bizdom serve as internal generators by “helping entrepreneurs launch, fund and grow innovative, web and tech-based startups” which eventually lead the entrepreneurs to becoming external generators through being able to provide employment opportunities to applicable candidates (Opportunity Detroit).

The combination of the external generators and internal generators has made downtown Detroit a thriving foundation of economic and social development. More jobs are being created and more people are being educated, making downtown a flourishing facility of hope for Detroit. In context to the discussion, the development of Downtown Detroit has coincided with a sharp decline in crime in the area. Between 2009 and June 24, 2016, 5,494 crimes (excluding miscellaneous and sexual crimes) have been reported in downtown Detroit. When you compare this number to some of the other neighborhoods in Detroit, it presents a stark example of how the economic development of a neighborhood can impact the crime in the community.

When resources are poured into a community to help generate employment, personal growth, socio-economic growth, and environmental advancement, citizens are ingratiated in world full of internal and external growth. The ambiance of this environment creates not only a plethora of opportunities for citizens to escape the claws of poverty through making a better living, but also a sense of hope for a brighter future (along with better policing systems). The mental metamorphosis from psychological discouragement to psychological encouragement combined with the environmental alteration from community scarcity to community prosperity creates an environment were using crime as a method of survival begins to diminish. While the heart of the city (Downtown) should continue to receive funding to increase economic growth, initiatives with the same diligence must be nurtured in neighborhoods that need it the most. Imagine how much could be changed if a similar level of investment that occurred in Downtown went towards bringing more internal liberators and external generators to disadvantaged Detroit communities. Lives and communities would be greatly impacted.

To initiate the process, a meeting of minds – government officials, investors, community leaders, creators, and innovators – should take place to take stock of the statuses of Detroit’s many neighborhoods. Each community must have legitimate representation at this meeting in order to talk about the specific needs of each neighborhood. After a thorough deliberation and strategic planning – cost/expenses, and other viable information has been discussed – collaborators can begin to map out where to place different facilities based off the unoccupied non-residential property list. As more money is invested into urban development, more jobs will be created and communities will become safer to live in. This will result into more people being able to become homeowners and also cause more families to move back to Detroit, which will lower the amount of unoccupied residential properties and improve the city’s tax base.

To help provide additional funds for broadening the rebuilding process, government officials can start by cutting the costs of developing prison systems and reinvest those funds directly into communities. By placing more money into development of better communities, instead of prison systems, more opportunities are created for citizens to escape the grasp of poverty. Having establishments in place to help improve the personal, professional, and economic development could ultimately result in less crime. We do not need more prisons or prisoners; we need more scholars, educators, and self-sufficient citizens who can be integral parts of a rebuilding community. The system in impoverished communities seems, in my opinion, as if it is designed to create deprived citizens who are forced into a life of crime due to lack of opportunity for social and economic advancement. This system must be changed if Detroit wants to become the city that it is destined to be.

When the redevelopment of urban communities begins, the city should track the changes in crime based off economic growth. If the Rebuild Urban Detroit initiative leads to decrease in crime, it could serve a potential blueprint for how to decrease crime in other cities. The city should track the amount of internal liberators and external generators placed in each community, how much money is placed in each community, and gather information from different communities to learn more about how citizens feel regarding the changes being made. If a city like Detroit, which has been plagued with high crime, can decrease its crime through helping rebuild the economic and social infrastructures of urban communities, it would give other cities hope that if similar principles are applied, crime will decrease as well.

Placing an emphasis on the social and economic development of impoverished communities gives citizens a chance to escape the pitfalls of the environments in which they live. Facilitating development in fractured communities can promote economic growth and social/educational advancement, decrease the amount of crime, and give citizens hope for a positive change. When I think about the city of Detroit, I cannot help but think of the phrase: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” (Mark 12:31). The failure of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you is the root to many of the problems that exist in America today.

Step inside the shoes of a citizen struggling to make ends meet; attempt to feel the blues of a battered and bruised individual with nothing to lose, whose picture painted on the news is so often misconstrued. Imagine waking up every day not knowing if it’s your last because the environment you live in is plagued with violence and a lack of opportunities for positive growth.

Whether you accept it or not, the data clearly shows that this is the reality many Detroiters face every single day. Until people who are in a position to extend their hand to those who need it the most and treat those with the same love that they expect to be treated with, the world will remain in a state of disarray. While there are a plethora of problems that must be addressed in order to induce positive change, placing a focus on cultivating deteriorating urban communities will have a huge impact on raising the morale of all citizens and could contribute to a decrease in crime. When individuals who are greatly suffering start to receive the love and support from those who have the power and resources to change the city, it has the potential to ignite change that will greatly benefit the city of Detroit.

For more information on the Detroit crime statistics and other data shared in this report, visit this link.

Civic Chat — Networking Our Neighborhoods: Kevin Wei, Microsoft Chicago Civic Tech Fellow

Microsoft Chicago Civic Tech Fellow Kevin Wei

What’s life like at Microsoft? Kevin Wei, Microsoft Chicago Civic Tech Fellow, can tell you. The UChicago student has spent the past two semesters working with us on various projects. From Girls Who Code mentoring to weekly Chi Hack Nights, Kevin knows his way around the civic tech sector here in Chicago.

In Shelley Stern Grach’s latest Civic Chat: Networking Our Neighborhoods, she and Kevin take a journey through all the work Kevin has done with us here at Microsoft Chicago.

Watch Shelley’s chat with Kevin live on Advisor.TV.

Follow Kevin on Twitter at @Wei_Too_Good for more.

PowerBI Visualization: Community takes Commitment, Pt. 2

This is the second in a three-part series of Detroit Crime statistics, causes and potential solutions. Microsoft Chicago Civic Tech Fellow Ivoire Morrell shares a powerful story of the history, economic impact and future narratives of Detroit’s most economically depressed communities. It is our hope that by shining a spotlight on the raw data, and illustrating the potential impact on Detroiters, that we can together build a stronger future.

On the third visual of the Detroit Crime statistics report (displayed below), I conducted an analysis of the cities Detroit, Denver, Seattle, El Paso, and Washington DC; all are cities that have populations between 600,000 – 700,000.  The goal was to gain an understanding about how economic factors can influence crime rate. The year 2014 was used because it is the most up-to-date crime data set on the FBI’s crime statistics website pertaining to the different cities mentioned above. Also, this dataset only includes major crime fields as opposed to the dataset used in the first part of the series, which included all reported crimes in Detroit (excluding miscellaneous and sexual crimes). Comparing the crime rates and economies of cities with similar populations gives the most accurate analysis of how these two factors may correlate.


Figures 3.1 and 3.2 (Top-Left/Top-Right) compare major crime totals of Detroit, Denver, Seattle, El Paso, and Washington DC. Detroit led in 6 out of 7 major crime categories including: aggravated assault (9,191), burglary (9,177), motor vehicle theft (10,083), robbery (3,570), murder/non-negligent manslaughter (298), and rape (557). The bottom three graphs depict the reason why I believe crime may be perpetrated more in Detroit compared to the other cities: fractured economy; an economy that remained overly dependent on its established workforce infrastructure instead of focusing on future economic and workforce development, causing a high demand in newer fields of employment as the market changed, but a low supply of applicable workers to fill the positions. The lack of future-focused economic and workforce development leads to shrinkage of applicable jobs as the established economy diminishes, making it increasingly difficult for people to find employment, which subsequently lodges more individuals into impoverished living due to lack of applicable employment.

Figure 3.3 (Bottom-Left) shows the median household income of the five cities. Detroit had the lowest median household income at roughly $26,000 and Washington DC had the highest at roughly $72,000. Figure 3.4 (Bottom-Middle) shows a scatter plot comparing the segments of the population living in poverty (by percentage) in each city. With the 2nd largest population at an estimated 669,071, Detroit’s poverty rate was 18 percentage points higher compared to the next similar sized city (over 100,000 more citizens living in poverty). Figure 3.5 (Bottom-Right) displays the percentage of people living in poverty in each city, with Detroit having the highest rate at 39.3%. The data shows that fractured economies could have a major influence on the rate of crime.

The fractured, unbalanced economy, in my opinion, is the biggest reason why crime is so prevalent in Detroit. “Once the capital of the U.S. auto industry, Detroit has been crippled by the closing of factories, falling home prices, the exodus of tens of thousands of residents, rampant violent crime and massive poverty” (Ghosh). Graduating high school and going to work for one of the big three (GM, Chrysler, Ford) was once the norm for many in Detroit. Working in the factories allowed many Detroiters to become homeowners, earn great wages, and become affluent middle class citizens.

The job market in Detroit took a steep shift January 2007 after over 50 years of consistent decline with the beginning of the Great Recession. With the closing of factories and other local businesses came a rise in unemployment. In 2007, the unemployment percentage (for workers 16 and up) in Detroit was 21.6% (US Census Bureau). By 2014, the unemployment rate in Detroit grew to 27.1% (US Census Bureau). With the rise in unemployment came the rise in poverty with 32.5% living in poverty in 2007 to 39.3% living in poverty in 2014 (US Census Bureau). The Great Recession left many Detroiters unemployed and without the necessary skills to apply for employment in other fields. With lack of income and difficulty finding employment, many Detroiters were left and still remain in a state of financial insufficiency. Due to this state of financial desolation, some citizens turned to crime as a method of survival to escape impoverished living.

When crime is seen as the way of escaping the harsh reality of impoverished living, the social, economic, and psychological advancement of a community is severely crippled.  First and foremost, higher crime rates lead to higher incarceration rates. On the East Side of Detroit alone, “1 out 22 adults are under some form of correctional control, amounting to an annual cost of over 45 million” (Thompson). Once incarcerated, prisoners are not set up for rehabilitation. Rather, they are cultured to depend on the system even upon their release from correctional institutions. Chances at finding employment are stifled simply because a criminal record renders a candidate as “dangerous” and “unemployable”, especially if the potential candidate is African American (Thompson). With limited options to earn income, many go back to a life of crime for survival, eventually leading them back to incarceration i.e. recidivism. Some even commit crimes purposely because they would rather be in prison where they at least have food/shelter rather than be on the streets homeless and starving. This vicious cycle repeats itself in broken, impoverished communities throughout the United States, leaving individuals hopeless, heart-broken, and desperate for survival.

From viewing the crime and economic statistics from Detroit, Denver, Seattle, El Paso, and Washington DC, there appears to be a strong indication that a fractured economy leads to greater crime. At $25,769, Detroit had the lowest median household income of the five cities, which was $15,452 less the 2nd lowest city El Paso ($41,221). Detroit also had 262,767 citizens (2/5) living in poverty, which was approximately 115,200 than the next closest city, El Paso, which had one-fifth of its citizens living in poverty. The economic woes create an environment where crime can flourish. Detroit had 5,187 more aggravated assaults, 2,078 more burglaries, 4,569 more vehicle thefts, 339 more robberies, 193 more murders, and 87 more rapes then the then 2nd closest city. Fractured economies create destitute environments for citizens, especially in urban neighborhoods with lack of economic development, which eventually leads to communal destruction.  

Stayed tuned for the third and concluding part of the series, where I will present my potential solution to the economic problems going on in Detroit, specifically in urban communities, which could lead to a stronger economy and lower rates of crime.

Creating a Pipeline of Tech Talent for Chicago

For those of you who live in, and love living in, Chicago, it probably seems like a no-brainer that many college students would want to make Chicago their home post-graduation. The reality is that STEM students from regional colleges and universities have many choices, especially with competition from the East and West coasts for top tech talent. To change this dynamic, the Mayor’s office and World Business Chicago created THINK CHICAGO-Connecting Top University Talent with Chicago’s Innovation Ecosystem.

Twice each year, during Lollapalooza and Chicago Ideas Week, Mayor Rahm Emanuel invites top university students to ThinkChicago to meet with Chicago technology leaders, explore companies, and attend various events including the Lollapalooza music festival and Chicago Ideas Week programming. Microsoft Chicago has been a sponsor and participant with ThinkChicago for the past two years. This year, we were thrilled to take the support to a higher level.

Microsoft’s 2016 support for ThinkChicago expanded in three ways;

Shelley Stern Grach (me!) participated on a Career Panel at 1871 Chicago. This panel was moderated by Tom Alexander at 1871, and included Danielle DuMerer from the Department of Information Technology (DoIT), Katie Olson from UILabs and Kenneth Watkins from Blue 1647. The Microsoft discussion focused on corporate careers, but also emphasized the deep focus on civic tech and civic engagement. The comments on millennials truly wanting to make a difference really resonated with the audience, as evidenced by the questions.

Microsoft also hosted 75 students for deep dive tours at the Microsoft Technology Center. This included discussions on the futures of technology, how the world of work and productivity is rapidly changing and several demo’s including Microsoft HoloLens. The Q&A with the ThinkChicago students was amazing and we received many, many follow up emails (and resumes!) from the students. Great shout out to Matt Housholder and Kevin Wei for hosting the students.

Finally, Microsoft’s Retail Store team participated in a Career Fair for nearly 200 attendees, highlighting some of the positions in Chicago and sharing with the students fun technology examples. Many thanks to Terrance Gillespie and Mario Mejia from our Retail Store team for their participation and leadership in this event. Here are some great photos from the Career Fair.

image001 (3)

Microsoft Chicago is proud to partner with World Business Chicago and ThinkChicago to help build the tech pipeline. This is a great program, tightly orchestrated which provides on-site experiences for students to “touch technology careers.” Sign us up for 2017!

What Makes a “Great” Neighborhood?

CAF (2 of 3)

One of the major positives about being a student in Chicago during the summer is the wide choice of One Summer Chicago programs throughout the city. We’d like to spotlight a really unique program, “Meet your City Workshop,” a One Summer Chicago Infrastructure Program, run by DFSS and hosted by the Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF). This program, which is focused on teens and ran from July-August 2016, is designed to do the following:

  • Help teens share ideas and think through what makes a “good” neighborhood
  • Focus on learning to observe details and “see” Chicago in a new way
  • Develop a collaborative list of the things a great neighborhood needs to have
  • Understand how neighborhoods link to the City infrastructure (viaducts, boulevards, water, green spaces, etc.)
  • Learn that the city is built on infrastructure systems (grid, rail, housing, quality of life, etc.)
  • Internalize that Chicago is a city of neighborhoods

CAF (3 of 3)The program also includes an historic neighborhood bus tour so the students get a real view into our city and neighborhoods. Each day is a complete agenda and each day brings in a new group of students to learn about what makes a great neighborhood. This amazing program touches ~600 students.

The big learnings and hot topics include:

  • Scale: The students are learning how big and diverse the city is –both geographically and culturally.
  • Safety: The notion that you can walk down a street safely is sadly a new experience for many of the students.

Please see some photos (below) of the collaboration and interactive workshop where the students designed their own neighborhood.

Our congratulations to Gabe Lyon and her team at CAF and to DFSS and One Summer Chicago for this innovative approach to civic engagement!

ADA Leadership Institute for People with Disabilities — Applications and Nominations Open until August 31

Do you know an emerging leader with a disability? Nominate them and encourage them to apply.

Image description: Approximately 20 ADA 25 Advancing Leadership Members are seated around a long rectangular conference table deeply engaged in discussion. At the closest end of the table is a woman facing away from the camera and towards the group leading the discussion.

Image description: Approximately 20 ADA 25 Advancing Leadership Members are seated around a long rectangular conference table deeply engaged in discussion. At the closest end of the table is a woman facing away from the camera and towards the group leading the discussion.

“More than just one weekend, the experience is about something much bigger than the classes. It is about community, connection, network and opportunity. It is about being seen as a leader and being able to draw strength from others.”ADA 25 Advancing Leadership Inaugural Fellow

Emerging leaders in the Chicago region have a unique opportunity to join a network of people with disabilities who are committed to participating in volunteer leadership position while they grow professionally. Applications and nominations to ADA 25 Advancing Leadership’s next leadership development retreat will be open until August 31.   


About 20% of our population has a disability. While disability is a natural part of the human experience, the under employment of people with disabilities, high poverty levels, and absence of people who disclose their disabilities in leadership positions demonstrate the continued exclusion of this minority group from the mainstream. This is where ADA 25 Advancing Leadership comes in.  The long term goal is to ensure that the perspectives and talents of people with disabilities of all kinds are included in the Chicago region’s rich civic life.

The idea behind Advancing Leadership is the same idea behind the Americans with Disabilities Act – that people with disabilities have the right to equal opportunity and full participation in society. In fact, the program came out of last year’s celebration of this civil rights legislation’s 25th anniversary, and retains the name ADA 25 in its name. We use the broad definition of disability under the ADA – inclusive of disabilities that are apparent and those that are non-apparent, such as mental health and learning disabilities.


ADA 25 Advancing Leadership kicked off at the end of last year with 25 competitively selected members. Sixteen of these are emerging leaders participated in a 3 day retreat in December. These inaugural Fellows embraced the leadership training experience as a unique opportunity to connect disability identity, the social barriers to inclusion, and leadership training. They forged deep bonds with each other, learned from Chicago’s leaders, and established personal plans for long-term leadership.  


Image Description: The ADA 25 Advancing Leadership Fellowship Cohort

Our Fellows and members are creating a network and participate in educational opportunities around key issues such as employment and education; but beyond being a network of support and learning, they are beginning to fulfill Advancing Leadership’s long term vision. We have created the Civic Connections Project, and are starting to see our members increase their involvement. In the past 9 months, 9 have joined new advisory committees, task forces and boards, and another 13 connections are pending. These range from participation in cultural and disability rights organizations, young professionals councils, to a position on the board of a regional non-profit organization focused on fair housing, to public sector advisory task forces at state, regional, and municipal levels.

This program is the first of its kind in the nation and thanks to the involvement of The Chicago Community Trust, Exelon, and other corporate leaders we can keep moving forward on this final frontier of civil rights. To quote one of our inaugural Fellows, ADA 25 Advancing Leadership was “a life changing and transformative experience” that allowed our members to emerge with the skills necessary to become the next generation of leaders.

Last year, we were greater together; this year, we keep advancing together.

Applications for the next Leadership Institute retreat for emerging leaders with disabilities are NOW OPEN; the deadline is August 31. For details, application and nomination forms, please visit

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Image Description: Headshot of Emily Harris, Senior Director at the Chicago Community Trust

Emily Harris is a Senior Director at the Chicago Community Trust and the Executive Direct of ADA 25 Advancing Leadership. She was the Executive Director of ADA 25 Chicago, a one-year initiative to leverage the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act to advance full participation of people with disabilities in metropolitan Chicago.

Training-To-Succeed at ITKAN


There’s a lot of things that we can take for granted, such as safe paths to traverse the city with, having access to common facilities, or even the simple expectation that a workplace will provide accommodations for who we are. On the 2nd Thursday of every month, there’s an amazing community that tackles these common assumptions; the Microsoft Civic Tech team has been proud to support, participate, and grow with ITKAN.

ITKAN, a development organization geared toward technology professionals with disabilities, convenes monthly at the Microsoft Technology Center Chicago to discuss the latest happenings in the technology with an emphasis on furthering knowledge and diversity within the workforce. The entire team at Microsoft Chicago has been staunch supporters of ITKAN, hosting the group and providing experts for many of the meetings.


Launched in 2008 by Pat Maher of SPR Consulting, a professional IT services company, ITKAN has grown to a membership of 190+ members. Since then, ITKAN has been heavily invested in promoting a sense of leadership and pride as passionate technology users who also happen to have a disability. One particular member of ITKAN, Chris Ludwig, has a story that serves as a defining example of ITKAN’s recent success and its efforts to create a direct talent pipeline for their technology professionals. For the past year, I’ve been able to follow Chris’ amazing story – progressing from active ITKAN member to intern, and then finally to full-time IT staff member at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

During his membership in ITKAN, Chris co-presented on the value of communication in career development and continues to actively participate in promoting the development of passionate technology leaders with disabilities. As a result of ITKAN’s continuing commitment to establishing strategic partnerships for promoting diversity in the workforce, Chris entered his internship in the IT Service Delivery team in the ELCA. During this time, Chris exceeded expectations by taking a leadership role, acting as an advocate and representative of the disability community within the ELCA itself.

It’s no surprise that thanks to his ITKAN background and leadership within the team, Chris was offered to transition from an internship into a full-time position to reinforce his confirmed success with the ELCA, where he continues to work. The full success story of Chris Ludwig and the growth of ITKAN’s training-to-hire initiatives has been transformed into an in-depth case-study.

We hope that this case study provides inspiration to individuals and organizations in recognizing and supporting the critical impact of ITKAN’s initiatives. The achievements of ITKAN members such as Chris and many others serve as proof of the invaluable contributions that individuals with disabilities bring to the technology field. The development and placement of these professionals is crucial to creating a more inclusive and successful workforce. With the dedicated membership and strategic partnerships that help ITKAN grow, the organization welcomes all opportunities to collaborate and achieve. Together, we can ensure that society continues to advance the productive value of diversity.

If you’re interested in reading the full case study and/or want to get involved with ITKAN’s amazing efforts, visit their website here for more information.

PowerBI Visualization: Community takes Commitment

This is the first in a three-part series of Detroit Crime statistics, causes and potential solutions. Microsoft’s Civic Tech Fellow Ivoire Morrell shares a powerful story of the history, economic impact and future narratives of Detroit’s most economically depressed communities. It is our hope that by shining a spotlight on the raw data, and illustrating the impact on Detroiters, that we can together build a stronger future.

You are a product of your environment. So choose the environment that will best develop you toward your objective. Analyze your life in terms of its environment. Are the things around you helping you toward success — or are they holding you back?” (W. Clement Stone).

There is truth to this statement spoken by the late Chicagoan and philanthropist/businessman William Clement Stone. Environment has a huge impact on who we become. While the environment we live in does not fully guarantee our success or failure in life, it plays a significant factor on the outcome. Sadly, we do not get to choose the environments we are born into. In Detroit, Michigan, many citizens live in some of the most poverty-stricken and crime -ridden communities in the United States. It would be astonishing if everyone could live in enriching environments where the landscape is beautiful, employment opportunities are plentiful, security is nearly guaranteed, and crime is close to obsolete.

How do we change an environment from one riddled with crime and poverty, to a flourishing environment with economic growth and declining crime? This question led to the development of my first PowerBI visualization titled: Community Takes Commitment. Using Microsoft’s powerful data analyzation and visualization tool PowerBI, I extracted data from Data Driven Detroit’s (D3) vault of information, creating visuals that detail information about crime in Detroit. The goal of this visualization was to analyze the crime in the city, determine how economic factors influence crime, and to consider what solution(s) should be applied that could lead to positive change.



The visualization above, titled Crime in Detroit, displays detailed information about all of the reported crimes committed in the city from January 2009 to June 24, 2016 (minus sexual crimes, which are not included in the data, and excluding miscellaneous crime in all figures). Figure 1.1 (Top-Left) displays a tree-map showing the total amount crime by category. Categories include aggravated assault, burglary, homicide, and stolen vehicle to name a few. According to the data, the top five offense types over the past 7 years were:

  1. Assault (141,129)
  2. Larceny (133,272)
  3. Burglary (108,862)
  4. Damage to property (93,528)
  5. Stolen Vehicle (89,243).

Figure 1.2 (Top-Right) displays the rate of crime (total crime divided by total population) by year from 2009 – 2015 (2016 not measured due to incomplete data). The highest rate of crime was in the year 2010, which measured at 20%. Figure 1.3 (Bottom) displays a bar chart of the total amount of crime committed by neighborhood over the 7-year span. The neighborhoods with the most offenses were:

  1. State Fair-Nolan (33,258)
  2. Burbank (30,184)
  3. Greenfield(28,584)
  4. Warrendale (27,129)
  5. Denby (26,404).

One of my biggest takeaways from the data was that three of the top five categories were related to some form of theft (larceny, burglary, and stolen vehicle). Another big take away was the fact that three of the top five communities with the most offenses occurred are on the eastside of Detroit (State Fair-Nolan, Burbank, and Denby).


The second visual above is a continuation of the first; with a focal point on the 2015 offenses (minus sexual crimes, which are not included in the data, and excluding miscellaneous crimes in all tables). Table 2.1 (Top-Left) shows the total offenses committed by month in 2015. February (6,465) had the fewest crimes while August (9,423) had the greatest number. Table 2.2 (Top-Right), displays the sum of crimes by precinct. Precinct 8, at 12,404, reported the most crimes in 2015. Figure 2.3 (Bottom-Left) contains information about the time frames when most crimes occur in Detroit. The data shows that in 2015, the greatest number of crimes were committed between 12pm – 1pm, with approximately 5,905 reported offenses. The least amount of crimes were committed between 6am – 7am, with approximately 14,848 reported offenses.  Table 2.4 (Bottom-Middle) displays the neighborhoods with 2,000 crimes or more committed in 2015. Greenfield reported the most offenses in 2015, with 3,542. The last Table 2.5 (Bottom –Right) contains information about the communities displayed in Table 2.4 and the percentage of household in the community living under the median household income ($25,000).

The information displayed on this figure, particularly Tables 2.4 and 2.5, shows that crime occurs most strongly in high-poverty neighborhoods. Nearly half of the population for each neighborhood where the most offenses occurred is living in poverty. Each of the neighborhoods exceeds the city average of citizens living in poverty by at least six percentage points. These statistics indicate to me that there may be inadequate development in these communities, which leads to fewer employment opportunities for individuals to earn substantial income.

When you are living in a community that lacks the opportunity to excel beyond the constraints of impoverished living, it places citizens in a state of economic oppression. When citizens are lodged into this environment, the notion of crime as a method to earn revenue is reinforced. Impoverished environments breed criminals; criminals do not breed impoverished environments. If I am living in an environment where the damaged school system is set up to prepare me for a scarce factory job, instead of preparing me for higher education; if the primary opportunities for employment in my community are minimum wage paying jobs that lack the likelihood of growth pertaining to wage increase; when there is acute neglect from the city in regards to development of community infrastructure to help me advance; crime becomes a feasible option to generate revenue. When survival is dependent upon earning revenue and the environment hinders chances at financial growth, crime becomes a way of making a living, resulting in higher crime rates in impoverished communities.

Stay tuned for the second part of the series, where I will compare Detroit’s Crime statistics to similarly-sized US cities.