July 2017

Civic Chat — Networking Our Neighborhods: Leroy Allala, Executive Director, Chicago Sister Cities

Chicago Sister Cities is part of the larger national Sister Cities movement, which was founded in 1956 as a way to build relations between cities around the world. Chicago’s chapter was founded in 1960, with its first sister city connection made with Warsaw; today, Chicago is paired with over 20 cities in 5 continents. Throughout these cities, Chicago Sister Cities focuses on citizen-to-citizen engagement, forming relationships and making an impact through collaboration and understanding.

In Shelley Stern Grach’s latest Civic Chat: Networking Our Neighborhoods, she sits down with Leroy Allala, Executive Director of Chicago Sister Cities to discuss the relationships formed with these international partners and how we can support Chicago Sister Cities here on the ground.

Watch Shelley’s chat with Leroy Allala live on Advisor.tv.

Closing the Digital Divide in Detroit’s Lower East Side

Eastside Community Network in Detroit offers hands-on training to bridge the digital divide. Have you ever struggled to use an app or a website? Who did you turn to for help — friends, family? Bring Your Own Device Technology Training (BYOD) provides this kind of help to residents of Detroit’s Lower East Side. BYOD was brought to the community by the University of Michigan School of Information (UMSI) and longtime community development organization, Eastside Community Network (ECN). The two main spearheads of this project are Suzanne Cleage, Director of Neighborhood Growth at ECN and Kentaro Toyama, PhD, W.K. Kellogg Associate Professor of Community Information at UMSI. The program is also supported by Orlando Bailey Director of Community Partnerships at ECN and students from University of Michigan (U of M).

Eastside Community Network in Detroit offers hands-on training to bridge the digital divide. BYOD works to close the digital divide in Detroit’s Lower East Side neighborhoods. East Side hotspots, like West Village and Jeff-Chalmers, are experiencing rapid growth and receive lots of attention from the media and the city government. Other areas have yet to benefit from civic investment initiatives centered in areas like midtown and downtown.

Once a month, tech-savvy residents as well as graduate students and professors from U of M gather at the ECN headquarters to help residents increase their digital literacy skills. Questions can range from “How do I set up email?” to “What is the cloud and what happens when I put stuff in it?” ECN has both community members and academics to assist. This creates an inclusive environment where residents feel comfortable asking for help, while at the same time providing enough expertise so that all questions can be answered.

Technology can help people solve problems and connect, but only if people know how to use it. As technology becomes an increasingly essential part of everyday life, it is important to make sure no user is left behind. ECN uses email, mail, flyer canvassing and door-to-door outreach to let residents of the Lower Eastside know BYOD is happening. Sometimes, closing the digital divide means embracing analog, low-tech solutions that meet people where they are.

Orlando Bailey, Director of Community Partnerships at ECN, shared one of his favorite stories about BYOD. Ms. Minnie, a Lower East Side resident did not know how to use Skype to speak with her grandchildren in California. Once she learned how to register for and use the application, Ms. Minnie immediately Skyped her grandchildren and was able to see and chat with them. She plans to use Skype regularly to stay in touch with her family.

Eastside Community Network in Detroit offers hands-on training to bridge the digital divide. Civic tech often conjures images of large scale projects dealing with open data portals or fancy apps that help the cities communicate better with residents, but it’s important to remember that some of the most impactful civic tech work can be as simple as helping a neighbor set-up email for the first time. To ensure that civic tech does not exacerbate existing societal divisions, it’s important to proactively work on closing the digital divide. Programs like BYOD are a model for community-founded, community-led programs that increase digital literacy in America’s urban neighborhoods.

Aligning Tomorrow’s Technology Today at Chicago Innovation Summit

Effectively applying technology to help tackle civic and societal challenge isn’t just a matter of matching capabilities with problems … It’s defining opportunities, integrating with human nature and organizational systems, and testing, maintaining, and evolving solutions. It takes collaboration, communications and partnerships to align technology innovations with society. On July 12, Chicago Innovation and the Chicago Public Library hosted a half day Innovation Summit and Tech Fair featuring “Tomorrow’s Technology Today” at the Harold Washington Library. Microsoft had the honor to participate in the afternoon Tech Fair and the full evening public event, which focused on Innovation and Digital Equity.

I shared the podium with two amazing people, Julie Friedman Steele, Chairman of the Board, World Future Society and Kris Hammond, Co-founder, Narrative ScienceTogether we addressed how society is (and should) be impacted by Innovation and the need for all citizens to have an equal voice and equal change to fully participate in the benefits of  the Future. Following are social media comments and photos, which I hope you will find enlightening.


Big Shoulders: Haven Allen, Executive Director, mHub Chicago

Anyone who says that manufacturing is a 20th century industry has never been to mHub in Chicago’s West Town neighborhood. A bewildering 63,000 square foot space that houses the community that is creating breakthrough products, boosting the local economy through physical manufacturing, and laying the foundation for a new manufacturing workforce. To quote mHub, they foster connections between local manufacturers, university researchers and Chicago’s entrepreneurial community of makers and technologists, not to mention investors who are eager to support new businesses.

The physical space is sensory overload. There is ample equipment to help startup manufacturers build and leverage electronics, plastic fabrication, metals, textiles and rapid prototyping. An entrepreneur with an idea for a physical product can use this “microfactory” for small production runs without the major capital outlays required to build a plant from scratch. Add to that the community and support you get from the mHub staff and other entrepreneurs and you have a formula for the next wave of Chicago’s manufacturing.

And lest you think it is all business, I recently spent a weekend at mHub watching students compete in a robotics competition. While the event space was filled with students prepping their inventions for battle in a ring, the manufacturing space was filled with parents and children building creations to compete at the Hebocon (an ugly robot contest…I actually found many of the robots endearing).

Haven Allen is the Executive Director and co-founder. An entrepreneur himself, Haven was an economic development strategist at World Business Chicago, the mayor’s economic arm. Spend ten minutes with him and you realize that this is a guy that, for all his humility, knows a lot of stuff. He spent time in the Peace Corps, the publishing industry, and owned his own business. He found time to get a Policy masters at the University of Michigan, and a Political Science degree from the University of Illinois. Here, he talks to me about his current passion, building the next generation of physical product manufacturers.

Watch Adam’s chat with Haven Allen live on Advisor.tv.

Microsoft Teamwork Helps Northwest Side Housing Center Thrive

As we all know, part of our work at Northwest Side Housing Center is reporting data to our funders. There was a time where we were triple-entering data into different data systems. This was a great headache for everyone involved. Enter Microsoft and their unique technology solutions. They were generous enough to help take on this headache.

When they heard of our issue at Chicago’s Do Good data conference, Microsoft posted details of the project on their shared worldwide website and used words that associate with the NWSHC, such as, “community oriented,” “social change,” and “justice.” The result: Microsoft employees from across the globe from Japan to Seattle, volunteering to help build the NWSHC a customized database to solve our data entry problem. This dream team of Microsoft volunteers took what would be a very long-term project and condensed it into a week! The results to this day are remarkable. Our data entry time has been cut in half and our team loves using the new system.

With the help and generosity from Microsoft, we’re more efficient serving the community that we care so deeply about. Today, we are in the process of getting this database approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) which will be the first of its kind as a result of this one-of-a-kind partnership. Without the help of such a great partner like Microsoft, we’d probably be still searching for solutions to our headache. I’d like to thank Microsoft and the worldwide team of volunteers who pitched in countless hours to make this happen.

Sean Washington joined the Northwest Side Housing Center in 2013 and is responsible for all of the Financial reporting, compliance, and General Operations for the NWSHC. He also assists with staff management, development, and organizational meetings. Before joining the NWSHC, Sean served at various non-profit and foreclosure prevention agencies including ACORN Housing, Affordable Housing Centers of America, and Illinois Housing Development Authority. At each organization Sean held a leadership role in some capacity, and brings his experience in management and leadership to the NWSHC. Sean double majored in Psychology and Human Services during his studies at Upper Iowa University. He recently completed the HACE Leadership Academy, one of the graduates of the 2017 cohort. Sean currently resides in Forest Park with his spouse and their daughter, Corinne. They were married on Sweetest Day, October 20th, 2012 and bought their first home together on that same day four years later. Ironically, it was the house Sean’s wife grew up in as a child. Sean enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter, along with playing and watching sports.

Leveraging Technology in Chicago’s Modern Economy

The 2017 Civic Technology Forum Explores How Technology Can Move Chicago ForwardLocal government, community and industry stakeholders gathered at Studio Xfinity for the 2017 Civic Technology Forum in Chicago. Hosted by Comcast, the forum featured Danielle DuMerer, Acting Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Innovation and Technology, Joe Moreno, Alderman of Chicago’s 1st Ward and John Fritchey, District Commissioner of Cook County’s 12th District. Forum panelists also included Elliot Fabian of Black Tech Mecca, Alya Woods of ChicagoNext and David Namkung of CLARITY Partners.

“Five years ago, tech in Chicago was hardly a conversation,” Woods said. Between 2010 and 2013, the number of tech jobs in Chicago increased by more than 25 percent, and Chicago has been one of the fastest growing cities for tech jobs. Today, public access to technology is a key driver in helping residents and businesses succeed in Chicago’s modern economy. The challenge is to make sure that the education individuals receive trains them with the right skills for success in Chicago’s job market, in which technology is at the forefront. Additionally, access to technology and the internet is crucial in priming Chicagoans, and all people, for success.

“A forum like this one that brings together local government, community and industry stakeholders is key to ensuring that the public has access to technologies that let both residents and businesses get their bite (or “byte”) of the pie,” Fritchey said. Fritchey further commented that tech access in Chicago neighborhoods and investment in innovation are keys to success in today’s economy.

“Events like the forum give Black Tech Mecca an opportunity to reshape perspectives and remove obstacles and [to] ultimately make technology more readily available to black people in the city,” Fabian commented.  Black Tech Mecca’s vision is to make the power and potential of technology accessible to every black child, entrepreneur and professional. It was great to hear from organizations like Black Tech Mecca on how democratizing technology can create efficiencies in Chicago’s growing economy.

Panelists discuss how Chicagoans can leverage technology toward economic success

DuMerer closed the forum emphasizing that “we can’t just create tech tools and not care about access and usability.” The conversation about access and accessibility must be part of the development process, not just an afterthought in today’s modern economy.

Microsoft and its fellows were thrilled to be part of this audience and conversation. Many thanks to Comcast for hosting the “2017 Civic Technology Forum” and to all the impressive panelists and audience participants for also being part of the conversation.

Civic Tech in Chicago — July’s Top Events

The dog days of summer have crept up! Keep going nonstop with us with these top picks for civic tech events in Chicago:

All Month

Chicago Innovation Awards (make your nominations by July 31st!)

The Chicago Innovation Awards make Chicago a recognized hub of innovation by igniting a new narrative for our region, strengthening its economic future and building the spirit of innovation throughout the community.

July 6

500 Startups @ UChicago
Polsky Exchange – Promontory Point Meeting Room 1452 E 53rd St, 2nd Floor, Chicago

500 Startups is a global venture capital seed fund headquartered in Silicon Valley with over $350M in capital. The most active seed investor in the world, 500 Startups has invested in 1,800 technology startups across 60 countries the world since 2010.

On July 6, join Entrepreneur in Residence Mark Goldenson for an expert presentation on fundraising. Mark will dive into the details of creating a pitch deck with slide-by-slide tips and give advice on applying to 500 Startups next batch. Come with questions!

Dinner will be served.

July 11, 18, 25

Chi Hack Night
Braintree office 222 W. Merchandise Mart Plaza, 8th Floor, Chicago

The Chi Hack Night is a free, weekly event in Chicago to build, share and learn about civic tech and tools to create, support, or serve public good.

Join us every Tuesday from 6-10pm on the 8th floor of the Merchandise Mart to hear from interesting speakerslearn from each other and work on civic projects. Non-techies are very welcome!

July 12

Chicago Innovation Summit
Harold Washington Library Center 400 S State St, Chicago

Chicago Innovation, The Executives’ Club of Chicago, and the Chicago Public Library have joined forces for the 2nd annual Chicago Innovation Summit. Featuring top innovation minds and leaders, this half-day event will unveil new ideas and strategies to help grow your business, as well as a showcase featuring innovative technologies of tomorrow.

July 13

The Future of IoT
TechNexus 20 N Wacker Dr, 12th floor, Chicago

​The Internet of Things is moving from the “cool products” phase into a more mature, fully developed world where the focus is shifting from IoT-enabled products to how to establish the IoT-enabled Enterprise. Accommodating this shift will fundamentally be a function of leveraging the underlying data, and will require considerations about architectural deployment, security, privacy, and data primacy and governance.

ITA Tech on Tap: Cogeco Peer 1 on ITA Roofdeck
Civic Opera Building 20 N. Wacker Drive, 15th Floor, Chicago

​You are invited to join Cogeco Peer 1 and ITA on the Civic Opera Building Roofdeck to celebrate summer, network and collaborate with your peers in the Chicago tech community.

July 18

Diversity & Inclusion: What, How & Why
TechNexus 20 N Wacker Dr, 12th floor, Chicago

​Diversity and Inclusion has had quite the spot in the news lately as companies are trying to become more educated when it comes to attracting a diverse workforce and creating a more inclusive environment to help retain these employees. What does diversity in the workforce really mean? How should inclusion programs be implemented? Is there ROI in these programs or are they just the ‘right thing to do?’

Join a panel of professionals that are taking great strides in making their companies diverse and inclusive.