This Women’s History Month, as in years past, we reached out to our network to showcase women who are working in technology, education and civic spaces, paving the way for women’s leadership in our community and beyond. Follow along with us in Chicago, New England and New York as we celebrate Women Rising.
Access to information and technology can make the world a better place for everyone, particularly those who have been traditionally marginalized through structural inequalities.
That’s the fundamental belief that drives Kauser Razvi, an incredible woman working for DigitalC, a Cleveland nonprofit partnering with the community to design technology-driven programs and services.
As director of community and developer relations at DigitalC, Kauser engages with community groups, data stewards and software developers in solving complex social problems through systems thinking, design, collaboration and technology. She sees herself as someone working toward organizing and building community with technology as a tool to get to change faster.
One example of this community building through technology is her work on the Build 2.0 project, a Build Health Challenge that aims to create an application for renters to find healthy homes in Cleveland and across the nation. Kauser and Cleveland’s Healthy Home Data Collaborative engage residents in journey mapping sessions to figure out their process for finding rental housing and their high points and challenges of the process.
“It’s about creating a community that has safe, affordable, healthy homes,” Kauser says. “It’s a multisector collaboration where technology is a way to disseminate information and bring awareness to issues in housing. This process is a way to ensure we’re working with residents to gain understanding, empathy and focus the technology on what will serve them.”
She stresses the importance of human-centered design principles and has shown community stakeholders, including the Cleveland Public Health Department, Metrohealth and Case Western Reserve University researchers, the value in a project directly informed by the community it was meant to benefit.
“Technology can play an active role in the transparency, the ability for us to advocate, engage and connect in ways we haven’t been able to before,” she says.
Another civic technology project Kauser spearheaded is the DigitalC Learning Studio. These courses offer relevant, accessible and tactical data and data analytics skills that are immediately useful on the job.
“In Cleveland, Detroit and Chicago, and I’ve worked in different neighborhoods in all those places, people are really grappling with major life issues,” she says. “People are suffering in these neighborhoods. And the civic sector, nonprofits and churches are working in isolation in some ways, not using data and tools at their disposal to coordinate need, services and outcomes.”
The Learning Studio courses teach individuals, from nonprofit to private sector employees, to use tools at their disposal like Excel, Power BI and Azure to collect data, analyze that data and build stories through data to be more data driven organizations.
“These tools people have on their desktop are very powerful,” Kauser said. “I’m very excited about where this is going with more than 50 people having come through the training in the last few months.”
DigitalC’s MidTown Tech Hive opened March 1. The facility will serve an inclusive and creative space for this community to cowork, root companies, hold events and take technology skill building classes through the Learning Studios.
Under Kauser’s leadership, her team at DigitalC says they have developed a plan that they feel will change the civic sector in Cleveland and beyond.
“I have not met a more impressive person in my life,” says Joshua Terchek, a senior data scientist at DigitalC who nominated Kauser for this recognition. “If she sets her mind to something, I have no doubt she can achieve it.”
Kauser has a background in urban planning. Throughout her career, she’s cultivated civic engagement and transformed both public sector and nonprofit agencies through organizing and technology, promoting transparency, efficiency and effectiveness.
“I guess I would say too that I got into tech by accident, or maybe necessity. I’m not sure in retrospect how I’d categorize it,” she says, explaining that in some of her urban planning projects, the information and technology needed to be successful was unavailable.
Before her work at DigitalC, Kauser implemented the first integrated Geographic Information System (GIS) for the City of Chicago and its 42 city departments, and the system won an award as the best GIS implementation for the State of Illinois. She’s worked across Chicago city agencies, park districts, schools and libraries to create an integrated out-of-school time system to ensure that out-of-school programs for kids were funded, high-quality and accessed by those in need. She’s also provided strategic consulting services to support the Cleveland Transformation Alliance’s work on access to quality schools and launched Global Cleveland, an initiative for international talent attraction and retention in Cleveland.
To other women, she offers this advice: Find a mentor. And “first and foremost, technology is not ‘for somebody else,’” she says. “There are a lot of ways to get into it… Embrace what you need and embrace what you can to create the changes you want to see happen.”
The Microsoft Cities team is extending our work into the Heartland. Detroit and Cleveland are the next cities we are working with to understand the impact technology can have on civic priorities. From understanding the digital capacity of nonprofits, to seeing how computer science education can build a pipeline of 21st century talent, to mapping digital skills to underemployed segments of society, this team looks through the lens of what makes each city unique. Kauser has been a driving force in leveraging data and data skills to help nonprofits serve their stakeholders and execute on their missions with better scale. We hope that you get to know her and the impact she continues to make in the great city of Cleveland.
— Adam J. Hecktman, Director of Technology & Civic Innovation, Microsoft Chicago