Women Rising: Sandra Abrevaya, President & Chief Impact Officer, Thrive Chicago

Mar 8, 2018   |   MSFT Chicago Staff

For Women's History Month, Microsoft Chicago celebrates Sandra Abrevaya of Thrive Chicago.

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.

All Chicago youth deserve a vibrant future.

Enter Thrive Chicago, a nonprofit that organizes the ecosystem of youth-serving organizations and drives collective action to make systemic changes for Chicago’s most at risk youth — and is Chicago’s only cradle-to-career collective impact agency.

At its helm is Sandra Abrevaya, president and chief impact officer. Sandra joined Thrive in October 2015 to lead the development and implementation of Thrive’s vision and strategy.

Under Sandra’s direction, Thrive, in partnership with Chicago Public Schools (CPS), has developed the Thrive Data Partnership (TDP), a first-of-its-kind data toolkit that gives Chicago’s community-based organizations unprecedented real-time access to academic data that informs program decisions and creates a coordinated effort that will help students across the city of Chicago.

Thrive Chicago is a local initiative modeled after and supported by the national StriveTogether Network.

“With the generous support of local and national funders, Thrive seeks to ensure not only that CPS students overcome their odds, but also that Chicago becomes a national model for proven whole school, whole day, whole year student-centered practices,” Sandra says.

The TDP gives Chicago’s community-based organizations (CBOs) unprecedented access to academic data that helps them improve their programs in real-time. Previously, CBOs would have to wait until the following school year — when their program sessions and often enrollment had already turned over — to get the data needed to make critical programmatic decisions.

“Civic technology allows Thrive to link currently siloed data sets to make us exponentially more effective at serving youth,” she says.

Sandra’s professional experience uniquely positions her to lead Thrive Chicago. Her work history in government, nonprofits and as an entrepreneur makes her trajectory exciting and inspiring.

Previously, she worked in the office of Mayor Rahm Emanuel as the education policy director. She was also the founding executive director of Urban Alliance Chicago, a nonprofit that provides internships, mentoring and college access support to CPS students. Before returning to Chicago, Sandra spent nearly a decade in federal government and politics. During the Obama administration, she served as associate communications director at the White House.

Sandra quickly became an advocate of data-informed programing.

“I was thinking that when a coalition of citywide leaders convenes to solve big problems together, data is the flashlight that shows us the way,” she says. “Without data, we’re unjust to our own personal bias and individual organizations’ bias. It’s data along with a lot of strong facilitation that allows us to arrive at a collective vision.”

Using the TDP tools, participating CBOs can create automated, customized reports, choosing from nearly 50 different metrics that they, and their funders, require for reporting on participant progress. For each Thrive Data Partner, the tools save an estimated $10,000 to $25,000 per year in data access, research, compliance and legal costs. Thrive provides all partners access to these Thrive Data tools for free.

Ultimately, Thrive’s data and analytics capabilities help CPS and local funders make better data-informed decisions.

Last summer, Thrive used data to inform which schools required additional summer melt resources for graduating seniors. Summer melt is a phenomenon in which college-intending students do not enroll in college in the fall following high school.

“System-wide, as the Thrive Data Partnership grows to 100 partners in the next three years, we will be able to see if we offer the right services to meet the needs of our youth, if neighborhoods have the right mix of services and if services are distributed approximately across the neighborhoods of Chicago,” Sandra says.

To other women, Sandra offers this advice: “It’s been said a million times before, but if people are skeptical of what you’re attempting to do, it probably means it’s valuable and worth doing. Let the skepticism encourage you.”

Our own Shelley Stern Grach is a proud member of Thrive Chicago’s Leadership Council, a diverse group of executive leaders from the public, private and nonprofit sectors.