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.

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.

Lake View High School Unveils Innovation Lab

Lake View High School students test out the new innovation labWhen I was in high school, I was printing pictures in a darkroom and carving wooden spoons by hand. Today, students of Lake View High School (LVHS) are accomplishing the same, and even greater, results with more innovative technologies and fewer hand nicks. On June 14, LVHS unlocked the door to their new Innovation Lab, a DIY workshop where students assemble to create, invent, learn and make their visions come to life. Students, faculty, friends, family and partners gathered to experience the Lab for the first time following a ribbon cutting ceremony performed by an LVHS Senior, Principal PJ Karafiol and Assistant Principal Tyrese Graham.

Lake View High School unveils new innovation lab, STEM opportunities for students

Students, faculty, friends, family and partners, enter the Innovation Lab for the first time

LVHS Wildcats are among four other CPS Early College STEM Schools in Chicago. Their mission, which involves heavy emphasis on innovation through Computer Science, Design Thinking and Project-Based learning programs, emanates as you enter the Innovation Lab. The Lab includes Microsoft Surface Studios, HoloLenses, 3-D Printing Machines and more, all of which will equip students with fundamental and advanced technological skills for the future. Introducing these technologies at an earlier age will better prepare these students for college and later employment opportunities.

The Innovation Lab, many months in the making, is truly a remarkable opportunity for student development and innovation. LVHS students, empowered through modern technology and with resources to develop new skills, will be positioned to thrive in today’s world and beyond. As a proud partner with LVHS, Microsoft is thrilled to support the school’s ever-growing STEM and Computer Science initiatives, as well as their brand-new Innovation Lab.

Fellow Profile: Anna Draft

Where are you from? Lincoln Park, Chicago

School/grad year/major: BA, Middlebury College (2010), Joint Major Philosophy/Religion, Russian Language Minor. MPP Candidate, The University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy (2018), Policy Analysis and Disability Inclusion

Last thing you searched on Bing: Wonder Woman, show times

Why did you choose Microsoft’s fellowship program? Following graduation from college, I worked for Challenge America, a national database that connects injured military members and their families to resources in their local communities. This non-profit experience, and later experiences working in the digital strategy and design spaces, led me to recognize the major interdependencies between technology innovations and disability inclusion. Microsoft’s fellowship offers an incredible opportunity to engage with and learn from the current accessibility and digital equality efforts of Shelley Stern Grach and Adam Hecktman (here in Chicago) and Jenny Lay-Flurrie and team (in Seattle). By learning from leaders in the disability and accessibility advocacy fields and collaborating with local government officials, private companies, non-profits and public-sector organizations, this fellowship provides an unparalleled opportunity to explore innovative solutions for empowering Chicagoans with different technological resources and abilities.

What’s your favorite civic project in the Chicago area? Though miles away from some of my favorite hiking trails and ski mountains, Chicago does an incredible job of bringing green initiatives to our beautiful flatlands! The Riverwalk, the 606 and the Lakefront running/biking trails, Chicago’s green, open and accessible spaces are high on my list of favorite civic projects.

Who is your civic tech mentor/idol? Marca Bristo of Access Living. Marca was a key driver in writing the 1990 American’s with Disabilities Act, calling for (among other requirements) lifts on buses, accessible facilities, ATMs and telecommunications, as well as access within the workplace. I greatly admire her work in the city of Chicago and beyond.

What projects are you working on for your position as tech fellow for Microsoft Chicago? Among other outreach efforts and meetups, I’ll be focusing on the launch of DigiSeniors, which was started by the incredible, Civic Tech Fellow, Kevin Wei. I’ll also be working on Microsoft’s Women in STEM and Accessibility strategies throughout this fellowship in coordination with CPS, ADA25, ITKAN and others.

What excites you about civic tech? For me, civic tech doesn’t mean I need to be a developer or a data scientist (of which I am neither) to innovate. I am excited about facilitating new connections between developers, data scientists, government and policy experts, and public and private organizations to accomplish big things for the city of Chicago.

What’s one problem you hope civic tech will solve for cities? Microsoft and its partners are well positioned to improve digital literacy and workforce opportunities for Chicago’s impoverished neighborhoods, senior citizens and people with disabilities. I am beyond excited to be a part of this mission in my role as a Civic Tech Fellow.

Microsoft Store and B~STEM Host One-Day Only Events

Girls learn STEM at Microsoft Store YouthSpark Summer ProgramAccording to, only 6.7 percent of women are graduating with STEM degrees. With this we have a responsibility today to educate and inspire females of all ages to advance our world by pursuing careers in traditionally male dominated industries.

B~STEM Project and Microsoft Store understand this responsibility. B~STEM Project is an organization focused on helping young girls and women to engage, learn and grow within business and STEM-related disciplines across industries. From June 23 – 30, B~STEM will host We Hack Too, an eight-day virtual hackathon. Select Microsoft Store locations are excited to host kick-off events on Friday, June 23, and set everyone up for a week of fun with a Business Development and Design Incubator.

The events will give high school and college women opportunities to collaborate with professional mentors to design products and develop business strategies, while 8 to 12-year-olds will be invited to attend coding and gaming workshops.

These free events will take place in the following store near you:

Each store event will have its own unique theme spanning STEM-related topics including clean energy, gaming, entertainment and digital media, biotechnology and tech startups. To learn more about the topic of the event at your local Microsoft Store and to register for the event, please visit

Not located in a city with an event? Microsoft Store offers a range of free programs, year-round that empower youth by providing direct access to technology and hands-on learning. If you haven’t been to a Microsoft Store program yet, take a look at the video below that captures Microsoft Store YouthSpark camp energy and testimonials from real student and parent participants.

To see a full list of available in-store events and programs at your local Microsoft Store visit,

Modernize Your Nonprofit with Software Donations from Microsoft

Our first Modern Nonprofit Day at our Chicago office on March 22 was a success! At Modernize Your Nonprofit, we were pleased to have a wonderful turnout of about 90 attendees from various local nonprofits who joined us to learn about our Microsoft Cloud offerings. They learned how nonprofits can leverage our software donation program to help achieve their company’s missions. The event was a partnership between Microsoft Philanthropies, the Microsoft Citizenship team and Microsoft partner Tech Impact.

Tech Impact shared information about how nonprofits can use Office 365, Azure and PowerBI:

  • Office 365 offers email, shared calendars, file storage and sharing,  productivity apps, online meetings & VoIP phones for nonprofits.
  • Azure offers infrastructure, software and platform as a service in the cloud and a migration away from onsite servers.
  • Power BI can serve as a visualization toolkit that helps nonprofits to better understand and communicate their work to stakeholders.

Photo by Mary Monroy-Spampinato

Miss the training but interested in modernizing your nonprofit? You can still make 2017 the year that your organization lowers technology costs while improving productivity and efficiency. Learn more about our free and discounted services and products — Read case studies about how other nonprofits have benefited from donations, find out if your nonprofit’s is eligible, and get answers to questions you may have at

Our thanks to all who attended the training! We look forward to continue to serve our local communities with our software donations and resources.

Microsoft Philanthropies has committed $1 billion in cloud services for nonprofits and researchers to support the public good and, to date, has donated $465 million to 71,000 organizations. You can read more about this in their impact letter.

Civic Chat — Networking Our Neighborhoods: Ricardo Estrada, President and CEO, Metropolitan Family Services

Since 1857, Metropolitan Family Services (MFS) has been the engine of change that empowers Chicago-area families to reach their greatest potential and positively impact their communities. MFS empowers families to learn, earn, heal and thrive. The nonprofit’s 900 employees (and another 900 volunteers) help 72,000 people yearly — 81 percent of which belong to the working poor or lower-middle class.

In Shelley Stern Grach’s latest Civic Chat: Networking Our Neighborhoods, she sits down Ricardo Estrada, President and CEO of MFS. He details the organization’s goals (the four Es): Education, Economic Stability, Emotional Wellness, and Empowerment.

Watch Shelley’s chat with Ricardo live on

Taking Library Data Off The Shelf

Since its founding in 1871, the Chicago Public Library (CPL) has continually transformed itself to meet the needs of Chicagoans. In 2014, in the face of rapidly-changing norms around library usage nationwide, CPL responded by collaborating with Civic Consulting Alliance to create its strategic plan, which provided a roadmap for how CPL should grow, invest, and innovate to serve its nearly 10 million annual patrons.

CPL frequently uses its strategy as a guidepost to make decisions about programs and services at all levels of the organization. However, CPL lacked a method to measure its progress towards fulfilling each of its strategic goals. To remedy this situation, the Library decided to invest in a performance management system to monitor and report progress towards its goals.

Civic Consulting Alliance supported the Library in identifying metrics tied to the goals of its strategy, and Allstate Corporation, on a pro bono basis, created a dashboard to track and understand those metrics. The Civic Consulting/Allstate team then developed the process and norms to make performance decisions based on findings from the dashboard.

In November, the Library held its first monthly performance management meeting, where senior staff used data to inform management and programming decisions. By adopting performance management practices, the Library will be equipped to make its strategic vision a reality — and improve services for millions of patrons.

“Performance management presented the logical next step from our strategic planning efforts and has allowed us to focus on areas of our work that most need our attention,” said CPL Commissioner Brian Bannon. “As a result of our collaboration with Civic Consulting, our senior leadership is better prepared to make decisions that improve services for Chicagoans.”