Shelley Stern Grach

director + community advocate

Shelley Stern Grach
Meet Shelley
They say that great work stems from a combination of passion and commitment, something that Shelley certainly possesses when it comes to her life and career. She currently serves on the boards of the Women’s Business Development Center, the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, Thrive Chicago, Year Up and LISC Chicago. At Microsoft Chicago, she’s the Director of Civic Engagement, working at the intersection of computing and community, promoting STEM programs and using Microsoft technology to spur growth in the community. So no matter if it's work, play, or giving back, Shelley always makes sure her drive and professionalism help her complete her life's goals.

Learning About Civic Leadership in India

We’ve written several articles about our partnership with the University of Chicago’s Civic Leadership Academy (CLA). The University launched the Civic Leadership Academy in 2015 to develop a pipeline of talented leaders to help nonprofits and city and county government agencies in Chicago thrive. The interdisciplinary leadership development program is a key component of a broad set of UChicago initiatives to foster leadership and strengthen capacity among individuals and organizations in Chicago. The Civic Leadership Academy was developed by the University’s Office of Civic Engagement in partnership with LISC Chicago and the Civic Consulting Alliance,with funding from the Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust, Microsoft, JPMorgan Chase, and McCormick Foundation. The program is designed to develop a pipeline of talented leaders to help nonprofits and government agencies thrive.

In January 2017, the fellows began a rigorous six-month program that will teach essential leadership skills and provide the time and space to collaborate on a capstone project that addresses a practical challenge facing each fellow’s organization. In March, the fellows will travel to the University of Chicago Center in Delhi, India, for a weeklong global practicum. Upon completion of the program, fellows will receive a certificate in civic leadership from Chicago Harris. I’m thrilled to let you know that I’m going with them to India!

Our program in Delhi is being curated by Common Purpose, a leadership development organization that specialized in cross-boundary leadership, running programs in over 70 countries worldwide. Founded in 1989, over 4,000 people become Common Purpose Alumni every year. The program is designed to inspire and equip leaders to work “across boundaries”, thereby enabling them to solve complex problems in organizations and society. In India, Common Purpose connects with the Dishaa Venture, which expands, enriches and energizes relations between India and the UK; and through CSCLeaders-in partnership with HRH Duke of Edinburgh Study Commonwealth Study Conferences.

We’ll be spending five days in New Delhi, the capital of India. Along with its neighboring cities/suburbs, this has been given a special status of National Capital Region (NCR). Delhi’s population is about 18,686,902 in 2016. Delhi is a city that bridges two different worlds. Old Delhi, once the capital of Islamic India, is a labyrinth of narrow lanes lined with crumbling structures and formidable mosques. In contract, the city of New Delhi, created by the British Raj, is composed of spacious, tree-lined avenues and imposing government buildings. For about a millennium, Delhi has been the seat of power for several rulers and many empires. The city’s importance lies not just in its past and present glory, but also in its rich and diverse cultures. It’s sprinkled with dazzling architectural wonders, a strong performing arts scene, fabulous food and bustling markets. It also has the major challenges ….and innovations…of an extremely large urban city. Here are some of the issues we will be addressing and some of the organizations we will be visiting:

Advancing Goals with Limited Resources: How do you increase social innovation and achieve more with less?

  • We’ll be visiting Mobile Creches, Gurgaon Ki Awaaz Samudayik Radio and Dilli Haat

Navigating Social Barriers to build inclusive Leadership

  • We’ll be visiting Protsahan, Noida Deaf Society, Lemon Tree Hotels, Swechha and Goonj

Building Support to bring about Change

  • We’ll be visiting Centre for Equity Studies, Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti Urban Renewal Project, Humayun’s Tomb at Lodi Gardens as an example of community participation, and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture

Leading Across Boundaries-what skills do Leaders need to work across perceived boundaries between the public, private and NGO sectors?

  • We’ll be visiting Toxic Links, CEQUIN (Centre for Equity and Inclusion)

And then we arrive at the US Embassy in New Delhi to meet Minister Counsellor Jeffrey Sexton for a discussion and dinner at Mr. Sexton’s residence.

So, what have I done to get ready?

  • First, bought two giant books on India and highlighter in hand, I’ve underlined and put sticky notes all over the books
  • Immunizations
  • Malaria medication, heavy DEET coverage, Cipro
  • Special Power adaptor
  • Visa
  • Appointment with the Microsoft India office-check and SO excited to meet Madhu and Ashu who have been so supportive

I’ll try to tweet “live from India” and will provide a recap of my observations when I return.

A look at Shelley’s trip to India so far:

Looking at Data through the Lens of Leadership

Most discussions of Data and Open Data tend to the technical side. . . how do you manipulate, massage and create an app for all that gloriously Open Data? Throngs of Data Scientists collaborate virtually, at MeetUps, or at conferences to debate, demonstrate and debunk technical approaches to digesting Data. (nice alliteration!) Recently, at the University of Chicago’s Civic Leadership Academy, we had the opportunity to look at Data from a different angle — the Leadership angle.

As our readers know from previous discussions, Microsoft has been a supporter and a great fan of the University of Chicago’s Civic Leadership Academy (CLA). Now in its third cohort, The Civic Leadership Academy provides training through a six month program and global practicum to emerging and high-potential leaders in nonprofit organizations and local government agencies within the City of Chicago and Cook County. Each year, Microsoft and local experts have had the opportunity to talk to the CLA participants about the importance of understanding the Civic Tech ecosystem, and how to utilize Civic Tech tools and resources to help improve the lives of citizens of Chicago and Cook County. This year, we took a difference approach and focused more on Data and its implications for a Leader.

We worked in partnership with Will Howell, Ph.D. and the Sydney Stein Professor in American Politics at Chicago Harris and a professor in the Department of Political Science and the College to design our topic: “How do leaders use data to communicate and present insights for key audiences in their efforts to advance their goals?” We invited Danielle DuMerer, Chief Technology Officer and First Deputy Commissioner of the City’s Department of Information Technology (DoIT)  and James Rudyk, Jr. who is the Executive Director of the Northwest Side Housing Center (NWSHC), a community based organization located in the Belmont Cragin community. James was also in the first cohort of frame the discussion from both the Open Data and the “everyday user” perspective. We thought it would still be a good idea to share some tools that are available to leaders—especially tools that help communicate the insights gained from Data, so we invited Amy Schneider, a certified Microsoft Partner with Netrix, LLC, who provided a short demo on how to take “raw data” and move it into a “visualized resource for advancing goals”.

I began the discussion by introducing the Topic and introducing our panel, and included a very short discussion of the Chicagoland Civic Tech ecosystem and Data. Our focus was to help the CLA cohort learn how to present data to different audiences (city council, board of directors, employee base), how to communicate the data, learning from our panel what works/what doesn’t work. Amy then used a short demonstration of Power BI using data from the CTA and discussed “data as a tool of persuasion.”

She emphasized that there are a wide range of tools can help tell the story that is captured by the data. Amy’s presentation generated a lot of questions, many centered on how Leaders can identify what tools to use, and what personnel skills were needed to “run” the tools. Danielle walked the class through a structured process for accessing data, using and thinking about data as a management and leadership resource. She provided some great examples from the City and had outstanding knowledge about similar capabilities and resources at the County level. James “brought it all home” for the class by discussing his personal experiences as a leader of a nonprofit which had challenges with organizing its Data to serve its client base. Through partnerships with Microsoft and working with his staff, James was able to realize increased efficiency and better management of his client base.

Danielle Dumerer, Chicago CTO

The following were highlights of the very interactive discussion between the panel and the CLA participants:

  1. The role of the civic leader is primarily about leading a team and making solid leadership decisions, not the technical side of using data.
  2. Leaders can and should use data for: decisions, reaching your organization’s goals,  communicating the data (up/down/across/outside the organization), and  presenting data in different ways for different audiences
  3. Leaders should  use data to: drive home a point you want to make, counter an objection,  propel a project forward/get a funder to write a check/expand alliances to reach a common goal, etc.
  4. Data is a tool for persuasion, and for storytelling. Tools like Microsoft’s Power BI, allow you to easily make your data points more visually appealing to your audience. The ability to interact with the data using dynamic filters (i.e. changing date ranges, or showing a single data point within a grouping of points) allows you emphasize supporting data in real time as you tell your story.

Many thanks to our panelists and the terrific CLA participants. The questions continued past our scheduled time, which is a great indication of the high interest level in the topic. As the CLA cohort starts to prepare for their individual Capstone projects, we hope they will look at Data in a different light, and utilize data analysis to document and support their Capstone presentations.

How Ya Doin’ on Those New Year’s Resolutions?

February and March. Normally a time when we are totally through with winter. Bemoaning our waistlines and booking Caribbean cruises to get away.

Also a time when we look back at our New Year’s resolutions and regret paying that annual subscription at the gym we haven’t used, or staring at the organic cleanse bottles on the shelf, or regretting we haven’t stopped driving and texting.

Well, NOT ME!!!!! My 2017 New Year’s resolution was much more practical, fun and frankly, easy to stick with.

You might remember the story behind my New Year’s Resolution

When the Chicago Tribune’s Blue Sky Innovation reporter Kate MacArthur wanted to get New Year’s resolutions from local innovators, she reached out to me (!!) and I was more than happy to oblige, highlighting my desire to expand opportunity for youth through digital skills learning and to personally engage with youth who want to go deeper in STEM training:

My professional resolution for 2017 is to increase my focus on mentoring: This year we — and me personally — will be focusing on more personal leadership with the students as far as one-on-one mentoring, because that has huge impact, and expanding opportunity for all youth to have a chance to learn and succeed with digital skills.

I want to personally engage with those youth who are inspired and want to go deeper. And for those who have the desire, I’d like for them to be inspired to focus on personal innovation and economic development in their neighborhood. That could be through entrepreneurship, developing an app, leading and teaching coding. 

So how’s it going? Here’s what I found out: Seek and Ye Shall Find. Once I let it be known that I wanted to invest more of my time in mentoring, the calls started coming in. Here are three examples  of fabulous young ladies I’ve started mentoring in 2017. Each situation is a bit different. I hope that by sharing a bit of their stories, you will see how easy—and rewarding—it is to be a mentor.

Let’s start with Brittany. I met Brittany through the Chicago Innovation Awards, a terrific program established to 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. The Chicago Innovation Awards’ Women Mentoring Co-op was created in 2016 when the Chicago Innovation Award’s team realized a need to recognize and provide resources to Chicago’s women in innovation year-round. The purpose of this program is to connect successful Chicago innovators with women who have a demonstrated interest in innovation, and want to grow their businesses and careers in the Chicago region through the support of a mentor. Since the program’s launch last year, the number of mentees accepted has more than doubled.

I was honored to be selected as a Mentor for the Chicago Innovation Awards’ Women Mentoring Co-op for 2017. Brittany and I were paired together based on her technical skills and her current role as a Senior Consultant with Clarity Partners LLC. Brittany also volunteers with Girls Who Code Club as a facilitator. What I was really impressed with is Brittany’s focus on social impact in Chicago:

“I want to give my largely middle-to-low class community on the Southwest Side of Chicago access to technology and help those with tech-startup ideas turn them into reality. To do this, I want to start a technology incubator on the Southwest Side.”

We had our first meeting in February and we discussed a wide range of areas to focus on, including connections for Brittany into nonprofit programs on the SW side of Chicago which will help her reach her personal vision, and the pluses and minuses of tech startups, resources for startups and who to talk to in that field.

My second Mentee is Michele. I was paired with Michele through my role on the Executive Committee of ADA25 Advancing Leadership program, which I have written about previously. The Advancing Leadership program is especially focused on making connections between People with Disabilities and the business community through the Civic Connections Project. The Civic Connections Project is designed to increase the number of leaders with disabilities serving on advisory committees, commissions, boards and other appointed positions in the Chicago region. Connecting ADA 25 Advancing Leadership Fellows to Chicago leaders as mentors directly supports Fellows’ leadership and Civic Connections plans.

Since mentoring is  a relatively new program at ADA25,  I am sharing with you some of the guidelines for Mentors, because I truly value the thoughtfulness and clarity of the process. I also really like that the responsibility is with the Mentee to organize the meetings and set the direction of the relationship.

Guidelines for Mentors

  • A minimum of three meetings are expected:
    • Introduction
    • Three- month check in
    • Twelve month follow up
  • Mentee will be asked to identify priorities for mentoring relationship – some may be professional, others related to civic engagement or content expertise, or both
  • Mentor and mentee should mutually agree on format, frequency and purpose of meetings
  • Mentee is responsible for initiating contact

Michele and I had met before briefly, so our first session was delightful and we quickly starting focusing on some key issues that are of importance to her. Most of our discussion was about how to think through her leadership role on ADA25 Advancing Leadership, and in the broader community. We discussed how to help other People with Disabilities articulate their experiences and concerns, as well as their desires in careers and their personal life. Our next session will likely focus on planning a roundtable event as part of the Chicago Community Trust’s On the Table program in May.

My third mentoring experience this year was with Bianca. Bianca is a senior at DePaul and I was connected to her by her professor, who is a former Microsoft executive (and who recruited me to my current role for which I am eternally grateful). Although she is still finishing her education, Bianca wants to launch her career as entrepreneur in Chicago. She is passionate about empowering girls and young women. She is a natural leader and gifted student. She intends to change the world and will probably do it. Having a 25-year-old daughter who is also passionate about living in Chicago and wants to change the world as well, this was like being “home”. When Bianca and I met, it was mostly focused on building a life in Chicago (the challenges, the opportunities and that things “mom” suggested she think about); and how to sort through her decision process of either working for someone or starting her own business. I gave Bianca several organizations and people to research (a homework assignment) and we will be connecting again soon to drill down a bit deeper on her next steps.

So, instead of a gym club membership or unrealistic weight loss programs, how about focusing your time this year on mentoring our next generation? It’s easy, rewarding and a terrific investment in the future of Chicago. Here are some suggestions if you want to find your own Brittany, Michele, or Bianca… or just tweet me @shelleystern and we’ll suggest some great organizations to connect you with:

  • ISTI Mentor Matching Engine (for online mentoring with Illinois high school students):

The Chicago Innovation Awards’ Women Mentoring Co-op was created in 2016 when the Chicago Innovation Award’s team realized a need to recognize and provide resources to Chicago’s women in innovation year-round. The purpose of this program is to connect successful Chicago innovators with women who have a demonstrated interest in innovation, and want to grow their businesses and careers in the Chicago region through the support of a mentor. Since the program’s launch last year, the number of mentees accepted has more than doubled.

Positive Community Impact Through World Business Chicago’s Fellowship Program

Chaired by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, World Business Chicago (WBC) drives regional economic growth. WBC is a public-private, non-profit partnership that drives inclusive economic growth and job creation, supports business, and promotes Chicago as a leading global city. One key initiative is the WBC Fellowship Program, which engages community and business leaders to advance the Plan for Economic Growth and Jobs. The Fellowship Program offers an exclusive opportunity for mid-level executives to bring the plan to life. Following the goals and strategies of the plan, Fellows focus on implementation and management of the strategies.

The Fellowship Program is a fabulous way for companies to provide professional development for their employees, while positively impacting the City. From the Fellow perspective, the four-to-six month assignment provides the opportunity to gain a unique understanding of how the public sector works; gain experience working with influential stakeholders; and build lasting connections through the Fellowship Alumni Program.

Microsoft is honored to be a supporter of World Business Chicago and its programs and to have our Corporate VP Dan’l Lewin serving on the WBC Board of Directors. Through our local Technology and Civic Engagement programs, we work closely with WBC to advise on the Plan for Economic Growth and Jobs, the ChicagoNEXT program, ThinkChicago and the Chicago Venture Summit.

It was my pleasure to join the WBC Fellows on February 7th, for a Fellows Appreciation Breakfast. The purpose of the breakfast was to extend the Fellowship Alumni Program, and thank Fellows from various cohorts (or “waves”) and recognize the Fellows for their invaluable contributions to WBC and the City of Chicago. The hard work and partnership with the Fellows has directly helped the economy of Chicago grow. As WBC President & CEO Jeff Malehorn pointed out, a key differentiating factor is that WBC has evolved its mission statement to include the term “inclusive growth”, because inclusion of marginalized communities and populations, of all types of workers and all types of companies, is a priority for WBC and the City of Chicago.

To bring “inclusive growth” to life for the Fellows, WBC hosted a panel of City, nonprofit and business leaders to share perspectives on the import issue of inclusive growth and how it drives economic growth across the board.

The panel included:

Each panelist described what inclusive growth meant to the City. Shari discussed how the Chicago Urban League is working with the private sector to promote economic growth that focuses on all neighborhoods. Both Andy and Steve shared the challenging discussions and debate that is part of “getting deep” into our neighborhoods to improve economic growth that is inclusive and to find the right community partners and programs that drive change. I discussed how technology and digital access and 21st century skills are crucial to economic development and how Chicago—while a leader nationally—still has some work to do to provide access and skills to all. We also discussed how the civic tech ecosystem is thriving in Chicago and shared some stories on how Open Data in the City provides opportunities for all citizens to participate and use the City’s resources.

The lessons learned from our discussion are:

  • Inclusive economic growth means making decisions and setting priorities such that economic growth reached marginalized populations and communities.
  • Efforts to grow the local economy inclusively probably will not produce a series of quick wins. This is hard work.
  • Patience is required because economic development often requires rethinking systems and reprioritizing long-term outcomes.
  • Steadfast effort and innovation are required along with the focus on inclusive growth.
  • Inclusive economic growth is about both breadth and depth of impact.

Congratulations and THANK YOU to all the Fellows from World Business Chicago. Your dedication of time and talent is making the City of Chicago stronger and healthier.

For more information about applying to the Chicago Economic Growth Fellowship Program, please contact the Manager of Strategic Corporate Partnerships, Ben Berlin at or visit:

Welcoming UChicago’s 2017 Civic Leadership Academy Cohort

The CLA (Civic Leadership Academy) class of 2017 welcome reception is held at the Chicago Cultural Center on Wednesday, Jan., 11, 2017, in Chicago. (Photo by Joel Wintermantle)

In 2017, Microsoft is once again honored to be partner with the University of Chicago’s Civic Leadership Academy (CLA). This is our third year supporting the CLA program and each year, we see an increase in the depth and maturing of the program curriculum, as well as the caliber of the cohort participants. For those of you who may not be aware, the Office of Civic Engagement launched the Civic Leadership Academy in 2014, in partnership with the University’s five professional schools – Chicago Booth School of Business, Harris Public Policy, Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies, the UChicago Law School, and School of Social Service Administration – and Institute of Politics, as well as Local Initiatives Support Corp. (LISC) Chicago, Civic Consulting Alliance, the City of Chicago, and Cook County.

On Jan. 12, the 30 fellows began a rigorous six-month program that will teach essential leadership skills and provide the time and space to collaborate on a capstone project that addresses a practical challenge facing each fellow’s organization. In March, the fellows will travel to the University of Chicago Center in Delhi, India, for a weeklong global practicum. Upon completion of the program, they will receive a certificate in civic leadership from Harris.

This is the first in a series which will focus on the CLA, and how it lays the foundation for leadership and communication across Chicago and Cook County with civic, public sector and nonprofits leaders. I am privileged to be working with William Howell, faculty advisor for the Civic Leadership Academy, and the Office of Civic Engagement staff on a program for the cohort on February 10, which will focus on leadership and civic tech, as well as to be accompanying the cohort to India for their global practicum in March.

Please see below social media from the January 11, 2017 Welcome Reception for the 2017 Civic Leadership Academy participants.

Lake View High School Kicks Off 2017 STEM Challenge — This Year, A Focus on Civic Engagement

Microsoft mentor Larry Kuhn workshops with Lake View students. Credit: ISTI

A new year usually means making lots of changes — sometimes simply for the sake of change. My view is that when you have a program that is working extraordinarily well, keep those changes to a minimum and continue the positive momentum. That is exactly what PJ Karafiol, Principal, and Tyrese Graham, Assistant Principal of Lake View High School have done with the 2017 STEM Challenge, sponsored by Microsoft and managed in partnership with the Illinois Science and Technology Institute (ISTI).

Microsoft has supported Lake View in the STEM Challenge for the past two years. As we enter into our third year of the Challenge, we decided to keep the focus on the same challenge as last year: “How can the Internet of Things (IoT) help the Lake View Community?” Since this is a broad challenge, it allows tremendous freedom for the students to look at the benefits of IoT from a physical school perspective, a community perspective, or a civic perspective (such as transportation, logistics, etc.). Similarly, Microsoft is funding the Challenge process, and is bringing in a great set of employees to be mentors during. The cycle kicked off on January 17th with an auditorium filled with students, faculty and mentors, as well as a design workshop to increase student collaboration and communications.

Lake View students workshop designs at the STEM Challenge. Credit: Shelley Stern Grach

So, what is new and different?

This year, the program will be integrated into the Civics classes. As you may know, Civics is a required class for all Illinois students, thanks to strong support from the McCormick Foundation and the State.

Bringing the STEM Challenge into the Civics classes offers the program to more students because it is a wider scope than technology. While we certainly don’t want to lose the “STEM” part of STEM Challenge, the focus is more on the civic engagement aspect of the solution — technology is a key enabler, but technology alone can’t solve a key community problem. It’s the integration of creativity, collaboration and communications with technology that will prove the most effective.

Duane Davis, ISTI’s STEM Challenge coach, gives feedback to students. Credit: ISTI

We gave the students a few more hints for success:

  1. Make the most of your time with your mentors
  2. Use the Mentor Matching Engine, designed by ISTI, frequently. The mentors love the flexibility to interact with the students on line as well as in person.
  3. As you build your solutions, in addition to the documentation, PowerPoints and verbal presentations, try to include something more physical in your design — perhaps a diorama, a model, something electronic or robotic.

It’s early in the process for this new group participating in the STEM Challenge. But if the energy and interest evident at the Kickoff is any indication, this will be the best STEM Challenge yet!

Below are some of the best tweets from the Kickoff.


Helping CHA Students “Take Flight”


Photo via CHA, Twitter.

We spend a lot of time in Chicago focusing on helping CPS students get into college. But how do we help ensure they are successful and connecting to the business world while they are in college?

The terrific team at the Chicago Housing Authority has an answer: The “Take Flight: Staying the Course” Program. Managed by Crystal C. Coats,  Senior Manager, Corporate and External Partnerships, the “Take Flight” program focuses on CHA students who are in college (mostly freshmen-juniors) who grew up in the CHA community, and who are getting velvet glove treatment to make sure they are doing well, in college, have a resource network locally, and are introduced to prospective employers for jobs after they graduate.

Microsoft Chicago was honored to support this program. The students were coached on how to interact with the “Professionals” while over 20 organizations hosted tables for a round-robin speed dating discussion with the students. The Professionals ranged from theatre and arts to health care and technology. All provided a career path or internships for the students to learn about. Many thanks to the following organizations for providing time, talent and guidance to the students:

cha-to-doAt the Microsoft table, we had a steady flow of inquiries and questions. It was clear to me that CHA have selected a wonderful group of students, who were doing well in college (many were outside of Chicago so we also discussed their first “away” experience), interested in internships and planning for their career, or just looking for advice as they decided on their area of concentration or major. I was especially impressed with:

  • A young lady who was majoring in Computer Science. When I asked her how she became interested in CS, she said it was from a summer camp she attended at IIT/Illinois Tech while in high school. Hats off to IIT!
  • A great conversation with a young lady who had recently switched her major to Criminal Justice. We are both fans of the “Chicago PD” TV show and we discussed the previous night’s episode. An unspeakable crime was solved using Big Data to analyze DNA sample matches to narrow down and identify the suspect. She didn’t realize the connection to software in helping solve crimes. It was a fun, enlightening conversation on both sides.

Congratulations to the entire CHA team for developing and flawlessly executing such an important milestone for their students. We were honored to participate and look forward to future events.

Cold Temps, Warm Hearts in Detroit!

Oh, the weather outside was frightful last week, traveling from sub-zero Chicago to sub-zero Detroit. I felt like I was in a “Frozen” version of Groundhog Day, repeating Chicago’s coldest weather in how many years as it arrived in Detroit. Lucky me. I had my flannel-lined jeans, my Omni-Heat Pillsbury Dough-girl coat and, of course, my Uggs. I can do this!

First stop was Tech Town for a full morning with our great friends DataDrivenDetroit@D3. Met with the whole team and got to play Mrs. Claus as Microsoft donated a sleigh full of Surface Pro 4’s to the D3 team to use for CUT Groups, community work and analysis. We even got red type pads to mark the holiday season.

Group with Surface Devices

In addition to playing with our new toys, we discussed plans for 2017, including expansion of CUT Groups and looking into a regional data collaborative. D3 is doing amazing work to accelerate the civic tech ecosystem.

My next meeting was with Mark Crosswell, of Points of Light. Mark and his wonderful colleague Megan Christenson, run the Civic Accelerator, a Points of Light program. Our Civic Tech Fellow, Ivoire Morrell and I wanted to learn more about this program, which is focused on Youth Education and Workforce Development. “CivicX” is the first national accelerator program and investment fund in the country focused on “civic ventures”—for profit and early stage ventures that solve social problems by including people as part of the solution to critical social programs. The 10 week, boot camp-style program convenes 10-15 teams in person and online with the goal of equipping each venture to seek investments and scale their social innovation. You can learn more about the Civic Accelerator at @civicaccleratr#CivicX, and

Microsoft has been a big fan of CivicX and Ivoire, my Chicago colleague Adam Hecktman, and I have attended mentoring workshops through the 2016 program, which focuses on my two favorite (and freezing!) towns of Chicago and Detroit. We discussed the overall program goals with Mark, then Ivoire and I headed off to Ford Motor Company’s corporate headquarters in Dearborn, where Ford graciously hosted CivicX Demo Day 2016, which was organized and run by Megan…

At the gorgeous auditorium at Ford, we saw the various teams presenting their concepts in a Ted-talk format. The entrepreneurs each had 3 minutes to pitch their solution. The audience voted for Most Innovative Solution, Greatest Social Impact and Most Compelling Story. I absolutely LOVE these categories! Having worked 1:1 with some of the teams as they were developing their plans, it was awesome to see the progress and inspiring to see the focus on social impact.

Here are some photos of some of the Pitches:

As I bundled off to return to 8 inches of snow over the weekend in New Buffalo, I reflected on the incredible momentum and positivity in Detroit. Truly a great revival story, that has a broad spectrum of organizations and very committed people. If Chicago is the city of Big Shoulders, Detroit is the city of Warm Hearts.

Oh, yes, it could have been worse. Ask the Chicago Bears. Happy Holidays!!!!!

Corliss High School Kicks Off STEM Challenge

Corliss students work together to build a marshmallow tower

For the past three years, Microsoft has partnered with the Illinois Science and Technology Institute (@ISTCoalition) and Lake View High School (@SCS_LakeviewHS) for the STEM Challenge. This is a great collaborative program which ties together curriculum, technology and mentoring from Microsoft employees to complement the teachers’ instruction on how to solve real world problems using technology. This year, we are thrilled to add Corliss High School as a Chicago Early College STEM School partner. We recently launched the STEM Challenge Kickoff event at Corliss on November 9th.

The focus this year is for the students to look at how the Internet of Things (IoT) can result in solutions for community issues in the Corliss neighborhood. The kick off day began with Dr. Leonard Harris, the Corliss principal, welcoming the group and outlining the agenda for the day, which saw many opportunities for mentor-student collaboration. From an ice breaker activity to a team building marshmallow tower workshop, the mentors from Microsoft worked hands-on with their student teams to start building the relationship that they will maintain through the end of April 2017. Further engagement occurred over a networking lunch where the Corliss students came prepared with questions about the mentors’ career paths, expertise and roles within Microsoft. The kick off came to a close with the Corliss STEM Challenge student groups presenting to Microsoft on their IoT research to date, and a group photo showcases the progress already made on this year’s partnership.


Students and mentors brainstorm together

Students will continue to work with their Microsoft mentors while researching their solutions with a school-wide share out planned toward the end of the project. This year’s collaboration will wrap up on April 27th at the Illinois Science and Technology Institute (ISTI) STEM Challenge Showcase, featuring presentations from 26 schools working with 12 companies.

We would like to thank the terrific faculty and staff at Corliss High School and our long-time partners Emily Cooper and Allie Barwise from the ISTI. It will be great fun to have two schools learning about IoT this year…. maybe some friendly competition? Who knows?

How To Get Involved And Support People With Disabilities — From Global To Local


Did you know that December 3rd is the “International Day of Persons with Disabilities” every year? How about that more than 1 in 10 residents of Illinois live with a disability, yet only 35% of working-age Illinoisans with disabilities have jobs?

Group of five individuals standing by ADA25 sign

Since 1992, the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) has been celebrated annually on the 3rd of  December around the world.

The theme for 2016’s International Day is Achieving 17 Goals for the Future We Want. This theme notes the recent adoption of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the role of these goals in building a more inclusive and equitable world for persons with disabilities.

This year’s objectives include assessing the current status of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and SDGs and laying the foundation for a future of greater inclusion for persons with disabilities.

Shelley Stern Grach giving speech with transcriber of text visible on Surface Hub

I had the honor of attending an excellent program which complemented the International Day— the Global Aspects of Disability Panel Discussion,  hosted at The Northern Trust and supported by the Chicagoland Business Leadership Network (CBLN). The mission of the CBLN is to drive success through disability inclusion and to advance disability inclusion by providing the business community with tools, resources and solutions that drive employee hiring, engagement and performance. Check them out at

Group listening to speeches.

Other resources that CBLN provides include:

  • Education programs, such as the Disability Inclusion Opportunity Summit, the premier conference in the Midwest exploring business issues related to disability inclusion
  • Resources to connect businesses to the untapped labor pool and tools to gauge performance, including the USBLN’s Disability Equality Index (include copywrite marking)
  • Networking and access to share best practices

Later that same day, Microsoft had the honor to host the  networking program for the ADA 25 ADvAncing Leadership program! What a great time we had! ADA 25 Advancing Leadership’s long term vision is that Chicago’s vibrant civic life will include people with disabilities to reflect the diversity of the population. Its mission is to build a pipeline and network of leaders with disabilities who are deeply engaged in the civic life of the Chicago region and advance the careers of people in that pipeline. Programs include:

  • Civic Connections project – to increase the number of people with disabilities serving in civic leadership positions
  • Members Network-Leaders who attend quarterly educational and networking events
  • Leadership Institute-a competitively selected class of 16 emerging leaders with disabilities

Team of 4 ladies in chairs smiling at cameraWhat can you do?

  • Learn about the global and local resources available to business leaders and to people with disabilities.
  • Please check out the talented people for this year’s cohort at
  • Reach out! It’s about people reaching out to people and connecting.