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Postcard from India: Do You Live Near Toxic Waste?

This is the second in a series of discussions about my recent trip to India with the University of Chicago’s Civic Leadership Academy. This article will focus on Environmental Sustainability and a remarkable NGO in India, which is working hard to bring information on toxins to the public domain. Microsoft has a deep commitment to environmental sustainability, for our planet, our utilization of energy, and for our legacy. Please read about our policy and programs at https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/about/corporate-responsibility/planet.

via Time Magazine

Like many Chicagoans, I hadn’t thought too much about the disposal of toxic waste. My focus on Environmental Sustainability was usually focused on carbon footprint, ice caps melting, endangered animals and wondering how paying 7 cents for a plastic bag was really going to make a difference for my great-grandchildren. A few weeks ago, Time Magazine had a small article that caught my attention. Time Labs mapped all the 1,317 so-called Superfund sites—the most toxic locations in the US, as tracked by the federal government. The density of toxic waste centered around Illinois and my home state of Michigan really surprised me.

Then I spent an afternoon in Delhi, India with the remarkable Ravi Agarwal, Founder and Director of Toxics Link. Ravi is changing the urban waste management system in India by involving local communities and the informal sector of “waste pickers” in waste disposal. He also is a strong advocate for a cleaner materials policy in industry. His work crosses boundaries locally, nationally and internationally. Toxics Link is an environmental NGO dedicated to bringing toxics-related information into the public domain. They span the struggles at the grass roots levels as well as provide global information to the local levels in India. Their focus is on articulating the issues related to toxic waste.

Ravi Agarwal, Director at Toxics Link

Toxic Links addresses the areas of hazardous and medical waste management, as well as food safety. They work in “networks”, utilizing community outreach and education, coupled with policy analysis, research training and program development. Their goal is to create the right solutions, as driven by the needs of the people. Working both in Delhi and through the country, Toxic Links also acts as part of a coalition of NGOs. An acknowledged expert in hazardous, medical and municipal wastes, Toxic Links is now addressing the emerging issues of pesticides and Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), as well as e-waste scenarios in major metropolitan areas in India. They have a nationwide network of over 5000 members.

When you hear Ravi speak, he is so gentle, erudite and has such as smile on his face, that you need to balance his demeanor with his leadership mantra: “If you don’t engage, you don’t change”. His team collaborates widely with academic institutions and they engage directly “on the ground” with stakeholders. They started out working with “waste pickers” often considered to be the lowest form of work in India. Today, they also focus on electronic waste and wrote the first report in 2003 from a developing country on this topic. Here are some of the accomplishments of Toxic Links:

  • Toxics Link Has Been Awarded the Research & Development Award 2016 for Its Outstanding Contribution in Lead Related Research.
  • Toxics Link has been organizing school awareness programs across india. Around 4,221 schools, 4,50,000 students and 13,000 teachers have been covered in 19 states.
  • “We are a group of people working together for environmental justice and freedom from toxins. We have taken it upon ourselves to collect and share information about the sources and dangers of poisons in our environment and bodies, as well as clean and sustainable alternatives for India and the rest of the world.”
  • They have even created games on e-waste to make the topic more fun for school children.

So, how can we relate the amazing work that Ravi and Toxic Links are doing to Environmental Sustainability in Chicago and the US? My perspective is that we can learn from Ravi’s leadership style and his relentless focus on pursuing and communicating the truth. As he said in our meeting:

“We come with a smile,

We come in peace,

We can wait,

We are firm and we don’t compromise”.

His team doesn’t see the environment as separate from social justice, as it’s often the poorest and most underprivileged among the Indian population that have the closet connection to toxic waste from a geographical (living) perspective. Ravi urged us to “mobilize our work at home to address the least empowered”. Because if you start there, your role as a leader becomes a position of humility, not power.

He sees systemic reform as the “north star goal”, but the reality is that he focuses on specific issues for the present, in order to actually change policy and make real improvements. He gave us the following advice as leaders to bring home to our work in Chicago:

  1. Be at the table every day!
  2. Be in the conversation every day!
  3. Commit to long term, persistent leadership, which hold the values and the culture of your organization.

As we spent considerable time discussing values, Ravi believes that “values are there because you hold onto them”. You will know when your work is respected, and it helps to provide your team members very clear responsibilities. Values are held in systems…the way you respect and reward people is a demonstration of your values. It’s probably not a surprise that Ravi is also an accomplished artist, as he believes Art helps you lead a team in several ways. It helps you look at things differently, look at nature and ecology and the planet with a sense of wonderment and respect. It is this lens of leadership, this focus on values, and the ability to wait and not compromise that are lessons we can bring home and use every day.

Managing Sustainability Below the Earth’s Surface

An Underground Infrastructure Mapping Scan, via UI Labs

This being Earth Week, I would like to take you just slightly below the Earth’s surface. Under our city, as a matter of fact. Why? Because the infrastructure that resides underground impacts the output of carbon above ground. To understand how this works, let’s do a little exploration down below.

Beneath the streets and alleys of our city lies a labyrinth that supports daily life and commerce. Underground assets include water pipes, fiber optic lines, gas pipes, electrical lines, cable and telco lines. It also includes legacy infrastructure (think telegraph cables…yes telegraph…and conduit).

We don’t think about the underground infrastructure because we don’t see it. We take it for granted until something needs repair, or new infrastructure needs to be added. When we are inconvenienced by the lane closures associated with the opening of a street, we see it and curse it. Car, bicycle, and foot traffic are routed around the construction. In the best of circumstances, the street is sealed back up and traffic resumes as normal. Except when it doesn’t.

Too often, when a crew is working on, say, repairing underground cable lines, they may run into unexpected assets such as electrical lines. They must stop their work, seal the street, move, and the process starts again. That means that the time that traffic is inconvenienced is effectively doubled. How often is too often? According to City Digital, In the US, an underground infrastructure is hit on average of every 60 seconds at a cost of $1.6B annually).

How does this keep happening so frequently? Don’t we know what is underground? Not exactly. Today, underground coordination prior to construction is based on looking at maps (sometimes non-digital). And those maps are often two dimensional (meaning that you do not know the depth of the assets they are mapping). Further complicating the situation, the maps can be inaccurate, incomplete, or outdated.

So how does what happens underground impact the carbon output above ground in our city? Run through this (not uncommon) scenario again where a project needs to be re-started because of interfering existing infrastructure:

  • The street or lane is blocked off, and slowed or stalled traffic idles (carbon)
  • Big machines come in and rip up the street (more carbon)
  • Shoot! Something is in the way. Big machines seal up the street (more carbon)
  • Block off another section of street and continue to idle congested traffic (much more carbon)
  • Repeat until mad

So, much of the impact on the environment comes from unnecessary idling, which produces climate damaging greenhouse gases. You might think “big deal, so I idle for a minute or two while waiting to maneuver around underground street construction”. Think about this: according to Natural Resources Canada, idling for just 3 minutes every day adds 1.4M tons of CO2 emissions. Removing that is equivalent to taking 320,000 cars off the road for the entire year.

The impact on climate change is such that some countries have created policies and guidelines for reducing idling. In the US, the EPA posted guidelines that recommend turning the engine off if you are idling more than 30 seconds. Reducing the need to idle is even a better solution.

Enter City Digital’s Underground Infrastructure Mapping pilot. Last fall, City Digital kicked off a pilot to create an underground infrastructure mapping (UIM) platform that is designed to reduce the expensive need to restart these intrusive projects. The platform generates, organizes, visualizes, and stores 3D underground infrastructure data that can be securely shared by those who have assets underground.

An Underground Infrastructure Visualization, via UI Labs

Using the City of Chicago as a testbed for the platform’s development, City Digital members are deploying this new technology to create accurate 3D maps of underground assets. An engineering-grade, cloud-based data platform ensures that critical infrastructure information is securely stored and shared at the right level with the right people. The result: having accurate information prior to breaking ground not only reduces carbon output, it saves cities and utilities millions of dollars in the construction and planning processes. It is a modern take on the “measure twice, cut once” approach to reducing carbon emission.

Microsoft is proud to partner with City Digital as we build on the success of the Smart Green Infrastructure Monitoring (SGIM) project, and move our focus to what underground. As underground infrastructure becomes more familiar to us, we’re looking forward to the next steps of reducing emissions and helping save the earth, little by little.

To learn more about Microsoft’s commitment to environmental sustainability, head to the Microsoft Green Blog.

Postcard from India: An Array of Themes

This is the first in a series of blogs about my recent trip to India with the University of Chicago Civic Leadership Academy. It’s taken me some time  to simply digest everything that we saw and experienced, and to think through the “big themes” and how those themes either relate to Civic Engagement in Chicago. Today’s discussion will focus on the “Array of Themes” that India kindles and I’ll share a few early highlights of our visits so you can see the diversity of the country.

Future blogs will focus on a few of the inspiring leaders we visited, and how their leadership skills can be translated to the challenges here in Chicago.

Let’s start with a quote which graces the wall of the Microsoft Delhi office which I visited on my second to last day in India. We’ll talk more about the office at a later time, but I felt this was a great summary of the values of every leader and every place we visited:

In Sanskrit:
Vipadi dhairyam atha abhyudaye kshamaa sadasi vaakpatutaa yudhi vikramaha
Yashasi cha abhiratihi vyasanam shrutau prakriti siddham idam hi mahaatmanaam

In English :
Courage in trouble, forbearance in prosperity, eloquence in the assembly, valour in battle, eagerness in gaining fame, attention to the holy scriptures – all these are natural to great ones.

Over the course of the trip, several themes emerged and are summed up by a comment from Rashish Nanda, the Chief Executive Office of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, India: “India lives in many centuries at the same time”. How perfectly this helps describe the beauty, the cultural mash-up, the digitization of India living right next to extreme poverty. Each morning we started our program at the modern campus of the University of Chicago Center in Delhi. We met with noted senior executives and NGO leaders who fought for change and human rights.

Following are the themes that I observed during our visit:

  1. The scale of the challenges in India are massive. Delhi has nearly 20 million people and the scope of trying to impact that range of people is enormous. I found the leaders we met tackled their challenges “one person at a time”, always moving forward and the scope didn’t diminish their energy or optimism.
  2. Women’s rights are also a key issue and the mountain that the NGO female leaders climbed were clearly higher than for male NGO leaders. Which made the impact and the focus of the women we met with all the more impressive. We’ll hear more about Ruma Roka, Founder and Chief Executive, Noida Deaf Society in a future blog.
  3. Society itself is in a self-discovery process. It’s both evolving to catch up with the 21st Century and keeping true to its heritage and culture at the same time. Think about Chicago, “born” in 1837 and how we are building a global tech hub. Now think about Delhi: The Indian capital city of Delhi has a long history, and has been an important political center of India as the capital of several empires. Much of Delhi’s ancient history finds no record and this may be regarded as a lost period of its history. Extensive coverage of Delhi’s history begins with the onset of the Delhi Sultanate in the 12th century. Since then, Delhi has been the center of a succession of mighty empires and powerful kingdoms, making Delhi one of the longest serving Capitals and one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world.
  4. The sounds! The senses! The colors! The creative expression! India expresses its cultural heritage through dress, colors, spices, deep faith and horns honking. The call to worship, the vibrant colors literally everywhere and the constant collision of 21st Century traffic with people selling their wares as they have been sold for generations. The presence of TV screens at the magnificent Golden Temple is a great example.
  5. Leadership is everywhere in India. It’s with the mother who is changing her child’s life through sending her to the School for the Deaf. It’s with the engineers and scientists who focus on toxic waste and work tirelessly to change policies to improve the health of the country. It’s with the Foundation leaders who focus on preserving the green space and the heritage of Humayun’s Tomb through an urban renewal initiative, similar to the urban renewal in Bronzeville, Englewood or along 63rd Street.

The leaders we met with put the spark of human dignity back into people who had been defeated by life. They were faced with leading across boundaries (ethnic, caste, government/private sector). They faced challenges of public sectors everywhere: how do you motivate and energize bureaucracy? How do you battle corruption? How do you do urban planning in a geography that originally had 50,000 citizens and now has nearly 20 million people to house, feed, and educate. They face the challenges of managing multiple stakeholders (imagine the challenges of restoration, culture and funding for Humayun’s Tomb! But then again, Humayun managed to be buried with both of his wives….). The leaders we met with felt that community ownership was key to success (sound familiar, Chicago?). Leadership qualities include the ability to look deeper and create customized solutions, being nimble, being analytical and using data to evaluate success through pre and post assessment, and above all, being passionate.

In our next blog, we’ll learn more about the remarkable Noida Deaf Society and how one women literally brought children who had no education nor means of communication into a school, where those children are now the teachers.

Civic Chat — Networking Our Neighborhoods: Gabrielle Lyon, Chicago Architecture Foundation and Heather Van Benthuysen, Chicago Public Schools

Civic education has always been a priority in Chicago, as a city that prides itself in its political involvement and civic engagement. Yet it has only recently become a requirement for Chicago’s students. Heather Van Benthuysen, Civic Education Manager at Chicago Public Schools, has changed this, and is working to inspire Chicago students to become active participants in their communities through experiential civic education.

Remember the Wacker’s Manual of the Plan of Chicago? Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has partnered with the Chicago Architecture Foundation for No Small Plans, a graphic novel inspired by and built for CPS teens based on the Wacker’s Manual. The 144-page novel follows the adventures of teens in Chicago’s past (1928), present (2017), and future (2211) in Chicago’s individual neighborhoods.

In Shelley Stern Grach’s latest Civic Chat: Networking Our Neighborhoods, she sits down with Heather Van Benthuysen and Gabrielle Lyon, Vice President of Education and Experience at Chicago Architecture Foundation, to explore No Small Plans and civic education in Chicago.

Watch Shelley’s chat with Heather and Gabrielle live on Advisor.tv.

Support No Small Plans — purchase or donate a copy in advance here.

Civic Tech in Chicago — April’s Top Events

Spring has sprung! We’re ready to shed our extra layers, head out of the underground, and enjoy the (almost) warm weather. Plus, this month is officially Information Technology Month in Illinois — there’s so much to celebrate!

Embrace the season with us with these top events this month:

All Month

Innovate Lake Erie
Cleveland Water Alliance

The Erie Hack is a data and engineering competition that unites coders, developers, engineers, and water experts to generate enduring solutions to Lake Erie’s biggest challenges. The competition includes $100,000 in prizes for the most creative and effective hacks. Working from challenge statements derived from ideation sessions with NASA representatives and regional stakeholders, teams are charged with creating innovative digital tools, hardware innovations, and engineering solutions that build “the Blue Economy”: the emergent economic sector dedicated to the sustainable stewardship of bodies of freshwater around the globe. The Erie Hack provides regional high school students, college students, and professionals the opportunity to combine their own expertise with solid mentoring to create technologies with the potential to invigorate Lake Erie’s environment and economy.

ITA Tech Challenge Teaser

​In conjunction with the Illinois Governor’s new proclamation that April is Information Technology month, and to provide an additional opportunity to practice your coding and programming skills before the fall Tech Challenge, ITA has launched the Tech Challenge Teaser. This challenge is similar to the Tech Challenge in the fall, but on a smaller scale and is administered 100% virtually between April 3rd and April 14th.

April 4

Chi Hack Night — Smart Green Infrastructure Monitoring
6:00pm
Braintree office 222 W Merchandise Mart Plz 8th Floor, Chicago

Flooding in the Chicagoland area due to excess stormwater has resulted in over 182,000 claims of property damage with a total estimated cost of $735 million over the last five years. This damage is the result of combined sewer system backups into homes and waterbodies.

To alleviate this, the City of Chicago has allocated $50M to augment the combined sewer system with green infrastructure. The program has focused on implementing a combination of traditional and green stormwater infrastructure.

Last year City Digital, part of UI Labs, kicked-off their Smart Green Infrastructure Monitoring pilot that brought together a team including Microsoft, Opti, Senformatics, West Monroe Partners, and AECOM to develop a new collection of technologies to remotely monitor the performance of green infrastructure.

With the City of Chicago, the monitoring technology has been deployed at four green infrastructure sites across the City to monitor the performance of a variety of green infrastructure types, including a bioswale, permeable pavers, infiltration planters, and tree grates.

Adam Hecktman, Microsoft’s Director of Technology & Civic Innovation Chicago, Dana Al-Qadi, Engineer at AECOM and Tom Schenk, Chief Data Officer at the City of Chicago will present details on the pilot formation, solution deployed, and initial findings from this effort.

April 5

The Impact Genome: Predicting Social Impact
6:00pm – 7:00pm
Microsoft Technology Center, Chicago | Aon Center 200 E. Randolph Ste 200, Chicago

Join us on April 5th to hear Mission Measurement founder Jason Saul talk about the genesis of this project, the data it uses, and the data it will create. 6:00pm at the Microsoft Technology Center Chicago.

April 7

ADA Diabetes Innovation Summit
​12:00pm – 5:30pm
MATTER 222 W Merchandise Mart Plaza #1230, Chicago

The American Diabetes Association’s Diabetes Innovation Summit promises a unique, interactive and immersive experience focused on building a network of those committed to exploring investable opportunities that will accelerate and catalyze the Association’s mission.  Feedback from the diabetes community will fuel conversations about daily challenges facing individuals living with diabetes.
April 10
Roosevelt @ UIC & ICPR: Who Writes the Rules Matters
11:00am – 12:30pm
UIC Student Services Building 1200 W Harrison, Chicago

Roosevelters know that Who Writes the Rules Matters, so we’re bringing together students and legislators in partnership with the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform to figure out how everyone can have a seat at the table. Join us for a panel discussion followed by a collaborative workshop as we seek to understand structural and practical barriers to democratic access for young people.

April 12

April 2017 Chicago International Student Career Fair – Employer RSVP
10:30 AM – 3:30 PM
DeVry University 3300 North Campbell Avenue, Chicago

The Chicago International Student Career Fair will provide a platform for your company to meet hundreds of talented, skilled professionals, students and alumni.

Connect with international professionals and talent from universities. We are confident that this event will provide you with unique access to our talented international students in greater Chicago specializing in business, technology, health sciences, fine arts, architecture, engineering and more.

April 19

Celebrating Hon. Adlai and Nancy Stevenson
The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform 500 N Dearborn St, Suite 518, Chicago

On Wednesday, April 19th, ICPR will honor Hon. Adlai and Nancy Stevenson with the Mikva Legacy Award for Truth and Justice at Noon at Petterino’s in Chicago

Judge Mary Mikva will join ICPR to present the Stevensons with this honor for their extensive work in Illinois through advocacy, public service, and the Stevenson Center on Democracy

April 27

Microsoft – Adapting Experiences for Virtual and Mixed Reality
5:30 PM to 7:30 PM
Tech Nexus (Conference Room C/D) 20 N. Wacker Drive, Suite 1200, Chicago

The principles used for building a standard 3D experience fundamentally change when considering virtual and mixed reality. New devices such as the Microsoft HoloLens lets users interact with digital content in relation to the real world, disrupting the way we build experiences. This session will explain how to consider these concepts during development as well as introduce the new medium of building 3D Mixed Reality applications and games using C#, Visual Studio, and Unity. Whether itching to build your own applications or enthusiastic about designing for these ever-changing virtual mediums, you’ll walk away with the tools to build your own.

Big Shoulders: Trisha Degg, Director of Talent Programs for ITA

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? As the old joke goes…practice. How do you nurture an interest in programming into a successful career? Turns out the answer is the same…practice. Today, the Illinois Technology Association (ITA) is launching its High School Tech Challenge, giving students the opportunity to practice their coding skills, and giving them an opportunity to win scholarship money at the same time. The challenge, which launches April 3 and runs through April 14, is sponsored by Chicago e-discovery company kCura and is virtual, so students can take it anywhere, at anytime.

Using a platform called HackerRank, participants choose the programming language that they are comfortable with (Python, C++, Java, etc.) and are presented with problems to solve. The problems get progressively more challenging, and students have one hour to complete it. The five top overall coders will win a $500 scholarship, as well as an invitation to the ITA Summit.

In the end, ITA is confident that they will tap into something in some of these participants that will drive them on to further their education and inspire their careers. Watch as Trisha Degg, Director of Talent Programs for ITA, talks with me about the High School Tech Challenge on my latest segment of Big Shoulders, on Advisor.tv:

 

A Letter to Lorena Mesa (From Lorena Mesa)

As part of Microsoft’s commitment to diversity and empowerment, we’re thrilled to celebrate Women’s History Month with our newest spotlight series. We’ve asked local women leaders to write a letter to their teenage and college-aged selves to recall a moment in time when they felt empowered by technology. Throughout the month of March, we’ll be spotlighting this series on our blog. We hope these stories uplift you and inspire you to #MakeWhatsNext.

Greetings Lorena!

Or should I say “What up Sailor Scout?” I know you are dying to find out what happens next in the Sailor Moon / Tuxedo Mask love saga and waiting for the English dub is so difficult. Don’t worry. What happens is even better than anything you could ever imagine.

How’s the development of the Sailor Moon fan page going? Did you find out how to make a gradient background fill? What about aligning your images properly? HTML is difficult, especially when there isn’t much documentation. I promise you – it’s worth the effort. Difficult problems are the most fun to solve. Remember that.

By the time you are thirty, everyone is going to want to know how to code. Your effort learning the basics of HTML and CSS will inspire you to teach other women to code, specifically young women.

Want to know something else? When you’re thirty, you’ll be able to watch all the anime you want with the click of a finger thanks to online streaming services. No more waiting for those not-so-good fan dubs at your all too infrequent trips to Mitsuwa, the Japanese marketplace!

Lorena, I know sometimes you feel alone because your interests may be different than those around you. That’s okay. It’s your interests that make you, well, you. Okay, so maybe anime isn’t the most popular thing. Perhaps learning HTML and building fan pages on Angelcities isn’t “normal” for a teenaged girl. But who wants to be “normal”? Lorena, you have an appetite for exploring the unknown, learning something new, trying the wild and wacky!

Your willingness to try new things out will reward you with a rich life and satisfying career (ultimately as a software engineer!). You’ll be able to travel internationally to speak at conferences, to organize communities that align with your core values, and to teach others the things that you love the most. Many will tell you that your passion for learning has been an inspiration for them in their own lives.

Continue to be bold, Lorena. Do as Sailor Moon does and “never back down from a real fight”. If you want to code – code. If you want to watch anime – watch anime. Whatever you put your mind to, you can do it.

This, I promise you, is the secret to “live long and prosper”. (Oh yes, there will be more Star Treks. And yes, they are so good!)

In geeky solidarity,
Future Thirty-Year-Old Lorena

Political analyst turned coder, Lorena Mesa is a Sprout Social platform software engineer, Director on the Python Software Foundation, PyLadies Chicago co-organizer, and Write/Speak/Code conference organizer. Lorena loves to make meaning out of data, asking big questions and using her code to build models to derive that meaning. Part Star Wars fanatic but mostly a Trekkie, Lorena abides by the motto to “live long and prosper”.

Contact Info: lorenamesa.com @loooorenanicole

A Letter to Sarah Sexton (From Sarah Sexton)

As part of Microsoft’s commitment to diversity and empowerment, we’re thrilled to celebrate Women’s History Month with our newest spotlight series. We’ve asked local women leaders to write a letter to their teenage and college-aged selves to recall a moment in time when they felt empowered by technology. Throughout the month of March, we’ll be spotlighting this series on our blog. We hope these stories uplift you and inspire you to #MakeWhatsNext.

Dear Sarah,

Being a wallflower blending into crowds is fine, for a while. The teenage years were a shy and innocent time. But well-behaved women never make history. When life throws you some nasty curveballs, you will be forced to do a lot of growing up. (Start reading Game of Thrones right now to learn how to adapt.)

You don’t like being in the spotlight right now, and that’s fine. There will be days when there is no ceremony to congratulate you for your accomplishments. There will be days when the world is dark. During your adolescence, you will see your world get so dark that you will think there is no end in sight to your grief. But the good news is: You are powerful. You are unconquerable. I say this because at age 26, I’m still alive, living independently in a lake-view high rise apartment on the north side of a huge, bustling city. You don’t just survive – you THRIVE. Teaching my brain how to think with logic and reason and going into the Computer Science major in college was the best decision I ever made!

I changed majors FOUR times. I loved art, animation, writing, AND computers. I could save you a year’s tuition and tell you to skip straight to the Computer Science department and minor in Communications, but I am afraid that any advice that does not put me right here at this moment in time would be a mistake. It’s okay to fail, if you do it fast and early, because the more you fail, the more you learn. Your attention to detail, technological skills, critical thinking, and high capacity for quick learning will serve you well.

The best course of action for trying to succeed, in a world where not everyone has the same advantages, and not everyone is treated equally, is to be the most confident and capable at what you do. Always understand that everyone else is also living a life as vivid and complex as yours. I work in the tech industry, populated by the brightest minds and the hardest workers. It is a constant challenge, but I live for that challenge, and it is the most rewarding struggle. It is perfectly acceptable to stand on the shoulders of giants. Let everyone see that you can do the job you were hired to do. If you can do that, respect and responsibilities will follow.

If you quit anything because of nay-sayers, you’d be letting the haters win. You’d be doing exactly what they want you to do. You’d be giving up and letting them get away with it. So instead of dropping out of a club because you’re being bullied, I challenge you to become President of it. Instead of fleeing a college major because you’re being harassed in it, I challenge you to make the Dean’s list every quarter, fight for straight As, report the harasser, make friends with everyone else in that department, and graduate with honors.

To paraphrase a quote from my favorite 14-year-old character in Game of Thrones, Daenerys Targaryen, “It is true that I am only a young girl, and do not know the ways of war. Explain to me how you propose to defeat ten thousand applicants with your one job application. Innocent as I am, these odds seem poor to me.” The answer is simple: Take hold of your power. What will you do? “I will do what queens do. I will rule.”

Love,

Sarah at 26 years old!
P.S. Here’s some words of wisdom down the pathway of years: The only resource you can never get back is Time, and nothing is more important in the long run than your Soul. So never waste too much time, and never allow anything to crush your soul. The old “gingers have no souls” joke is good for a laugh, but you DO have a soul, and it is with you every time you look in a mirror and every time you go to bed. Mom and Dad love you, and all your friends love you, but only YOU can keep your soul well-fed and happy. You don’t have to “sell out” to make money. You’ve passed your most difficult test in life if the mirror’s reflection is your friend.

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 www.microsoft.com/nonprofits.

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.

A Letter to Karin Norington-Reaves (From Karin Norington-Reaves)

As part of Microsoft’s commitment to diversity and empowerment, we’re thrilled to celebrate Women’s History Month with our newest spotlight series. We’ve asked local women leaders to write a letter to their teenage and college-aged selves to recall a moment in time when they felt empowered by technology. Throughout the month of March, we’ll be spotlighting this series on our blog. We hope these stories uplift you and inspire you to #MakeWhatsNext.

It was likely my proudest moment in 3rd grade. I’d written a paper on this new invention called CAD (Computer Assisted Design). I was so excited by this new technology and the ability to draw using a computer. I drew a picture of the computer, keyboard and the special “pen” that could be used to “draw” designs. I prepared my first essay outline (the longest the teacher had ever seen!) and a cover page. The future was at my fingertips. I couldn’t wait to share my new found knowledge with anyone who’d listen.

With the advent of smartphones, robots that vacuum your floor and driverless cars, my CAD discovery seems so insignificant now. But in 1977, it was a big deal. Personal computers didn’t exist. Indeed mainframes, dinosaurs that filled entire rooms, sometimes floors, were the norm. This was a far cry from today’s compact, lightweight portable devices everyone now carries in their pockets.

My curious 8-year-old self did not foresee the technology that we now take for granted. Nor could I have known how much I’d rely on it, be beholden to it, or sometimes even crave a break from it. (I’ve given up Facebook for Lent for the past two years!). I’m now a 47 year-old Chief Executive Officer of the nation’s second largest workforce development system. I manage a large non-profit organization with a budget of $60 million and a staff of 65 people. On any given day I receive as many as 100 emails across my work and personal accounts. I carry two phones, a Surface Pro, USB cords, a projector adapter, an external battery charger, a WiFi hotspot and an oversized purse every single day.

None of this entered my mind when I opted to bypass lunch period during junior year of high school in favor of typing class. I attended the performing arts program of a school with multiple educational tracts—typing was not offered in my program. But I thought it was important to learn to type in preparation for college, so there went lunch. It was the right move. That typing class was the launching pad for my word processing skills and the ability to type up to 90 words per minute. While I perfected college application essays on my mom’s IBM Selectric, Apple and IBM computers would be the tools for completing college papers, law school application and appellate court briefs. Later, I’d move from merely typing to designing presentations, to analyzing and demonstrating data through attention-grabbing graphics.

So much of my life would be significantly more difficult without the technology I use daily: the Outlook calendar that coordinates my and my children’s schedules across my work and personal devices; the address book that holds phone numbers I once committed to memory but now would be hard-pressed to recall in a pinch; the apps through which I manage my retirement, checking, savings and credit card accounts. And, text messaging! Oh how many times has a quick text helped me keep an appointment, find out where my children are, or get updates on an event I couldn’t attend?

My children undoubtedly think I’m corny when I wax nostalgic about how “there were no ______ when I was your age.”  But it’s true, there were no cellphones when I was growing up, no computers, no apps, no flatscreen TV’s, Bluetooth or You Tube. I’m not really that old—it’s just that technology has evolved with an incredible speed. So much so that I’m certain in another 20 years when my children are parents, they’ll hear themselves saying to my grandchildren, “we didn’t have that when I was your age!” and they’ll smile. And they’ll realize that just like me, they too were able to master all of the new technology as it became the norm and changed their lives forever.

Karin Norington-Reaves serves as CEO of the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership. In this capacity she oversees the administration of federal, state and philanthropic funds and the creation of effective programs that assure symmetry between the skills demanded by a changing economy and those offered by the region’s workforce. Karin serves on the Cook County Economic Development Advisory Committee (EDAC) as well as on the Board of Advisors for LISC Chicago.

Karin brings more than 10 years of experience in education, community/economic development, and workforce development to the position. Prior to her appointment Karin served as Director of Cook County Works; Deputy Director of the Office of Urban Assistance for the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) and Chief of Staff for the City of Chicago’s 20th Ward. Karin holds a J.D. from Southern Methodist University School of Law in Dallas, Texas and a B.A. in Spanish Language and Literature from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.