Women Forward — Civic Tech Changemaker Sarah Rahman of MassTech’s Innovation Institute

| Sarah Rahman

In my job as Civic Engagement Manager, I have the distinct pleasure of interacting with many amazing women who are influencing civic engagement and fueling innovation in Boston.  In honor of Women’s History Month, Microsoft New England asked a number of inspiring women what empowers them. Check on their responses below and don’t forget to share and tweet these posts to spread the word about the great work these women are driving in Boston! 

— Aimee Sprung, Civic Engagement Manager, Microsoft New England

Sarah-Rahman-2In economic development, civic and community innovation often comes into play in the form of novel approaches, different partnerships, and new models and platforms to spur growth and prosperity in localities and regions. Part of my job at the Innovation Institute at MassTech is to help enable and support these innovations, and I have taken away some key observations along the way. These include, but are not limited to:

1. Technology is not everything all the time. Tech is indisputably an important driver of the future economy, and an important lens for multiple aspects of economic development. However, a sole tech focus may not always benefit every purpose or community every time. The success of EforAll programming in Merrimack Valley, for example, has shown the importance of embracing entrepreneurs and startups of all kinds. EforAll’s work is strengthening that region’s ecosystem for entrepreneurship and building a foundation for future capacity for startups across all sectors, including tech and other advanced industries.

2. Success is often led bottom-up. Local and regional leaders who are on-the-ground are often in the best position to advise on how any particular idea may be best defined and applied to address needs in their own communities of interest. The concept of mentorship, for example, is understood in any number of different ways across the Commonwealth and well-executed initiatives can successfully serve a range of purposes. For example, the Cape Cod Mentor Network aims to retain the region’s young talent, and Interise guides business planning at targeted existing small business to expand sales and jobs growth in local economies, such as New Bedford/Fall River.

3. One size does NOT fit all. Good intentions sometime seek to duplicate a well-known model, such as the MassChallenge startup accelerator, to achieve the same desired outcomes for a different geography. Instead, Valley Venture Mentors in Springfield shows that its success in running a growing startup accelerator comes not from copying the established model but identifying and adapting key learnings to best suit its own unique character and external and internal conditions.

The few examples cited above help to explain why there is no single, easy “formula” for the best way to enable civic and community innovation in economic development. Each new engagement opportunity brings its own set of specific inputs and challenges in terms of resources, leadership, and capacity, among others. And so, each necessarily involves collaborating and iterating with partners to assess and plan how elements could and should come together.

The end results are pilots or experiments that have the chance of solving recognized problems in new ways and becoming the next inspirational examples for civic innovators. Being in a position where my work can contribute to these future possibilities – that’s empowering.

Sarah Rahman is the Director of Strategic Initiatives at the Innovation Institute at the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative.

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