Improving Nonprofit Data Capacity to Strengthen Proposals to Serve Local Communities

In June, the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership (NNIP) at the Urban Institute and Microsoft released a collection of resources and recommendations on extending and expanding training opportunities for staff at civic organizations and governments to help them leverage data and technology to tackle local priorities.  To illustrate the foundations, learnings, and impacts that informed the NNIP study, we are delighted to have NNIP partners from around the U.S. sharing their experiences in developing and operating their local training programs in a series of guest blogs.  Below is one of these experiences. Previous posts in this series are available from the Urban Institute and the Oakland, Pittsburgh, and Detroit partner organizations.

— Elizabeth Grossman, Director of Civic Projects, Microsoft

What can we do to help public agencies understand community needs and fund strong programs to address them? Communities Count in Washington state’s King County, is working with local governments and philanthropies to develop trainings to improve the grant-making process for public investments in health and neighborhood development.

Revealing barriers to nonprofit grant applicants’ success

In early 2015, we analyzed applications that did and did not receive funding from Communities of Opportunity, a regional initiative to stem the tide of increasing racial and geographic disparities in health outcomes. We found that the probability of receiving funding was closely linked to applicants’ ability to use data in proposals. While all funded applications had used data effectively, only 41 percent of unfunded applications had done so. Some of the unfunded proposals might have offered innovative programs or responses to emerging needs in the community but, according to one staff member, “they were unable to articulate their need or link the data they provided to the actual project.”

From this analysis, we recognized that building stronger data capacity among service organizations could improve the quality of the applicant pool and the selection process. We contacted organizations that had been turned down for funding to solicit their ideas about topics that would interest them in a data workshop.

Discovering the demand for data training

Ideas from these interviews guided the development of our first training, which focused on using data to tell a story that supports one’s case for funding. We invited staff from the nonprofits with unsuccessful applications and from other interested community organizations and local governments.

We designed the training with the participants in mind, ensuring that the class was:

    • Small: we limited the class to 30 participants.
    • Accessible: we held the event in a community venue in a low-income area of South Seattle that was easy to reach by transit, car, and bike.
    • Interactive: we left lots of time for questions, plus hands-on exercises.

The workshop filled up quickly with staff from a wide variety of community-based organizations, government, and philanthropy. In the month after training, we also offered follow-up support through customized technical assistance. Participants reported that both the training and the technical assistance were valuable, and said they would attend additional trainings if offered.

The demand for training was confirmed by a long waiting list for the first offering and new requests for training. Over the next several months, human services departments from seven suburban cities pooled their resources to partially support two large data trainings – each filled to capacity, with waiting lists.  

Moving upstream in the grantmaking process

We scheduled our next set of trainings — for nonprofits serving our suburban cities – to take place several weeks before the application deadlines for Community Development Block Grants (CDBGs) and other city funding. To ensure the trainings were aligned with the criteria by which applications would be judged, we consulted with city staff who would be rating the applications and customized our curriculum to meet their needs. The workshops filled rooms to capacity in two different locations – training more than 200 participants. A review of the subsequent applications found that many cited data sources included in the trainings.

Our latest efforts center on trainings for organizations applying for funding from Best Starts for Kids, a six-year, $390 million community initiative to “improve the health and well-being of King County by investing in prevention and early intervention for children, youth, families, and communities.” As with the cities, we are coordinating with staff writing the requests for proposals (RFPs) to make sure the trainings align with the goals and evaluation criteria of each team. We offer these trainings in a variety of settings, including bidders’ conferences and webinars.

Sharing Lessons on Training

We have discovered an exciting thirst for learning about data – each workshop has spurred demand for additional sessions. We’ve learned it is most effective when we tailor trainings for each audience, which requires some time investment for each iteration. And we struggle with the tradeoffs between smaller interactive, hands-on workshops and larger, lecture-based classes to accommodate the growing demand. As community groups become more proficient at introductory concepts, they are requesting more advanced courses. For example, they increasingly want to “own” their data and have expressed interest in conducting household surveys, crowd-sourcing data, and analyzing data.  

We now understand the importance of aligning and training both sides – the groups applying for funding and the government staff rating the grant proposals. As funders become more intentional and clearer about what they want to see in applications – with themselves and in their RFPs – they make it easier for applicants to comply and are more likely to adhere to their stated criteria when evaluating applications. Communities Count has a continuing role to play in helping government program staff communicate clearly and consistently about application requirements and in helping nonprofits build a compelling case for the services they provide. We expect this will boost both the quality and the clarity of the information used in deciding how to invest public dollars to improve community health, educate our children, and revitalize our neighborhoods.

Working out of Public Health – Seattle & King County, Louise Carter leads data and communications for Communities Count, a public-private partnership that provides reliable, timely, and relevant data to improve the quality of life for residents of communities in King County, Washington.  She previously worked as an academic researcher at Universities of Washington and Minnesota, a journalist, and communications director in a policy center at the University of Washington’s Evans School of Public Affairs.

Communities Count is a unique public-private partnership that monitors the health and well-being of King County communities, informs funding and policy decisions, and engages citizens. It operates out of Public Health-Seattle & King County, but also includes other area public agencies, including the Seattle and King County Human Services Departments, the City of Bellevue Parks and Community Services Department, and City of Renton. Local philanthropies – The Seattle Foundation and United Way of King County – also participate.

Funding the Future with Action-Based Scholarships: Smarter in the City Startup ScholarJet

Have you heard? Boston is the tech hub you never knew existed. With plenty of startups, organizations, and corporations embracing tech in the Boston area, we’re always ready to celebrate innovation around us. That’s why we’re happy to support Smarter in the City, the first high-tech startup accelerator in Dudley Square, Roxbury. Smarter in the City’s accelerator program adds fresh voices to Boston’s tech ecosystem, one startup at a time through a five-month program that provides stipends, workspace, a mentorship program, and other resources to help local startups make an impact. We’re excited to bring Smarter in the City’s cohort to our blog as we spotlight the current companies working to drive innovation in Boston and beyond.

— Aimee Sprung, Civic Engagement Manager, Microsoft New England

Giving up everything in Vietnam, my mom took a chance and brought my brother and me to the U.S. in 2005. I was 10 years old and without any formal English lessons, the thought of leaving our country to go to another was terrifying. Yet my mom worked tirelessly to provide for us. She believed with her whole heart that, with an education, we could do anything. I rarely saw my mom growing up because she worked tirelessly…as a cook, at nail salons and caring for Cerebral Palsy patients, amongst countless other jobs. With exhausted eyes in front of the stove, day after day, was her unwavering smile as she cooked dinner for us – a seemingly effortless task that took so much strength.

The endless devotion she showed us during those years is still the source of my motivation. I thought that if I could just outwork everyone around me, eventually my mom could stop working. So during my senior year of Boston Latin Academy, I was studying for the SAT, taking AP classes, participating in extracurricular activities, and volunteering.

I thought all of my hard work paid off when I was accepted to Northeastern University. But the cost of $60,000 per year was unimaginable; there was no way we could afford it. So I did everything I could. I wrote over 120 essays to apply for over 40 scholarships in hopes of funding my education. Which I did – earning over $500,000 in scholarships.

Students currently endure the largest student loan crisis in our nation’s history, with a national student loan debt of over $1.4 trillion and an astonishing lack of immigrant students’ access to education. So my team and I created ScholarJet.

ScholarJet is the future of scholarships. We are changing the way students finance their education and the way donors give through “action-based scholarships.”

The foundation of ScholarJet is our firm belief that “it is not who you are underneath, but what you do that defines you.” Our scholarships enable students to show their true potential through challenges related to STEM, arts/media, community service, and health. Instead of writing essays, students can run marathons, paint paintings or even develop apps.

To fund these scholarships, we work with individual donors and philanthropic organizations. Donors are provided a unique opportunity to inspire and motivate students, while organizations can promote their mission through student’s actions. This is all done through our robust web platform that streamlines the entire scholarship process.

Here’s a video showcasing our scholarship at Northeastern:

ScholarJet was recently accepted into MassChallenge’s 2017 Boston Accelerator program, won $20K from the Vietnamese Global Entrepreneurship Challenge, won the Greenhorn Summit Pitch Competition and Mass Innovation Nights #92. We are also a part of Smarter In The City and the Northeastern IDEA Venture Accelerator.

We’re looking to connect with individual donors and companies who want to create impacts that go beyond the scholarship amount and help us become the future of scholarships. Follow us on Twitter, Instagram, Linkedin, and Facebook!

Coming to the U.S. from Vietnam when he was 10 years old, Tuan Ho understands the value in pursuing his education. With the help of his mother, he relentlessly pushed himself to work hard in high school while helping out the community around him, eventually graduating Boston Latin Academy with high honors. In order to pay for college, Tuan took matters into his own hands and applied for over 40 scholarships. Now he is attending Northeastern University on a full ride, studying mechanical engineering. Because of the adversity he had faced, Tuan started ScholarJet with the vision of increasing access to higher education for students. He strongly believes that it is not who you are underneath, but your actions that define you.

Making Data Matter at Museum of Science Boston

At the Museum of Science Boston, visitors discover the wonders of the human body by immersing themselves in a series of interactive activities in which they use their own bodies as the test subject. The Hall of Human Life was uniquely constructed by our in-house designers with the process of learning at its core. A wristband marked with a unique barcode allows visitors to take measurements of their own body, record their experiences, and see how their data compares to other visitors. Thousands of data points are generated each day from the Hall of Human Life. In turn, we can use the data to constantly improve the exhibition and ensure each station is functioning correctly.

From the onset, we knew that technology would be the keystone of the Hall of Human Life and that it would require updating as technological capabilities evolved. When the exhibit opened in 2013, we were hosting the data on a Microsoft SQL Server database with a basic Excel dashboard for reporting and analytics. This on premise system allowed for the capture and retention of all inputted data, but was limited to sampling from the last 30 days of data for display in the exhibit. As of October 2016, anonymous data for nearly one million visitors had been recorded. However, because not all of it was accessible in real-time, the entire dataset was not being used in the truly comparative way that was central to the exhibit’s mission.

Like any public institution, we host large groups of visitors every day. This includes family groups, class field trips, Girl Scout troops, Boy Scout Councils, summer camps, or even overnights for elementary and middle school students. Imagine a large group of elementary school students exploring the exhibit and entering their data into the kiosks. When the next visitors come in, they will not be offered an accurate spread of human data. The comparison will be reflective only of the large group of students that previously went through. This was a real problem because the Hall of Human Life was created to harness the true power of comparative data for interactive learning.

To address this technology challenge, we worked with our friends at Microsoft. Through thoughtful collaboration with our staff, they assessed our needs and helped us to complete the Hall of Human Life in a way that was most useful to us for the long-term. Under the direction of Microsoft engineers, a team of interns from Worcester Polytechnic Institute built a prototype system that allows us to host all the Hall of Human Life data securely in the Azure cloud and recall it all back to visitors in real-time. They also designed a Power BI operations dashboard that monitors the exhibit in real-time and an anomaly detection system in Azure Machine Learning that automatically detects hardware failures and outlier data to ensure the data we are collecting is accurate.

Through our partnership, we have fully updated and modernized the visitor-facing technology in the Hall of Human Life. Now this interactive exhibition not only demonstrates the power of immersive learning anchored in comparative data but it is also a model for transformational corporate-civic partnerships.

Microsoft’s MassChallenge Scholarship for Civic Innovation Helps Donii Give

Four years ago, Microsoft partnered with the MassChallenge to identify startups with innovative solutions fostering citizen engagement and transparency between government and constituents. The Microsoft Scholarship for Civic Innovation supports up to five civically-focused startups with a cash grant to help grow their business as they apply to the accelerator. To date, the scholarship has benefited nearly 20 startups with innovated civic solutions, such as leveraging big data for automating parking management (FetchPark), using IoT and mobile money solution to bring running water to every urban home (CityTaps), and an online town-hall platform (Agora).

The truth, is we hope that the Civic Innovation Scholarship is only the beginning of our partnership with these startups. In fact, we hope that our collaboration is deepened as the startup continues to grow. This has been the case with Donii – a 2016 scholarship recipient.

Donii is the social enterprise that makes sure your donated goods make it to people in your community that need it most. Founder & CEO Angie Janssen works with local charities like homeless shelters and youth welfare programs to match the organization’s immediate materials needs with potential donors. This eliminates the hopeful guess-work of donating goods.

Have a set of pots and pans to donate? Simply log-on to Donii’s online portal and select from a list of local organizations that need pots and pans. Donii then picks up the donation and delivers back a tax receipt with a personal note detailing how the goods will be used. Each organization on the Donii platform has been vetted to guarantee that the items will indeed go to individuals in their program.

Beyond the Civic Tech Scholarship, Microsoft was one of the very first corporate partners to sign up to host a Donii drop-off in their office.

This idea was introduced after Donii’s time in the MassChallenge helped Angie think more deeply about addressing the needs and challenges of potential donors. The corporate partner model allows employees to bring goods to their office. By having a box in the office with regularly scheduled pickup days, potential donors don’t have to find the extra time in their day to find a drop-box somewhere else in town. Corporate partners receive ongoing impact metrics about how their employees’ donations helped the community. Microsoft now uses Donii in its New England offices to empower year-round employee giving and to build meaningful connections with nonprofit organizations throughout the city.

Earlier this year, Donii introduced tablets and printer kiosks to eliminate the time between giving a donation and knowing its impact. Donors are now able to check-in their donation and print a label for easy delivery right on-the-spot. The new streamlined system also notifies the organization that the ask has been filled in real time.

Once again, Microsoft was there to support Donii in its growth goals. We provided the organization with five Surface Pro 4 tablets – four which will be attached to new drop-off boxes and one for Angie to use for demos.

Donii Founder & CEO Angie Janssen

Angie is quick to note that a year ago the $5,000 Donii received from the 2016 Civic Tech Scholarship went a long way in building out the “bootstrapping young start-up.” However, the ongoing collaboration with Microsoft has provided far beyond a monetary or hardware donation. She notes that businesses are more comfortable and inclined to become corporate partners when they know Microsoft has done the same. The intangible benefits of credibility and access are often the most difficult for startups to overcome. Microsoft is happy to help our Civic Tech Scholarship recipients however we can.

Another round of MassChallenge accelerator applications is now upon us! Applications are now closed and the first round of judging is underway. We can’t wait to see all the innovative civic solutions this year’s entrepreneurs have dreamt up!

Microsoft is excited to once again support civically-focused startups with the 2017 Scholarship for Civic Innovation. We hope the recipients will lean on Microsoft — as Donii has — in a collaborative partner as their startup continues to grow.

#NERD10: Microsoft R&D Celebrating 10 years in Kendall Square

2017 marks ten years that Microsoft has hosted one of its Global Development Centers in Cambridge. The Microsoft New England Research & Development Center, fondly referred to as NERD, is celebrating its anniversary with stories and events year-round. Please join us in the celebration on the ground and online using #NERD10. Below, T.K. “Ranga” Rengarajan, CVP – Engineering, kicks off #NERD10 with a look inside our Global Development Centers.

This year, we celebrate Microsoft’s New England Research & Development Center’s (NERD) 10-year anniversary—and what a 10 years it’s been!

NERD is home to one of Microsoft’s vibrant Global Development Centers, or GDCs, that are integral to the success of Microsoft. The company has six GDCs across the globe: Silicon Valley, India, China, Israel, Vancouver, and Cambridge, MA (NERD).

I liken GDCs to the roots of the banyan tree: these aerial roots elevate and strengthen the primary trunk and, over time, can become very strong supporting trunks themselves. Similarly, each of Microsoft’s GDCs cultivates an environment that yields innovation in engineering (AI, robotics, Azure and Hololens); health; education; gaming and augmented reality. Having research and development arms in various cities and countries is critical to having a diverse, global engineering workforce: they provide the company with access to top talent, different and exciting ecosystems, and dynamic markets.

I am honored to say I started my career in New England. My first post-grad job was at Digital Equipment Corp. in Nashua, New Hampshire. There, I was able to witness technology booming out of the Boston metro area during the minicomputer era, with great engineers creating industry-leading technologies, both in hardware and software. I have a profound respect for the workforce in the area–and that respect only continues to grow.

There are many reasons why we chose Cambridge as one of our strategic locations. The New England area exemplifies the interconnection and influences between academia, industry and technology. Cambridge, Boston and the Northeast are known for its universities, professors and research programs. For this reason, Microsoft NERD was built next to MIT and minutes away from several, other renowned institutions. Given this highly educated and skilled talent, Boston has a long tradition of starting and building great technology companies focused on software engineering, application engineering, medicine, health, finance… the list is long! In particular, Kendall Square (where NERD is located) has become a major hotbed for tech, biotech, and start-ups and has been called the most innovative square mile in the U.S! Having NERD in the middle of this ecosystem is important — not just to Microsoft, but to the community as a whole. Microsoft is proud to stand with our neighbors in such a robust community.

If you aren’t familiar with the work being done here, I encourage you to explore this site and to review the job openings we have here. Great technologies and research have emerged from NERD in its first 10 years, and we look forward to even greater contributions to Microsoft and to the community in the next 10 years.

To find out more about Ranga and Microsoft’s global development strategy, follow Ranga on Twitter @trengarajan.

T.K. “Ranga” Rengarajan, a Corporate Vice President within Artificial Intelligence and Research (AIR) in Microsoft is responsible for global aspects of engineering. Among his responsibilities are all Microsoft Global Development Centers located in China, India, Israel, New England, Silicon Valley and Vancouver, the Garage program to drive grass root innovation and advanced technology projects in the areas of system and performance. Ranga and his teams are responsible to ensure Microsoft attracts, trains and retains the best talent in the world. Previously, Ranga led engineering for Microsoft’s Database and Big Data businesses driving significant cultural transformation in the Data Platform team, notably in focusing on execution, faster innovation and delighting customers. His leadership was instrumental in growing the service culture in SQL DB and launching and growing the full complement of Azure data services – Data Lake, DocumentDB, Search, SQL DW, HDInsight on Linux. 

Before Microsoft, Ranga held senior leadership positions at SAP, Wily, Sybase, Digital Equipment Corporation and at several Silicon Valley startups. At SAP, he was responsible for the Business Analytics and Hana applications. Before that, he ran Wily’s application management solutions. He also has held executive positions in engineering, operations, and support at Silicon Valley startups focused on customer experience management, wireless, security, and internet messaging services. Earlier in his career, Ranga ran database server development for Sybase, Inc. At Digital Equipment Corporation, Ranga was among the youngest individuals elected as a Distinguished Engineer and set the world record in transaction processing with Oracle Rdb product in the TPC-A benchmark, resulting in papers and patents.

Ranga holds a Master’s degree in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin. He lives in Silicon Valley with his wife and two daughters.

SoundBridge: Empowering the Next Generation of Audio Professionals

Soundbridge Lumit on desktop

Soundbridge LogoThere’s no doubt that music is an integral part of our society. From its early function as a storytelling tool to its modern ubiquitous nature, music is a priority. And with tech growing exponentially, music’s importance has never been more clear. Music technology is transforming music into something that everybody can access. Today, musicians can write, produce, record, and collaborate on Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) that translate everything into a digital format. Tools like SoundBridge’s Lumit are making that process easier and mobile.

Recording Magazine

Lumit is a Full-Featured DAW developed by SoundBridge, an advanced audio technology company founded by Northeastern graduate, Wake Anderson. The software is recognized by Recording Magazine as the first DAW optimized for Microsoft’s Universal Windows Platform (UWP) from the ground up. Post and Recording Magazine have also recognized Lumit as being one of the most intuitive professional DAWs on the market – with a learn-curve of approximately a couple of days. If you have ever used a DAW before, you probably know it can take years to master. Microsoft Surface Pro 4 users will experience fast and agile control over Lumit due to the development team’s implementation of original hand-gestures and creative mobile navigation – technology typically not seen in desktop software. The hybrid mobile/desktop environment opens the doors for creative expression in ways the mouse and keyboard never could.

Soundbridge Lumit on Microsoft Surface

And whether you’re in the studio doing precise editing or recording a street performance to sample – you’re not limited in terms of professional capabilities. For the first time ever, audio engineers can create professional audio assets using virtual studio technologies (VST), USB musical instrument digital interface (MIDI) controllers, and high-fidelity/low latency USB soundcards that run audio stream in out (ASIO) drivers from a device that weighs less than a pound – such as the Microsoft Surface Pro 4. SoundBridge’s Lumit is a true technological achievement by all means – it’s the most mobile professional digital audio workstation on the market.

Wake Anderson and the Soundbridge TeamThe SoundBridge Team is expanding its easy-to-use functionality to the place it makes most sense; schools. Since Lumit is designed for everyone to use, Anderson is hoping to help students embrace music tech with one platform. This program kicks off in Almada, Portugal at Mastering Lisboa where partners will be teaching professional recording and audio production in Lumit for two months with high-school- aged aspiring audio professionals. Through this educational curriculum, Lumit seeks to teach students the basics of audio and music theory all in tandem, bridging tech and music together to get kids to think creatively.

Recently, we’ve seen Lumit in action at Make Music Day Boston, a live celebration of music in the city. Lumit’s DAW was set up in Copley Square, where passersby could contribute to a production and watch live as Lumit put everything together. Recorded entirely on Surface, Lumit presented the Make Music Day “theme” — Veggie Blues:

Design Museum Boston’s Urban Innovation Festival July 29-31

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Want to get a taste of what Boston could look like in the near future? Curious to see urban design in action? Join Design Museum Boston for their 3-day outdoor Urban Innovation Festival July 29-31 under the I-93 overpass at 247 Albany Street in the South End.

During this 3-day design hackathon, you’ll watch as teams comprised of engineers, designers, architects, and innovators compete to design solutions to urban problems. This is the main event of the museum’s ongoing Urban Innovation program, which shows how design can improve the livability of a city.

Each participating team — including Payette, Autodesk, Fidelity Labs, Essential Design, Bose, Shepley Bulfinch, Wentworth Institute of Technology, CBT, MassArt, and Stantec — will be given a challenge related to the overpass, such as improving safety or connecting neighborhoods. You’ll be able to watch solutions being built fro the ground up right before your eyes from under the overpass.

Microsoft New England is proud to be a sponsor of this event, as we’re always striving to support civic tech innovators as they transform Boston and make our city even better.

“I can’t wait to see what the teams come up with, but what I’m most excited about is when we actually install these solutions next year! My goal is to install as many as possible and in different neighborhoods. If the designs are successful, than we will work hard to install even more,” said Liz Pawlak, Associate Director, Design Museum Boston.

NewCo Boston: A Day to See and be Seen

header-NewCo16-BOS-1200pxThere are some 300 colleges and universities within 90 miles of Boston, Massachusetts. Our region has the most educated population in the nation, and the state is regularly ranked as number one in innovation capacity.

Massachusetts is poised to lead the major innovation wave–one characterized by smart, connected machines and devices. Yet, despite a critical mass of education and innovative organizations we are still, paradoxically, coming up short in one critical component: talent. We need to find new ways to get people together to experience what is happening here and to fill them with the kind of pride and enthusiasm that convinces them to keep their talents here upon graduation.

NewCo Boston, debuting in the area on April 27th, can help accomplish this goal. Founded by six-time media and tech entrepreneur John Battelle, NewCo sets out to identify, celebrate, and connect the engines of positive change in our society while fostering trust, storytelling, and true connection between the people driving a new kind of global capitalism. Through intimate, founder-led sessions, NewCo festivals create lasting engagement and deep, critical connections.

NewCo Boston debuts with 80+ innovative companies from across the region opening their doors and inviting the public in for a behind-the-scenes look at companies and conversations with the founders, CEOs and other drivers of innovation in their native habitats. With more than 750,000 possible combinations, each journey can be unique. The day concludes with hundreds of fellow NewCo attendees mingling amid plush velvet banquettes, gorgeous chandeliers, and luxurious wall coverings at GEM Lounge.

NewCoBos_NewsletterWhat makes NewCo so perfect for Massachusetts?

We need to do a better job exposing our many students to the amazing companies, innovators, and inventions in their own backyard. If we did so, one would reason, more of them might take on internships and jobs locally and end up launching their careers here in Massachusetts rather than going to what may seem like greener, more exciting pastures.

As we showcase the amazing things happening locally on the global NewCo media platform, more people across the 16 other NewCo cities – from Istanbul to Barcelona to San Francisco – will learn about the great inventors and inventions here, thereby elevating our innovation brand and drawing additional attention and talent to the region.

Finally, NewCo gives us a glimpse into the future. What is being developed today will be the products and services of tomorrow. If you’re looking to network, to find a better job, or to just get a few new ideas, it’s a day worth checking out. Learn more, and join 1,000+ others for the inaugural NewCo Boston festival, by visiting

Tom Hopcroft is President & CEO of the Mass Technology Leadership Council, organizer of NewCo Boston. He can be reached at

Tom headshot4Tom Hopcroft is President & CEO of the Mass Technology Leadership Council (MassTLC), the region’s leading technology association and the premier network for tech executives, entrepreneurs, investors and policy-makers. A Massachusetts attorney and former adjunct professor at Northeastern University’s College of Business Administration, Mr. Hopcroft founded and led the New England Business and Technology Association which merged with the Mass Software Council in 2005 and later the Mass Network Communications Council in 2009 to form what is today the largest technology organization in the New England with 500+ member companies ranging from early stage start-up to global enterprise across the entire tech ecosystem. Hopcroft serves as Chairman of the Fiscal Affairs and Administrative Policy Committee on the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education. He is also on the boards of the MassTLC Education Foundation, MassRobotics, and the Technology Councils of North America. Mr. Hopcroft lives in Winchester, MA, with his wife and two boys.

Voices of Change — Transforming Communities Through Innovation

Diversity and inclusion are critical underpinnings to our evolving culture at Microsoft and powerful bridges to the marketplace. We are inspired by the local leaders who make diversity a priority in their daily work. In the spirit of International Women’s Day, we’re honored to celebrate women in our community who are carrying out the mission of civic engagement, leadership and empowering other women.

— Microsoft New England


Several months ago I was listening intently to leaders from the City of New Orleans tell me the story of how an important and seemingly unassailable problem known as urban blight was transformed with civic innovation. Urban blight – the process where a functioning city falls into disrepair– was a problem at the center of the daily citizen experience and they were able to change that with civic innovation. I left that conversation asking myself, where are those stories of civic innovation going? If a transformational idea exists in one city, can it apply to other communities? Does knowledge of that invention ever scale to other communities who are facing the same challenge? How does that happen?

These remarkably relevant questions kept appearing in my mind in countless conversations I had with leaders of cities and towns throughout the decade I spent working with communities in various roles. I heard stories of the creativity and innovation in governance and technology being used to address financial management, transportation, schools, land use, the environment, public finance, and so many other challenges at the heart of citizen life. I also realized that healthy functioning cities were also being transformed by grass-roots citizen led innovation. The inspiration for my work began to take form in those moments.

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The Civic Innovation Project began with a simple vision that endeavored to raise awareness of civic innovations that were transforming communities by presenting stories from leaders, citizens, academics, and private sector stakeholders using creativity and civic technology to solve the most vexing problems facing communities. The stories, presented in a Civic Innovation Gallery, live alongside actual technology demos, created with data-rich resources, including access to downloads, tutorials, and instructional materials that provide any citizen or leader of a community with an instant roadmap to innovate around a challenge.

When I asked myself – how could I take my work a step further and empower communities and citizens to bridge the information gap? How could I further create a space that facilitates learning about global innovation? I chose to evolve the platform into a learning lab for cities and their citizens.

Examples of what cities and their citizens will find in the Civic Innovation Project learning lab include:

  • The ability to learn from leaders, like those from the City of New Orleans, who in their own words, share an innovation road-map, alongside other examples of inventions from leaders in the public and private sector.
  • Visualizations that distill the most complex aspects of data to facilitate data-driven decision-making, created with Microsoft tools that help communities begin innovating instantly on their own.
  • Data sets drawn from leading sources, like Morningstar, Inc., that will be integrated in models that can help communities assess and understand key metrics related to the markets they operate in.
  • A virtual classroom that will help citizens and leaders learn from each other’s inventions.

Taken together, these resources are intended to create a learning space where information about civic innovation can exist and be used by citizens and leaders to change the trajectory and narratives of communities and increase transparency in significant ways. I believe that process begins when you empower these various constituencies to share discoveries with each other, build their awareness and capacity as civic innovators, and provide them with access to tools that allow them to turn their vision into realities and engender meaningful change in communities.

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To see a video that helps you learn more about the vision behind the Civic Innovation Project learning labs that will be released later this year, and our development process, please visit

Lourdes German is the founder and director of the Civic Innovation Project, a national platform focused on emerging government innovation that was recognized with a 2015 State of Boston Innovation Award. Lourdes is also a fellow at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, where she advances the Institute’s global municipal fiscal health campaign. An expert in municipal finance, Lourdes is driven by a deep commitment and passion for communities and civic engagement, made visible by her roles as Governor Baker’s appointed Chair of the Massachusetts State Finance and Governance Board, and as an appointee of the Mayor of Boston to the committee focused on the City’s audit and finance matters. For over a decade Lourdes has held several leadership roles in government finance, including as an attorney at the international law firm Edwards Wildman, at Fidelity Investments where she helped create a new national business division focused on government public finance, and as Vice President and General Counsel at Breckinridge Capital Advisors. Lourdes has also served as an advisor to non-profits focused on urban economic growth and social impact investing; has developed and taught a graduate course in government finance at Northeastern University, and serves on the boards of United Way and Boston Women in Public Finance.

Apply Now for the 2016 MassChallenge Accelerator Program!


Have an idea for your startup, but need a launching point for it? If you’ve familiarized yourself with the startup scene in the past five years, then you’re all-too-familiar with MassChallenge. The Boston-based — and now global — incubator has helped hundreds of startups gain the funding, talent, and business expertise to make their visions a reality. And now it’s your turn. MassChallenge is now accepting applications for its 2016 Accelerator Program in Boston, Israel, and Switzerland.

Any early-stage startup can apply from anywhere in the world to be part of the 835 MassChallenge alumni that have raised over $1.1B and created 6,500 jobs. We’ve been pleased to support local startups participating in MassChallenge through our Microsoft Scholarship for Civic Innovation, a fund that assists startups that address problems in civic life.

The application, which is due by March 31, is live now at And the earlier you apply, the better — the 2016 Application Fee increases from $49 to $99 after March 3.

The next success story could be you or someone you know! What are you waiting for? Apply now!