Kyla Williams Co-Presents Today at Philanthropy Ohio’s Annual Conference

Today, Leon Wilson, CIO of the Cleveland Foundation, and I will co-present at the Philanthropy Ohio’s annual conference with a theme this year of “Philanthropy Forward” and a concentrated discussion on Digital Civic Engagement & Community-Centered Design. Philanthropy Forward ’17 is set to inform practices, strategies and goals and connect peers in the field of philanthropy. The conference will also focus on the future of philanthropy with insight into the current state of the sector – fueled by recent research – addressing transitions, change and the leadership pipeline. With several networking and roundtable discussions, attendees will discover how to shift failures to successes, effectively fund advocacy and civic engagement and hear from  exceptional leaders across the state and country.

Leon and I also presented in April 2017 at the Council on Foundations Annual Conference “Leading Together” as part of a panel discussion with: Aaron Deacon, Managing Director, Kansas City Digital Drive; Elizabeth Reynoso, Assistant Director of Public Sector Innovation, Living Cities; and Lilly Weinberg, Program Director/Community Foundations, John S. & James L. Knight Foundation on “Supporting Civic Engagement through Technology and Community-Centered Design”. After finishing that presentation we decided more collaborative sharing between cities was necessary and lead to this opportunity at Philanthropy Ohio.

Community building in the digital era requires providing a space for the public sector and local communities to interact. Building solutions with peoplenot just for them – by using community-centered design can have profound social impact. This has been central to Smart Chicago’s work and has lead to the building of processes, products, services, and other lightweight tech solutions that have been helpful.

Our presentation today has the learning objectives:

  • To introduce different models developed in communities to address civic engagement digitally
  • To encourage the consideration of embedding support for digital civic engagement into existing grantmaking & advancement efforts

You can follow the happenings of the conference on Twitter @PhilanthropyOH and @SmartChgoKyla or by using the hashtag #PhilFWD17.


Good News!!! The Smart Chicago team is moving and now will be co-located with the City Digital Team at UI Labs. As such, our individual emails will be changing to:

Kyla Williams 

Sonja Marziano

Denise Linn     

Leslie Durr       

Our new mailing address is 1415 N. Cherry Avenue Chicago, IL 60642 and general phone number is 312.281.6900.

Please check our website at or follow us on twitter @smartchicago for more updates.

We appreciate your patience during this time of transition.

Join the Connect Chicago Network

connect-chicagoAcross Chicago, people are doing amazing things to boost digital skills and increase access to technology. They are teaching seniors to use a mouse for the first time. They are are teaching people how to create resumes, create LinkedIn accounts, and apply for jobs online. They are lending out laptops and WiFi hotspots. They are teaching kids to build websites. This work is important because being on the wrong side of the digital divide can impact a Chicagoan’s economic and educational opportunities.

Connect Chicago aims to insert community into the valuable, existing efforts scattered all around the city. Are you a trainer in a computer lab? A volunteer in a library? Running a Meetup group on coding? Running a tech program for entrepreneurs? If so, you’re a member of Chicago’s digital access & skills ecosystem and we want to know who you are. We want to shine light on your stories and successes. With your help, we can begin to understand this system’s collective impact. If you are a participant in Chicago’s digital inclusion ecosystem, tell us who you are and tell us about your work!

To tell us more about you, fill out the Connect Chicago Network – Individual Form. You can also join our LinkedIn Group and come to the Connect Chicago Meetup events.

To tell us about a program or project you work or volunteer for, fill out the Connect Chicago Network – Project Form.






Chicago at the White House Tech Meetup

Today leaders, organizers and innovators from across America convened for the first-ever White House Tech Meetup. We came together to share strategies and methods for tackling a central question facing our communities, cities and country today: how do we bring more people into the digital economy?

Megan Smith, U.S. Chief Technology Officer, opened the meetup with a clarion call to action. “The are a lot more neighbors in our communities who aren’t in on this game,” she noted. “How can we work together to figure out our inclusion strategies?”

Jeffrey Zeints, Director of the National Economic Council, emphasized the urgency of this question for America’s continued competitiveness. “This is not only the right thing to do,” said Zeints, referring to the TechHire Initiative. “It’s really important for our country’s position in the global economy.”

It was an incredibly diverse crowd that assembled in the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (“from the ‘hood to the holler,” as one attendee from Kentucky observed). Half of the participants were organizers of tech meetups; the other half were people doing innovative work in community tech. A key theme driving the day was the power of local communities.

“Community unleashes opportunity,” declared Meetup CEO and co-founder Scott Heiferman. “And people have more power than ever to create community.”

Here, it is worth noting that Meetup is a vital tool in Chicago’s civic tech ecosystem. At Smart Chicago we use Meetup to convene and communicate with members of our Connect Chicago meetup group and the Open Government Chicago meetup we host and help organize.


Chicago had a strong presence in the room for the day-long session. It was great to see Mike Stringer, organizer of Data Science Chicago. Mike was one of 50 Meetup organizers personally invited to the event by Meetup HQ. Laurenellen McCann, a Smart Chicago consultant, delivered a spotlight talk charging participants to build with, not for people and communities. Tiana Epps-Johnson, co-founder of the Center for Technology and Civic Life (a Smart Chicago partner), shared her organization’s work delivering tech solutions and training for the unsung enablers of our democracy: local election administrators. Rounding out Chicago’s presence in the spotlight talks, I presented on why tech organizing is a foundational component of Chicago’s efforts to achieve full participation in the digital economy (my remarks are at the end of this post).

I was proud to see Chicago in the room, but there was much to learn from people doing similar work in other cities. I was particularly compelled by the story of Felicia and Jamal O’Garro, the dynamic husband-wife duo who co-founded Code Crew in New York. When they found themselves out of work at the same time, Felicia and Jamal decided to turn a crisis into an opportunity to retool their skills. They looked far and wide for a way to get into tech, but to no avail. When they didn’t find a program that suited their needs they took matters into their own hands and organized the Code Crew meetup group. That group has since grown into an organization that delivers tech training to thousands of people in New York. Find a way or make one – that’s the ethic that drives innovation from the bottom up.

My biggest takeaway from the White House Tech Meetup was that the answers to these pressing questions will not be found in Washington. Rather, we will find the answers in communities and cities across the country creating new ways to build inroads into the digital economy. At stake is nothing less than our continued competitiveness.

There is some tremendously valuable and innovative work happing right here in Chicago: the CyberNavigators, YouMedia and Maker Labs at the Chicago Public Library; the Smart Communities program model piloted by LISC Chicago that drives households online, improves digital skills and increases real incomes for working families; and the deliberate ecosystem-building work we do at Smart Chicago. Programs like i.c. stars. Places like BLUE1647. Projects like There are many, many others.

It was a real privilege to participate in the White House Tech Meetup, learn from leaders from all across America and share one part of Chicago’s comprehensive approach to driving full participation in the digital economy.

We truly have an opportunity to be a model for the nation.

 Tech Organizing in Chicago

Adapted from notes for a talk delivered at the White House Tech Meetup
April 17, 2015

Good afternoon. I’m Demond Drummer and I bring greetings from Englewood, on the south side of Chicago.

In Chicago I lead a cross-sector partnership to engage residents and local businesses in every neighborhood to achieve full participation in the digital economy. We call this effort The Connect Chicago Challenge.

Tech organizing is a core component of our strategy to engage communities across the city. This is the work I’ve done in my neighborhood, Englewood, for the past 4 years. This is the work I want to talk to you about today.

I’m a tech organizer. Tech organizers trace our lineage to the Mississippi Freedom Movement. If you recall, the Jim Crow South used literacy tests to create a wall to block black people from fully participating in our democracy. Savvy organizers focused on literacy to build power and tear down that wall.

Despite its obvious advantages technology, by default, reinforces existing patterns of power and inequality. In my neighborhood – and in communities across America – technology is a wall blocking many people from fully participating in society and the digital economy.

Tech organizers focus on digital literacy to build power and tear down that wall.

Digital literacy is more fundamental than skills. Digital literacy is understanding. Digital literacy means we see technology for what it is: a tool to make our lives better and our communities stronger. Digital literacy is about power.

We’ve found that digital literacy is cultivated best in context and in community – a gathering at the senior center, a block club, a parent group at a neighborhood school, or teens working together to build a website for a local business.

In Chicago we seek to achieve full participation in the digital economy. We see tech organizing as a model for driving us toward this goal –  in every neighborhood, from the bottom up.


Englewood Codes, summer 2013.

Englewood Codes, summer 2013.


Demond Drummer joins Smart Chicago as Managing Director of the Smart Chicago Challenge

9655068657_916e949772_zToday Demond Drummer joins the Smart Chicago Collaborative as the Managing Director of the Smart Chicago Challenge, a plan to make Chicago the most dynamic digital city in the world.

Demond comes to us from Teamwork Englewood, where he has been a Tech Organizer. As part of his work there in the Smart Communities program, led by our partner LISC Chicago, he led a community engagement campaign that drove a 10% increase in home broadband adoption.

He also created Englewood Codes, a 10-week summer project where youth learn how to design, build and maintain their own multimedia websites. He originated, a web app to promote the City’s Residential Large Lot Pilot Program in Greater Englewood. His work led to a ten-­fold increase in city-­owned residential lots transferred to private owners and to an expansion of the program to East Garfield Park.

The Smart Chicago Challenge is a new Smart Chicago program guided by a unique collaboration of dynamic partners: LISC Chicago, Chicago Public Library, the City of Chicago’s Department of Innovation and Technology (DoIT), MacArthur Foundation, World Business ChicagoThe Chicago Community Trust, and Smart Chicago itself.

As Managing Director, Demond has primary responsibility for managing and facilitating the day-to-day activities of the Challenge and is accountable to the Challenge Steering Committee. I’m happy to serve as a member of that committee, along with Brian Bannon, Commissioner of the Library, Brenna Berman, Commissioner and CIO of DoIT, and Susana Vasquez, Executive Director of LISC Chicago.

Demond is just the fourth employee of Smart Chicago, joining Operations Director Kyla Williams, who has fiscal and project responsibilities across all our work, and Project Coordinator Sonja Marziano.

Please join me in welcoming Demond Drummer.