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.

Women in Tech Speakers Series

Co-authored by Kyla Williams and Derek Eder

Smart Chicago Collaborative and Chi Hack Night have teamed up to create a speaking series in celebration of Women’s History Month in an effort to elevate the talented, diverse women in civic-driven technology across Chicago.

Too often in the tech space we hear about what people do or what product they have made and less about their personal narratives. In this series, we encourage our speakers to share their stories as a transformative learning and inspirational opportunity.

Additionally, we acknowledge the lack of diversity in the civic tech community and believe that becoming more community-based with easier opportunities for engagement and gaining experience will spurn interest in the field and potentially serve as an economic solution to fill technology vacancies in Chicago.

This partnership is especially timely considering Smart Chicago is currently an all women team fighting the good fight on behalf of civic technology and engagement and Chi Hack Night has set a priority area of focus on diversifying its thriving developer community.

The Women in Tech Speakers Series will coincide with the four weekly Chi Hack Night events that occur on Tuesdays at Braintree in Merchandise Mart for the month of March.

Additionally, two community events will be held on Wednesday, March 29th in Homan Square and Thursday March 30th at the DuSable Museum.

It’s important to ensure we are not just highlighting women in technology and their respective stories, but also their roles within the field. Further, if we are going to influence a paradigm shift and draw more interest into the field, demystifying roles and types of opportunities is necessary. We are hopeful that we will be able to continue this partnership and related activities on an ongoing basis, as this is important work.

Event #1 – March 7th, 6pm

The Speaker Series kicks off tonight March 7th with special guest Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

222 W Merchandise Mart Plz, 8th Floor
Chicago, IL 60654

RSVP – sold out!

Event #2 – March 14th, 6pm

Next week will feature Sandee Kastrul, president and co-founder of i.c.stars, an innovative nonprofit leadership and technology training program founded in 1999 to prepare inner-city adults for technology careers and community leadership.

222 W Merchandise Mart Plz,8th Floor
Chicago, IL 60654


Event #3 – March 21st, 6pm

Our third event will feature Melissa Pierce, Director of “Born with Curiosity: The Story of Grace Murray Hopper”, an independent documentary about Grace Hopper, who in 1944, was one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer and invented the first compiler for a computer programming language.

222 W Merchandise Mart Plz,8th Floor
Chicago, IL 60654


Event #4 – March 28th

On Tuesday, March 28th, we will welcome Robin Robinson, a longtime Chicago television news anchor turned special advisor on community affairs for the Chicago Police Department. In her talk, Robin will discuss the role she has taken on and the work needed to rebuild trust between the Chicago Police Department and the communities it serves. We also welcome the Chicago Federation for Women as they share their Talk It Out initiative, a weeklong conversation series designed to spark understanding about gender bias and the ways it affects women and men.

222 W Merchandise Mart Plz, 8th Floor
Chicago, IL 60654


Event #5 – Creators & Founders: Women in Civic Tech

Wednesday, March 29th we will welcome a panel of creators and founders, with speakers Allyson Scrutchens of Forward Planning and Dima Elissa of VisMed-3D.              

Homan Square Community Center
3517 W. Arthington Street
Chicago, IL 60624


Event #6 – Amplifiers of Community Voice: Women in Civic Tech

Thursday March 30th  we will welcome a panel of amplifiers of community voice with speakers Andrea Hart of City Bureau, Aviva Rosman of Ballot Ready, and Tiana Epps-Johnson of Center for Tech and Civic Life.

DuSable Museum-Auditorium
740 East 56th Place
Chicago, IL 60637


We hope you’ll join us in celebrating Women’s History Month and Chicago’s unique and amazing civic technology community. Here’s to Women’s History Month and fruitful partnerships!


Youth-Led Tech 2016 Innovations

 Youth-Led Tech 2016 is in the books, however the work that was done in partnership with the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center  (JTDC) and Nancy B. Jefferson School is still resonating. This being my first year with Smart Chicago and performing in my role as Youth-Led Tech Project Coordinator was everything I thought it would be; innovating, engaging, inspiring and fulfilling. We undertook a groundbreaking opportunity working with 50 youth students at JTDC. Over the course of several months and numerous meetings, Smart Chicago received the nod to present Youth-Led Tech at JTDC, and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) granted approval for the Youth-Led Tech program to provide the .5 credits high school students needed towards their graduation requirement. JTDC residents without a high school diploma or GED are required to attend school during their stay.

Access and Skills

The JTDC program presented unique challenges due to the high security levels in the facility. These challenges were overcome with the development of a modulated curriculum on a closed platform which allowed the JTDC students to experience the technology training and develop their websites in a nearly identical format as the community students. The six week curriculum was modified to three weeks for this pilot to meet the specific needs of this population. During each of the three week sessions we served two cohorts of students.

Students who successfully completed the program were awarded certificates of completion at a graduation held in their honor where they presented their websites to proud family members, friends, JTDC staff members, and teachers. Similar to the community program youth were also provided with an earned learning incentive of keeping the laptop used during the program. Students completing the Youth-Led Tech program and are released on or before 12/31/2016, can contact Smart Chicago to retrieve the laptop and be formally connected to other programming as a recidivism prevention opportunity.

“Smart Chicago is committed to providing ongoing opportunities to support and connect our youth to services that will provide increase access to resources, especially those that touch tech in an effort to sustain and improve the quality of their lives. JTDC students, although currently involved in the juvenile justice, are bright, innovative, and full of potential. The Youth-Led Tech JTDC program pilot proved that if challenged to learn, make better decisions, increased access to technology and tools, and inspiring hope through redemptive opportunities, many of these youth have the ability to be positively contributing community members. We all should want that.” Kyla Williams, Interim Executive Director, Smart Chicago Collaborative

Creative Career Day

Along with the intensive technology training the students at JTDC/NBJ also participated in the 7th Annual Creative Career Day event. This event is a one day opportunity for the students to interact with the Arts and Culture community to visualize employment opportunities in those sectors. This year the event was expanded to include traditional and non-traditional business and tech occupations. Students had the privilege to hear from over 19 organizations and and interact with nearly 40 professionals.

The impact of both programs can be seen in the comments from the presenters as well as the students:

“…thanks so much for this wonderful opportunity to reach out to youth.  It is an important event and I look forward to next year.”  Dr. Lorri Glass, Governor’s State University

“I truly appreciate the opportunities this summer with your programs, they definitely made an impact on my life and I was honored. David Wilkins, RallyCap

“It was the best one ever!” “I could see myself doing that.” “The people had real stories about their life.” Student Comment

Statements like these are part of the reasons why Smart Chicago strives to innovate around solutions and make data driven decisions. Due to the noted success of the program, JTDC administration has requested programming for the Fall 2016/Winter 2017. Youth-Led Tech staff are currently working on a proposal to support meeting that request. 

Digital Divide Funding and the Power of Public Meetings

Here’s a story in the Chicago Tribune about the proposed cuts in state funding for the Eliminate the Digital Divide grant program: Proposed Illinois budget threatens digital literacy program. Here’s a snip related to the impact of the proposed cuts in Chicago:

Michael Matos, director of adult education programs for Albany Park Community Center in Chicago, said elimination of the program would hurt people who “do not typically have opportunities to use computers in their everyday lives, for advancing in the workplace, or to progress in their education.” Matos said many are “low-income families and individuals, limited-English immigrants, especially Hispanics, adults with limited education, and unemployed and underemployed individuals,” including military veterans.

“If the Eliminate the Digital Divide program didn’t receive funding for fiscal year 2016, we would have to discontinue eight training classes that run every six weeks and 12 hours weekly of open community access to the computer technology center,” Matos said.

Matos said about 1,800 people use the center, funded mostly by a $75,000 grant that ends in June.

The State of Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity has been an enormously important funder in this space. People and organizations all across the state have relied on these funds to improve skills, get job training, and generally improve their lives.

Here at Smart Chicago, access to technology & the internet and digital skills for all are important areas of focus. The Connect Chicago Challenge,  an effort to make Chicago the most dynamic digital city in the country, aligns citywide digital leadership to coordinate and activate digital access and skills development interventions to enable every Chicagoan to fully participate in digital society.

This is an important issue that affects us all. Here’s a helpful cache of public documents about the work of the committee and grantees of the program, including up-to-date notes about the current status of funding and the results of a recent meeting of the Digital Divide Elimination Advisory Committee.

The reporter who wrote this story attended a public meeting held by this committee last week. She joined dozens of people, in person and on the phone, who work in this nascent field. As chair of the committee, I shared my thoughts on the cuts:

Dan O’Neil, an advisory committee member who also is executive director of Smart Chicago Collaborative, whose mission is to increase Internet access, said at the meeting that he believes funding should be doubled.

The digital divide is most certainly not closed, the work is not even close to done, and the librarians, social workers, and trainers who serve on the front lines deserve our support.

Kennedy-King College Public Computer Centers

Kennedy-King College Public Computer Centers

This Morning: Eliminate the Digital Divide Advisory Committee Meeting

seal-of-the-state-of-illinoisThis morning, Wednesday, March 11, 2015,  at 10AM, I will be chairing a meeting of the Digital Divide Elimination Advisory Committee in the Director’s Conference Room of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) in Suite 3-400 of the State of Illinois Building at 100 W. Randolph Street, Chicago, IL 60601. If you want to dial in, you can do so at 1-888-494-4032  / Access #: 2828938287.

Here’s the agenda:

Meeting Agenda

  1. Call to Order
  2. Program Update
  3. Other Business/Public Comment
  4. Adjournment

Here’s a helpful cache of public documents about the work of the committee and grantees of the program.

Under the “Other Business/Public Comment” portion of the meeting, I’ll ask for clarification from DCEO about the discontinuation of the Eliminate the Digital Divide Program. Here’s an excerpt from page 58 of the Illinois State Budget, Fiscal Year 2016, July 1, 2015 – June 30, 2016:

In order to restructure the state’s limited resources to core priorities and to provide funding for an overall budget that the state can afford, the fiscal year 2016 recommended budget discontinues funding from the fiscal year 2016 maintenance request: the Office of Coal Marketing and Development and its programs ($25 million); the state add-on to the federal LIHEAP ($165 million); the Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standards Program ($100 million); the Renewable Energy Program ($10 million); the Summer Youth Jobs Program ($10 million); and the Eliminate the Digital Divide Program ($5 million).

Since inception, this program has invested circa $30 million in the digital lives of Illinois residents. All the way up and down this state, these funds have led to tens of thousands of people (page 254) getting trained in digital skills at Community Technology Centers.

If you believe in the power of technology to improve lives, if you think we should support the essential work of front-line trainers in this state, if you care about equity in opportunity for all residents of Illinois, this is something that matters to you.