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.

Teamwork, Makes the Dream Work!

Smart Chicago Thanks the Youth-Led Tech Instructors

Successful implementation of any program or project takes a huge amount of effort, energy and commitment. The success of the 2016 Youth-Led Tech program had plenty of each from the 40 carefully selected Lead Instructors, Assistant Instructors and Floaters. The Youth-Led Tech curriculum is carefully crafted to teach technology in the context of the needs and priorities of young people. The curriculum is a step-by-step daily guide to ensure the integrity of the model, but also allows for the exchange of ideas from both the students and the instructors.

The instructors who were selected for Youth-Led tech 2016 represented a variety of educational and professional experience and backgrounds including film production, mentoring, college professors and of course technology! This year’s iteration was revised and edited by Dr. Phyllis West, Ph.D to include modules on Workforce Development, which introduced students to the fundamentals of career planning, helped identify their interests and learn the trends of the fastest growing careers in America, including entrepreneurship.


Black Enterprise Magazine cited Youth-Led Tech as a “summer program (that) puts kids on a positive trajectory.”

Here’s a look at the 2016 Youth-Led Tech instructors.

Youth-Led Tech Career Days 2016

This year the Youth-Led Tech program developed targeted Career Days and a Career Development Day. These two programs were designed and integrated into the 6-week technology curriculum to introduce youth to careers both technical and non technical, as well as assist them in beginning to think more strategically and concretely about how to secure employment.

The Youth-Led curriculum is fluid enough to allow for the inclusion of speakers three times during the six-week program and a full day with Dr. Phyllis West, PhD. Students were visited by several local professionals who shared their stories at each site in the community they selected.

Our Roseland Community sites were visited by Jeffrey Beckham the owner of Black Box Creative during the first Career Day held July 7, 2016.

Special guest is here at Dr. Elzie Young Community Center

David Wilkins owner of Rally Cap and Divine Designs visited with our Austin students.

RallyCap at career Day

Jazelle Smith rounded out the first wave of entrepreneurs for the first Career Day.

Jazelle Career Day

The second and third Career Days were held July 21st and July 28th.

Our special guest was Dr. Philips West _D

The second component to the workforce readiness program, “How to Develop a Career Plan 101” with Dr. Phyllis West, PhD focused on “developing a personalized career plan and an overview of strategies of successful people.”  The workshop introduced students to the fundamentals of career planning, helped identify their interests and career goals and learn the trends of the fastest growing careers in America.


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.