Recap: Enabling Youth Employment in Boston

Youth Employment Panel at Roxbury Innovation Center

This Wednesday, we continued our Conversation in Civic Innovation Series with an event at Roxbury Innovation Center focused on Enabling Youth Employment. Through the collaboration and contribution of Resilient Coders, Youth HUB Boston, Jobcase, the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC), BCYF’s Division of Youth Engagement and Employment, and the City of Boston, we were able to present two distinct panels that explored both the plight and progress of youth employment in Boston.

We kicked off the night with an incredible keynote by Shari Davis of the City of Boston, in which she explains how Boston raised her: through youth employment opportunities and academic programs, Shari was offered a lifetime of opportunity that she now aims to bring to all of Boston’s youth. We then heard from a youth-led panel on their current experiences in employment, followed by a professional panel working to improve opportunity in Boston.

Panelists included:

Youth Panel

Moderator: Aimee Sprung, Microsoft

Professional Panel

  • Ayda Zugay, Youth HUB Boston
  • Matt Cloyd, MAPC
  • Shari Davis, City of Boston
  • Christopher Scranton, Jobcase

Moderator: Kevin Wiant, Venture Cafe

As forward-thinking as our panels were, we know that solving these issues can’t be done in one night. That’s why we’re working to keep the conversation going. With the help of Agora Town Hall, we’ve set up a town hall discussion of our own, where we encourage members of our community to discuss, contribute, and act through message boards, polls, data visualizations, and more. We want to help improve youth employment in our city, and that starts with you. Join us in the conversation at

Voices of Change — Making Civic Participation Accessible

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 Staff


On Election Day of the Obama 2012 campaign, I was driving an elderly woman, Rochelle, to the polling station when her oxygen tank started to malfunction. She turned to me and said, “Take me to vote, then the hospital.” Her determination to have her voice heard served as an important inspiration to me–but it also made me wonder, should the ballot box be the only way a citizen can make her voice heard?

The answer is a resounding no. Democracy is more than Election Day, and citizens are much more than just voters every few years. Yet it seemed to me that there was a striking lack of opportunity for people to make their voices heard. While civic discussions happen on a regular basis, not every citizen has the opportunity to participate. When town hall meetings take place at 3PM on a Tuesday – who get to show up? Only the few who have the time, resources, and political connections. This inaccessibility cannot be the norm if we want to have a functioning democracy.


Through technology Agora is empowering individuals to break down these barriers to participation through live polls, discussions, and Video halls. On the one hand, Agora’s platform allows local officials to easily communicate with their constituents, enabling the solicitation of community feedback. But our technology also empowers citizens–through Agora, anyone can ask their representatives questions, start a conversation in their community, and actively participate in our democracy. Agora, in other words, makes civic engagement accessible to anyone––a drastic improvement over the occasional, in-person town hall.

But it is not enough for our civic technology to be accessible; inclusivity and diversity are also essential tenets of Agora’s mission. Some of this is naturally derivative of Agora’s online platform, but in a community like Boston’s, for example, where we are based, there are more than just the physical barriers to participation. Language, for example, can be a major obstacle for those community members whose first language is something other than English.

And this is where Bing has become a crucial tool––Bing translation has allowed Agora townhalls to be translated from English into multiple languages, enabling and encouraging diversity in every conversation that happens on our platform. It opens the door for the many community members whose voices haven’t been heard due to the extensive language barriers that exist in many of our community conversations, and helps Agora to achieve our goal of expanding participation beyond the ballot box.

At Agora, we believe that our voices matter every day, not just on Election Day. It’s time for us to re-imagine democracy in the 21st century – and we’re doing so by making participation accessible, one conversation at a time.

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.

Photo - New TV 10

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.

Microsoft New England Picks: 3 Not-To-Miss Events This Week


Sunshine is heading our way, and we don’t want you to miss it. Here are our top picks for events in and near Microsoft that we don’t want you to miss:
massinnologo_21) Mass Innovation Nights 84
Tuesday, March 8, 6pm — 8:30pm
District Hall | 75 Northern Avenue | Boston
Twitter: @MassInno | #MIN84

Check out 11 innovative products showcasing and offering solutions to continuously improve government infrastructure and enhance the lives of citizens.

meeting-of-minds2) Meeting of the Minds Forum: Autism, Advocacy and Assistive Technology
Wednesday, March 9, 5:30pm — 8pm
Microsoft New England R&D Center | 1 Memorial Drive | Boston
Twitter: @MassAdvocates

On March 9th, the Autism Center of the Massachusetts Advocates for Children is hosting the Meeting of the Minds Forum: Autism, Advocacy and Assistive Technology. Join this networking event for professionals and parents, featuring Rosalind Picard, Founder and Director of MIT Media Lab’s Affective Computing Group – a TEDx Talk presenter,  and MAC’s Julia Landau, Director of MAC’S Autism Center; Come meet leaders in the assistive technology industry and pioneering leaders in autism advocacy.

room-to-read3) Kick-a-Thon by Eliza: A Benefit for Room to Read
Thursday, March 10, 7pm — 9pm
Microsoft New England R&D Center | 1 Memorial Drive | Boston
Twitter: @roomtoread_BOS

Kick It By Eliza is a 13-round fitness method that is music-driven, sweat-inducing, kickboxing-inspired. The format of Kick It encourages a sense of empowerment and community– leaving you and everyone around you feeling amazing! Join the Kick It Crew and be empowered side-by-side, round-by-round, minute-by-minute.


Bringing Massachusetts History to the Digital Sphere

The Massachusetts Historical Society is a staple to our city’s relationship with its strong history. Through their educational programs, we’re able to connect with stories otherwise forgotten, showing how Massachusetts has been a partner in innovation from the beginning. Together with the Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS), we’re excited to announce a partnership with its 225th Anniversary exhibit “The Private Jefferson” showcasing the largest collection of personal paper and drawing by Thomas Jefferson, which is held by MHS. By digging into the third president’s private papers, MHS is opening a window into his personal life to explore the key elements of Jefferson’s character, including his unending creativity and worldview.

We are helping MHS enable richer storytelling opportunities by providing interactive digital moments throughout the exhibit. MHS wants to make this story accessible to everyone — and we’re honored to use Microsoft technology to make that happen.


Brown University students Miranda Chao and Ryan Ngoy showcase TAG’s multi-user Splitscreen Mode in the main exhibit hall at Massachusetts Historical Society.

Visitors to the Massachusetts Historical Society can get hands-on access to Microsoft technology within the exhibit — through a collaboration with Brown Professor Andries van Dam and students within his program, MHS was able to utilize Touch Art Gallery (TAG) to develop a digital narrative that looks into Jefferson’s personal artifacts.

TAG, which was developed by Brown University in partnership with Microsoft Research, is an application that offers direct digital contact with artifacts (such as papers and artworks) that would otherwise be too fragile to handle in person.

“Thomas Jefferson has been described as the American Sphinx and is considered by many to be enigmatic. Our exhibition aimed to peel back the mysteries around this founding father and show the person who has become one of the most famous Americans. While we are confident that the answers to our questions exist with the nearly 10,000 manuscripts we hold in Jefferson’s hand, our show would never have been able to make this story available to the public without the technology that Microsoft made available to us,” said Gavin Kleespies, Director of Programs at the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Using TAG, MHS built five interactive tours, loaded over 100 digital manuscripts and drawings, and embedded 20 short videos of top experts on our third President. Visitors can explore this digital content in immense detail on a 65” touch-screen monitor in the first room of the exhibit or with smaller Windows touch-enabled monitors in the other rooms. They can even use a split screen tool to look at two documents side by side, while maintaining full zoom capability. This allows them to compare the subtle differences in the drafts of the Declaration or zoom in to compare the quality of the paper used by Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. The additional information and the embedded videos add volumes of content that deepens the visitors experience but would never have fit on a display label. These TAG experiences are also available to download as a Windows app (entering “” into the server field) so that people unable to travel to Boston in person can also explore these artifacts and stories.

Furthermore, classrooms around the globe are now able to experience the incredible information included within this exhibit through help from Skype Virtual Field Trips. The first Virtual Field Trip looks specifically at Jefferson’s groundbreaking architectural plans – including Jefferson’s farm and garden books, plans for Monticello, and drawing of the Virginia State Capital. The second Virtual Field Trip looks more closely at the letters, writings, and intellectual development of this founding father – including the drafts and the Dunlap Broadside of the Declaration of Independence, the manuscript draft of Notes on the State of Virginia, and a sampling of his correspondence. It is exciting to be able to break down geographic barriers through platforms such as Skype in the Classroom to empower educators and students from around the world to share in this amazing history that MHS has preserved and breathed new life into.

The Massachusetts Historical Society’s 225th Anniversary Exhibit “The Private Jefferson” is on display through May 20, 2016. Visit the Massachusetts Historical Society from 10am to 4pm Monday through Saturday at 1154 Boylston Street, Boston, MA.

Welcome Sharlene Yang, Cambridge STEAM Coordinator!

Earlier this month Sharlene Yang was announced as the new Cambridge STEAM Coordinator, a role that reports jointly to the School Department and the City of Cambridge.  Sharlene brings a wealth of experience in STEAM and was responsible for the development and implementation of the Engineering is Elementary curriculum across the country.  With Sharlene’s experience and drive we will begin to see the transformation of Cambridge to an innovative community for young adults.

I am excited to represent Microsoft as a member of the newly formed Cambridge STEAM committee and to work alongside Sharlene and many Cambridge community, tech and university partners.  Sharlene and the committee will be responsible for expanding and supporting STEAM learning opportunities in Cambridge schools.  Join me in welcoming Sharlene and keep an eye out for some great STEAM initiatives to come together in the near future.

Read the full announcement here: Welcome Sharlene Yang, Cambridge STEAM Coordinator

Municipalities — Don’t Go It Alone On IT!

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Every day, our Technology and Civic Engagement team works to bring technology to citizens and government to help make our cities better. While our community is rapidly adapting to technology on a global scale, it is important that we take the time to introduce important technologies to our local governments to make everyday processes even easier. The following blog by Amy Dain of the Collins Center for Public Management at UMass Boston showcases the importance of bringing digital access to our government desks.
— Cathy Wissink

While most sectors of the economy have undergone a revolution in how products and services are delivered, city and town government is beginning its digital evolution.

The cautious pace of change so far is understandable.  Our public managers have figured out, through decades of practice, how to deliver a wide array of critical services, on tight budgets. The potholes get filled; the businesses inspected; the houses permitted; the police dispatched. Managers are risk-averse when it comes to changing what works.  Still, entrepreneurial managers are experimenting with IT upgrades. They see the potential benefits that better data systems could provide for them: information to solve problems, increase efficiency, and improve two-way communication with constituents.

What makes less sense is that we have hundreds of city and town governments (351 cities and towns in Massachusetts) figuring out information technology independently, for the most part. Why should every community have a unique information system when they are delivering similar services?  And why should each community have to invest significant resources to figure out which IT systems to purchase? As one DPW director said to me last week, “It doesn’t make sense to have 10 communities using 10 systems.  The cost of that is ridiculous.”

There are many reasons for us to increase the coordination across municipalities to upgrade IT.  Common data standards could enable greater cross-municipal comparison and collaboration in service delivery.  Bulk purchasing will cost each municipality less.  Some issues are so important and tricky, such as the security and privacy of municipal data, that local experimentation may not be the best way to address the risks.  Local managers who have not already overseen IT upgrades could benefit from guidance from experienced IT practitioners. And, without outside support, the cohort of early movers may be smaller than ideal, as the pioneers face relatively higher costs and risks in implementing new information systems.

We need to do more to support the early movers, learn from their experiments, and spread the best solutions.  Right now only a few municipalities use GPS to track plows during a snow emergency.  Many departments of public works (DPWs) have started using IT to communicate with constituents, but a much smaller cohort of DPWs has started to implement robust back-end IT systems for managing the work. DPWs have a long way to go in developing data systems for inventory management.  Wellesley has a strong information system for managing its fleet of vehicles, Boston built an app to schedule road repairs (so utilities dig before a road is resurfaced, and not right after), and other communities are implementing software solutions to a variety of challenges, but we lack good avenues for spreading solutions across the region.

Until now, entrepreneurial individuals in local government have been leading the way with IT upgrades, but efforts have been largely uncoordinated and expensive.  It is time for the local leaders to come together, with support from the state, universities, and regional planning agencies, to learn from each other and to move the digital evolution along more smoothly and systematically.

Amy Dain is an associate with the Government Analytics Program (GAP) at the Collins Center for Public Management at UMass Boston.  

For a more detailed discussion of IT in municipal government, see Amy’s article in CommonWealth Magazine:

What Matters to Teachers and School Leaders? Supporting Students and Preparing Them For Success


image001 (1)In fall 2014, EdVestors launched the School Solutions Seed Fund issuing an open call to educators seeking funding to support problem-solving, experimentation, and innovation in schools.  The beauty of the Seed Fund is that through this fund, EdVestors and its granting partners hear from the experts we value most – teachers and school leaders. Matched with flexible resources and tactical support from EdVestors, these educators are empowered to put their plans into action, to experiment, and to share their struggles and successes with a community of like-minded educators.

The Seed Fund also provides a window into the common challenges faced by schools that slow their progress. This year two issues stood out: the need to better address social emotional learning and the importance of preparing high school students for post-secondary success.

Social Emotional Learning and Support: The prevalence of childhood trauma is alarming, often cited at affecting more than 50 percent of children, and likely higher in urban areas. Programs that teach social emotional skills and problem-solving to students are showing promising results. Through the Seed Fund this year, EdVestors is supporting approaches aimed at equipping students with skills to make positive choices in the face of challenges, and teachers with skills to understand and holistically support students’ learning and development:

This issue has become more visible recently thanks to federal and state policies, efforts by organizations like the Rennie Center, CASEL, and Transforming Education, and the hiring of Boston Public Schools’ new Assistant Superintendent of Social Emotional Learning. These efforts will provide on-the-ground evidence of what works and what challenges emerge in implementation.


Preparing Students For Post-Secondary Success: Despite rising high school graduation rates, students are arriving at colleges unprepared for the coursework. National estimates suggest between 28 and 40 percent of college students are required to enroll remedial courses. EdVestors’ Seed Fund is supporting the Margarita Muniz Academy, in partnership with the Boston HERC, in designing supports for Latino students to be successful in their post-secondary pursuits. Creating and strengthening career pathways for students at Madison Park Vocational Technical High School and the English High School will allow students to graduate with industry-certified credentials prepared to enter the workforce or continue their education.

Mayor Marty Walsh, with the Boston Public Schools and the Boston Opportunity Agenda, has a broad high school redesign process underway in Boston. Our hope is that the piloting and testing of models at these schools will inform Boston’s high schools of the future.

Please join us at the School Solutions Seed Fund Showcase on April 11 at District Hall to listen directly to school leaders and teachers about these issues as well other innovative efforts underway in schools in Boston.

Alison Headshot 2013Alison Stevens is Senior Director of School-Based Investments at EdVestors, a school improvement nonprofit working to increase the number of schools in Boston delivering dramatically improved educational outcomes for all students. For more info about the School Solutions Seed Fund, contact EdVestors at, check the website at or follow @EdVestors.

Fellow Profile: Kevin Yang

kevin-yang_MSNEWhere are you from? Orange County, California

School/grade/major: Harvard, Junior, Computer Science and Statistics

Last thing you searched on Bing: Best Sushi in NYC

Why did you choose Microsoft’s fellowship program? Previously, I led a nonprofit called the Digital Literacy Project, which brings undergraduates into middle schools to teach an introduction to computer science. From these experiences, I naturally became interested in understanding how to magnify my impact on communities and how communities function. As a leader in the Civic Tech space, Microsoft seemed like a great way to continue exploring my passions.

What’s the most exciting tech venture the City of Boston is working on? Naming the most exciting tech venture in Boston is particularly difficult. Boston has an unparalleled ecosystem of innovation with startup accelerators like Mass Challenge, spaces for entrepreneurship like the Cambridge Innovation Center, and partnerships between companies and policy makers like the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council. These organizations help innovative tech ventures thrive in Boston and make me particularly excited to work on civic tech in Boston.

Who is your civic tech mentor? I find Hadi Partovi’s mission to demonstrate the transformative power of technology through particularly inspiring. Over the past two years since its inception, has engaged over one hundred million people to learn how to code.

What excites you about civic tech? Within the civic tech space, there are plenty of opportunities to make meaningful and lasting improvements to the lives of community members. As shown by the uptake of applications like Microsoft Pulse and OpenGov, local governments enhanced with technology can be transparent and responsive.

What’s one problem you hope civic tech will solve for cities? Through new civic tech services where governments can connect with citizens, I hope communities will become more involved with their local governments.

Microsoft’s New England SMSG Organization Moving to Burlington


Microsoft Burlington Office, 5 Wayside Road

Later this year, Microsoft’s New England Sales, Marketing and Services Group (SMSG) will move to Nokia’s former offices in Burlington, Massachusetts, from our current Kendall Square location.

Let me be clear, Microsoft is not leaving Kendall Square! Microsoft will continue to have a large presence here. Microsoft research and development teams will remain in Cambridge where they can easily collaborate with leading, nearby academic institutions and the broader technology community. Debi Mishra, Partner Director of Engineering for Azure Machine Learning, and site leader for this Microsoft Global Development Center, will continue to focus on growing our research and development presence here, and our conference center at NERD will continue its mission of hosting industry meetings and meet-ups.


Microsoft New England Research & Development Center

In fact, the plan is to renovate the more than 150,000 sq. feet we occupy at One Memorial Drive, providing more collaborative work spaces for our research and development teams and giving us room for business growth.

As for my SMSG team, our footprint in the Northeast continues to grow, and Burlington places us in a centralized location close to Boston, but with easier access to all the surrounding states in our sales region.

The move will see all SMSG employees at Microsoft’s 255 Main Street, Kendall Square office, including those in our world-class Microsoft Technology Center (MTC), relocate to 5 Wayside Road in Burlington. The Burlington office will complement our New England satellite offices in Hartford, CT and Rochester, NY. It’s also just two miles from our Microsoft Store at the Burlington Mall.

This move will allow SMSG to truly capitalize on our company’s mobile-first strategy and provide an easily accessible, state-of-the-art hub where we can work more effectively with customers, partners, developers and user groups throughout our Northeast territory.

As I indicated at the outset, this move won’t occur until later this year, but I want our New England customers, partners, employees and friends to be aware of our intentions. We’re looking forward our new Burlington home, but in the meantime we’ll continue to meet your needs from our current Kendall Square offices.

Robert Davy is general manager of Microsoft’s Northeast Enterprise and Partner Group.