Citizinvestor funds PB projects in the community


As civic innovation grows throughout the Boston area, participatory budgeting is an excellent example of how technology can improve government transparency and quite literally engage citizens in an online process to determine how a city’s budget is spent.  As defined by Wikipedia, participatory budgeting (PB) is a process of democratic deliberation and decision-making, and a type of participatory democracy, in which ordinary people decide how to allocate part of a municipal or public budget. Participatory budgeting allows citizens to identify, discuss, and prioritize public spending projects, and gives them the power to make real decisions about how money is spent. When PB is taken seriously and is based on mutual trust local governments and citizen can benefit equally. In some cases PB even raised people’s willingness to pay taxes.

I’ve observed successful participatory budgeting processes in Chicago, Boston, Somerville and recently Central Falls in Rhode Island.  The entire process was powered by a Microsoft partner: Citizenvestor.  (Great name too, right?).  I recently sat down with Tony DeSisto, Co-founder of Citizinvestor to learn more about the company and their work in participatory budgeting.  Our conversation is summarized below.

  1.       What is Participatory budgeting?

We funded this project in Boston in 2012, it was our first successfully funded project on the site. We also built the participatory budgeting site for last year’s Youth Lead the Change program in the City. We funded two projects in San Mateo County in 2013: 3 Months of Bicycle Sunday and Restore the Thornmint . We did a number of projects around Chicago, including our largest to date, Spirit of the American Navy, but nothing with the City of Chicago.  I would categorize what we do, civic crowdfunding, as one of the new and innovative funding methods, like participatory budgeting, that democratizes the budget process and allows people to invest in their community.

  1.       Tell us about a successful (local) project?

One local project that we love to highlight is Central Falls, Rhode Island. This is a small one-square mile city that went bankrupt in 2010 and elected a 26 year old Mayor in 2012 to help bring the City back. We were one of their first partners and helped them fund permanent trash cans and recycle bins for their main park. The project had arisen after the Mayor met with middle school students who equated the trash in the park with a lower sense of self worth and lack of pride in the City. Not only were the funds raised, but during the project, a cleanup was organized through the site and over 100 people showed up. Central Falls is now a customer for our new product, Citizinvestor Connect, a custom white label site for civic engagement and crowdfunding. Here are two stories about the project, Boston Globe and CNBC.

  1.       How does Citizinvestor help?

Citizinvestor helps by providing a platform and the tools necessary for our local government partners to successfully raise the funds they need. We also provide a best practices guide and some templates to help them with the marketing of their project. Our Connect product not only helps our partners raise funds, but also emphasizes input from the community and increases engagement.

  1.       How can technology help drive civic engagement?

Technology is a key component in driving engagement. Today more than ever people have the tools and forums to let their voice be heard and participate in the decision-making and governing process.

For more information about Citizinvestor, visit their website or on Twitter at @citizinvestor.

Calling young people with ideas for change — win support to make them a reality

Calling all students and young adults! Are you active in your local community or concerned about national issues? Microsoft’s third annual YouthSpark Challenge for Change is inviting youth aged 13-25 around the world to share their ideas for sparking change in their communities, schools, college campuses, or the world. Microsoft YouthSpark is part of Microsoft’s commitment to create education, employment and entrepreneurship opportunities for young people around the world.

The Challenge asks socially conscious young people to consider how Microsoft technology can help them do more and achieve more, and then submit their ideas between now and March 25, 2015. Microsoft will choose 15 finalists from each age group (13-17 and 18-25) to win a Surface Pro 3 with Office 365. Five grand prize winners from each age group will go on to win:

One of last year’s winners, Juan Carlos Murillo, a research assistant at MIT, submitted a proposal to get young people in his native Mexico more interested in computers and electronics engineering, subjects they get minimal exposure to in the public schools. His project, Sin Miedo a la Corriente (No Fear of Current), was designed to remove the fear of the unknown and open up new possibilities for Mexican youth.

So if you know a high-school or college student or young graduate who’s got some great ideas about solving Boston’s traffic issues, or increasing U.S. election turnout, or helping developing countries prepare for changing weather patterns, or more, point them to the Challenge. Entering is simple: they can just submit their ideas to Microsoft YouthSpark and answer a few questions for a chance to get recognition, funding, and a platform to turn their vision into action.

To learn more about Microsoft’s commitment to youth and education, visit our YouthSpark Hub or follow us on twitter at @msftcitizenship.

Reflecting on “Educating your Future Workforce: A Forum for Employers”


Photo via @asprung

Microsoft’s Innovation and Policy Center – New England hosted an event last week entitled “Educating your Future Workforce:  A Forum for Employers,” sponsored by the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education, the Massachusetts Business Roundtable, and the Associated Industries of Massachusetts. The event, kicked off by Microsoft’s Director of Government Affairs Brian Burke, highlighted the challenges employers face in finding workers with the skills needed to fill open positions, actions that are required, and the roles that the state’s K-12 education system, public colleges and universities must play to address the challenge.  The conversation, led by the state’s Commissioner of Higher Education, Richard Freeland, included remarks from employers who all agreed on a common theme:  there is a disconnect between the education system and employer needs, and progress is dependent upon better understanding and communication between the two.

A survey of employers across Massachusetts, conducted by the sponsors of the event, found that 69% have difficulty in finding employees with the skills necessary to fill open jobs.  While the panel acknowledged there are pockets of excellence in vocational technical education and on some Community College campuses, systemic change is needed to bridge this divide.

There is a side effect to this disconnect, however, that is not directly related to the workforce pipeline:  if business feels disconnected from public education, particularly higher education, it is less inclined to be an active and vocal advocate for it.  Employer panelists at the event talked about strategies they are undertaking to meet their own workforce needs, such as in-house training or partnerships with individual institutions to define curricula and, essentially, create their own pipeline.  While these strategies meet the needs of employers, they circumvent the public system and are not systemic change.  Yet given the current landscape, employers feel like these strategies are their best option.

Commissioner Freeland noted that, due to a perfect storm of circumstances, the public higher education system needs close to $500M in new state investment.  In order for business to be invested in advocating for the public education system, the disconnect must be addressed.  Two-way communication, a mutual understanding of needs, and genuine partnerships between business and education throughout the system, scaled to incorporate best practices, would be a start.

CoderDojo: Bringing Free Kids Coding Workshops to Cambridge

Screen Shot 2015-01-08 at 1.16.42 PM

Studies show that there will be one million unfilled jobs in computing by 2020. But how can you get your kids into coding? Coding bootcamps and specialized workshops can get expensive, and their grade school probably doesn’t offer it.

Enter: CoderDojo.

CoderDojo brings free weekend coding clubs to kids all over the world. And thanks to Charles River CoderDojo (@CoderDojoCRiver), these free “Kids Learn to Code” workshops have come to Cambridge. This Saturday, in fact, they’re hosting an intermediate level Minecraft Mods workshop. Sound like fun? That’s because it is.

We had the opportunity to sit down with Frank Kelly, who runs Charles River CoderDojo, to learn more about the organization and their programs.

What is CoderDojo? 

CoderDojo is a global network of volunteer-led, independent, community based programming clubs for young people. These young people, between 7 and 17, learn how to code, develop websites, apps, programs, games and explore technology. As of November 2014 there are over 450 CoderDojos in 28 countries around the world.

Two of the four “Digital Girl of the Year” awards in Europe this year were won by CoderDojo members from Ireland and Belgium (ages 9 and 11). Also, CoderDojo is huge in Ireland. For comparison’s sake, Ireland is the size of Maine but there are over 120 active Dojos in Ireland.  There are 100 CoderDojos now in the US. In Seattle and New York there are Dojos each with well over 100 kids per session. We think Boston can easily do the same.

How did CoderDojo come to Boston / Somerville?

CoderDojo-CambridgeAs a Software Engineer and a parent, I have been surprised at the lack of opportunities for kids to create with technology.  In addition, living in Somerville it is clear that those of us who live in the technology world have not made enough connections to underserved urban youth, minorities, girls and children with special needs. We need to bridge that gap not just to address the STEM skills shortage, but to reduce inequality and to build a more inclusive technology community.

Then one day I was watching my daughter at her Karate Dojo and thought their model of training, practice and demoing skills was an awesome way to teach a “vocational” skill like programming. Watching kids teach other kids was very powerful. So I searched “Coding Dojo” and came across the CoderDojo organization and I was hooked. It certainly helped that I was born and raised in Ireland and having the chance to build bridges between my home country and my adoptive home has been wonderful.

There were two prior attempts at starting a CoderDojo in Boston and Cambridge but they are not very active.  I know from my own learning experience that it is the repeated exposure that can really engage and help kids, so I decided to host a CoderDojo in Somerville and do it on a regular basis. From there we needed a space and volunteers.

A good friend of mine, Alec Resnick (who is setting up a STEAM Academy in Somerville) has a maker space in Davis Square which he graciously let us use. I then found some volunteers through my work place (Nokia/Here) and some online outreach. We started our first session in April 2014 with 9 kids and 3 mentors. Within the course of our first series we quickly realized we would quickly outgrow the capacity of that space.

We just finished our second series in Davis Square this Fall, averaging 15 kids per session and hosting one session at the beautiful LogMeIn offices in Boston.  In December, we moved our sessions to Microsoft New England, which can potentially host many more families across parallel sessions.

The community response in Somerville and beyond has been amazing. We have a charity that provides free Chromebooks to kids who are on the school lunch program. We have had companies vying to host sessions and who have bought our first set of White belts and Yellow belts (USB wristbands) and T-Shirts for volunteers. A lot of people in the software industry are looking for a venue to quickly and easily give back on a regular basis and our CoderDojo is that opportunity.

Why is it important to teach young people coding skills?

CoderDojo-2Kids today are “digital natives” and already consume so much technology, but they have limited opportunity to create with technology.  There are so many opportunities for them—not just to become software engineers but to use programming across so many different careers—health care, service industries, manufacturing, education etc.

Programming is a “horizontal” skill that can be applied across every industry “vertical”, within the community and charities etc. Kids who grow up with this skill will be able to apply it to things we can’t even imagine yet. One of our goals is that the kids themselves become the mentors and grow to become leaders in the organization.

Who should participate? What age? How can students participate/join?

We are open to ALL children ages 7 to 17—their parents just need to sign-up via our Meetup group.

Currently the parents are asked to stay with the child for the duration and we find that’s great not just for many of the parents who also want to learn to code but also it becomes great quality time for the parents and kids to spend together. Requiring the parents to stay is also a limitation for some families and so we are looking into ways to further ensure child safety within our volunteer organization operating in a large open space like the Microsoft New England Research & Development Center.

How can people volunteer to help?

We ALWAYS need more volunteers. Being at the Microsoft New England Research & Development Center has solved our space problem for a long time to come, but our gating factors now are mentors and volunteers. We use the word “mentor” to describe volunteers who have coding experience and “volunteer” to describe folks who want to help but don’t yet have coding experience. We need both. Every mentor we add enables us to add 4 or 5 more kids to our sessions.

Volunteers help keep track of attendance and help us do outreach to local companies, charities and educational institutions and in the Boston area there are lots and lots. That outreach takes a lot of effort and time.

We also would love to build relationships with companies that are household names in tech (e.g. Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, Google) and which operate in the Boston area and also with startups and everyone in between. If we bring this community together with public and private educational institutions and the youth who need it, the potential is incredible.

Boston is in a unique position that many cities cannot match—urban youth in proximity to technology companies, public schools and world renowned universities—we should do our best to make the most of this opportunity.

To learn more about Microsoft’s commitment to youth and education, visit our YouthSpark Hub or follow us on twitter at @msftcitizenship.

3 Cambridge Seniors Win My Brother’s Keeper Hackathon with “Change Your Community” App


Courtesy photo via wickedlocal.com: Cambridge’s Pharaoh Saunders, 17, center with microphone.

Last month, three Cambridge students from Prospect Hill Academy Charter School participated in the My Brother’s Keeper Hackathon in Philadelphia, PA. Not only did they proudly represent Massachusetts in the competition, they also finished in first place!

Pharaoh Saunders of Cambridge, Daoud Sogoba of Somerville, and Jarad Parris of Brockton were tasked with imagining an app that can change the world, create a business, or both, as well as writing its basic structure and business model. Out of this challenge came the “Change Your Community” (CYC) App. After accepting their first place award, the trio is now working with others who also participated in the Hackathon to develop the app.

All three students learned basic computer science skills in high school, where they participated in Microsoft YouthSpark’s TEALS program. TEALS (Technology Education And Literacy in Schools) is a grassroots program that recruits, trains, mentors, and places high tech professionals from across the country who are passionate about computer science education into high school classes. They act as volunteer teachers in a team-teaching model when the school district is unable to meet their students’ computer science (CS) needs on its own.

Read more about the My Brother’s Keeper Hackthon here: http://cambridge.wickedlocal.com/article/20141204/NEWS/141208398/#sthash.5nq9sKPO.dpuf

Learn more about TEALS: www. http://www.tealsk12.org/

TEALS is part of Microsoft YouthSpark, our commitment to empower 300 million young people with opportunities for education, employment and entrepreneurship. To learn more about Microsoft’s commitment to youth and education, visit our YouthSpark Hub or follow us on twitter at @msftcitizenship.

3 Not-To-Miss Events This Week at Microsoft New England


Fall is officially here! And with the changing leaves and cool temps comes our biggest season for events here at Microsoft New England.

Here are three not to miss this week:

TB1) Boston TechBreakfast: StayAtHand, Bedrock Data, UsinLife LLC, Ostrato, Everseat
Tuesday, October 14, 8:00am – 10:00am
Twitter: @TechBreakfast, @StayAtHand, @bedrockdatasync, @Ostrato, @Everseat

Based on the popular TechBreakfast format, the Boston TechBreakfast is a “show and tell” format event where up to five different technologists will demo their technologies from a wide range of industries ranging from software to hardware, IT to Biotech, robotics to space tech. The event is “triple agnostic”. We don’t care if the technology is from a start up, a large company, a university, a government agency, or someone’s hobby. We are also agnostic as to the industry of the tech – it could be IT, biotech, robotics, aerospace, materials sciences, anything tech and innovative is cool. And we’re also region agnostic – even if you’re not from where we’re hosting, we want to see you and your technology!

sportmobiles2) AppConext Sports Mobile Summit
Wednesday, October 15 – Thursday, October 16, 8:00am – 5:00pm
Twitter: @sportmobileconf

Taking place in one of America’s hubs for both sports and technology, the Sports Mobile Summit is an executive forum featuring unique panel discussions and presentations with industry leaders and exciting startups that are focused on utilizing mobile devices to innovate the fan experience from the living room to the luxury suites.

14023442553) Hacking Pediatrics Hackathon 2.0

Friday, October 17, 2014 – Sunday, October 19, 2014
Twitter: @HackPediatrics

In October 2013, Hacking Pediatrics held the first hackathon ever focused on pediatric healthcare. It was sponsored by Boston Children’s Hospital in collaboration with MIT’s H@cking Medicine. In under 36 hours, 16 teams brought to life incredible ideas that will change the lives of children and their families and we are doing it again this year. Hacking Pediatrics Hackathon 2.0 will once again bring together the most innovative minds to disrupt pediatric healthcare.

This years event will be held on the 17th – 19th of October.

The event will kick off on Friday with a networking reception, then the hacking begins all day Sat and Sunday with the judging and awards Sunday evening.

Event Recap: MassTLC’s #MadeinMA Pre-PAX Party

Xbox Kinect Gangnam Style!

Xbox Kinect Gangnam Style!

On Thursday, April 10th, MassTLC hosted their 5th annual “Made in MA” Pre-PAX party to celebrate the MA gaming community. Here’s the story of the night told in tweets!

It’s time to create technology, not just consume it!

In celebration of Computer Science Education Week, I was honored when Microsoft reached out and asked me to write a guest blog post.  It’s a terrific opportunity to bring the spotlight on the importance of CS education in our schools, and I’d like to say a huge thank you to Microsoft for their support in Massachusetts and beyond.

Learning computer science is fun, engaging, and much easier than many people think. It encompasses the study of computers and algorithmic processes including their principles, design, applications, and impact on society.

OK, that’s a mouthful.  Here’s an easier way to think about it: Computer Science empowers students to create, not just consume technology.  It also teaches them to collaborate, think critically, and problem-solve, all necessary skills no matter what path you choose.  As President Obama says, “don’t just play on your phone – program it.

But we have a problem in this country. The National Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that in 2020 more than ½ of all STEM jobs will require computing, but less than 52,000 degrees in CS were awarded in 2013.  And the reality is, no matter what career or academic path you pursue in the future, students who understand how to build technology will have advantage over those who only know how to consume it.

Some fast facts

  • Computing is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States with more than 150,000 job openings annually
  • Computing jobs pay 75 percent more than the national median annual salary
  • Two-thirds of computing jobs are in sectors other than information technology including: manufacturing, defense, health care, life sciences, financial services, and retail

As Executive Director of the MassTLC Education Foundation we are committed to working with partners including MassCAN, the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) and others to help expand computing education in the state and ensure ALL students have access to the skills they need to be successful in the 21st century.

This week over 80,000 students in Massachusetts are participating in “Hour of Code” activities that will provide students with a brief introduction to computer science.  The activities are designed to “demystify coding” and show students that anyone can become a contributor, leader, and creator when it comes to technology. Code.org predicts that Hour of Code events will take place in over 160 countries and 25,000 classrooms with over 4 million students participating across the globe. You can learn more about the Hour of Code and see if your district is participating here.

The Museum of Science is also celebrating CS Ed Week with a variety of events at the museum throughout the week and upcoming weekend.  From creating your own robot and building your own computer program, to taking part in basic coding tutorials, the Museum is a great place to explore computer science.

I encourage everyone to take part in CS Ed Week, whether you decide to attend an organized event or simply spend an hour exploring the free tutorials offered here. Happy computing!


Heather Carey
Executive Director
MassTLC Education Foundation

InnerCity Weightlifting Info Breakfast: Learn More About Supporting this Organization while Staying Fit.

Please join us to learn more about an amazing social venture: InnerCity Weightlifting.  We are hosting a breakfast on December 4, 2013 at our campus to introduce this incredible group and hope that you will join us.

InnerCity Weightlifting’s mission is “to reduce violence and promote professional, personal and academic achievement among urban youth. They work with young people at the highest risk for violence in order to reduce youth violence by getting their students off the streets and into the gym, where they are empowered with the confidence and positive support needed to say no to violence and yes to opportunity.”

Through Microsoft’s partnership with Root Cause, we became connected with Jon Feinman and InnerCity Weightlifting about 18 months ago. InnerCity Weightlifting has become a great partner to Microsoft.  Microsoft hosts personal training at Microsoft twice each week.  Employees receive high quality personal training at a group rate.  At the same time, ICW trainers have an opportunity to visit our office in Kendall Square, make connections in the business community and spend time outside of their neighborhood.  We have discovered that weightlifting is for everyone – the Microsoft employees who participate range from beginners to experienced athletes and ICW is able to customize the workouts for each person’s needs.

ICW is hoping to grow their corporate partnerships and we are hosting this breakfast to solicit your input as to how they can engage more companies in the Boston area.  Please join us:

Informational Breakfast: Bringing InnerCity Weighlifting to Corporate Partners

December 4, 2013, 8:30AM – 9:30AM

Microsoft, One Memorial Drive, Cambridge, MA

Register here.

Please join me on December 4 to learn more about InnerCity Weightlifting.InnerCity Weightlifting Logo

The Future of Music

Just how many new technologies can come out of 24 hours of music hacking? At Music Hack Day Boston, the largest music hackathon in the world, sixty game-changing music hacks were conceived and actualized. That’s 60 new innovations that may be the next big thing to change the face of music!

Music Hack Day 1

Hacker at work! Photo Credit: Michelle Ackerman

Music Hack Day 2

Demo time! Photo credit: Michelle Ackerman

Hosted by the Echo Nest at the NERD Center this past weekend, Music Hack Day Boston attracted over 200 hackers, some who brought their own hack ideas and others who provided the skills that would bring those ideas to life. Most hackers joined creative forces, as the event was focused on collaboration and innovation rather than competition and prizes. But don’t worry – while prizes weren’t the end goal of the hackathon, there were plenty given out to deserving teams!

Music Hack Day 3

Hackers Hacking! Photo Credit: Michelle Ackerman

Hackers arrived on Saturday morning eager to share ideas and get to work. Following opening remarks by Paul Lamere, Director of Developer Platform at Echo Nest, sponsoring organizations gave short presentations on the their technologies and what was available for the hackers to use in their projects. Next came Project Pitches where brave hackers shared ideas and then Tech Deep Dives where sponsors gave in depth details of their technology’s capabilities. Many attendees chose to ditch the Tech Deep Dives in favor of getting a head start on the actual hacking! And hack they did, many working through the night and right up until the 2.5 hour demo session the next day.

The demo session is where everything came together. The creativity, passion, and talent combined to produce some awesome new music hacks. Check out this year’s hacks as well as more pictures here and here. Let us know what your favorite hack was!