This Week in Civic Tech: Tech Companies Commit to Diversity, Bloomberg Mayor’s Challenge Launches in South America

A look back at highlights and happenings in the world of civic tech.

by / June 23, 2016
The White House Diplomat John Kerry speaks at the 2016 Global Entrepreneur Summit on June 23, where President Obama is expected to speak about diversity in private sector. YouTube/Global Entrepreneurship Summit

This Week in Civic Tech presents a line-up of notable events in the space that connects citizens to government services. Topics cover latest startups, hackathons, open data initiatives and other influencers. Check back each Friday for updates.

Tech Companies Make Diversity Pledge 

In a partnership with the White House, 28 national tech companies have promised to increase diversity in their workforce while tracking progress with annual reports.

The commitments come from leadership at prominent tech companies like Airbnb, Box, SAP, Lyft, Intel and GitHub. Each company signed a pledge, officially called the Tech Inclusion Pledge, which asks them for a promise to implement and publish company-specific goals to recruit, retain and advance diverse technology talent, and operationalize concrete measures to create and sustain an inclusive culture; annually publish data and progress metrics on the diversity of [their] technology workforce across functional areas and seniority levels; and invest in partnerships to build a diverse pipeline of technology talent to increase [the] ability to recognize, develop and support talent from all backgrounds.

The intent of the pledge is to reduce the long-established inequities in the tech sector’s workforce. At Tech-inclusion.org, the pledge’s website, the administration said 88 percent of IT patents have male-only invention teams, that 1 percent of startups backed with venture capital are led by African-Americans, and only 9 percent of tech labor is African-American or Hispanic.

To expand the impact of the pledge, organizations and venture capitalists are making additional commitments. One of these is the VC 500 Startups, which will enable investment diversity with a $25 million micro-fund. The dollars will go to 200 black- and Latino-led startups.

This White House initiative follows a previous pledge initiated by the president on June 16 to promote equal pay for women and minorities. Like the diversity pledge, the “White House Equal Pay Pledge” commits companies to annual employment and salary reporting.

20 Latin American, Caribbean Cities Vie for $9 Million

Bloomberg Philanthropies, the smart city and civic tech investment group, has pulled back the curtains on 20 Latin American and Caribbean cities that are now finalists for $9 million worth of innovation funding.

Each year, the philanthropy’s international innovation contest called the Mayor's Challenge offers funds for cities to craft game-changing concepts to improve city life. Solutions with the most impact and scalability are awarded funding to realize their ambitions. In 2016, the contest has selected the 20 cities out of 290 applicants from 10 countries. Now they will compete for one $5 million grand prize and four $1 million prizes awarded at the end of 2016.

In a release, Michael Bloomberg said the finalists' ideas are reflective of “creative new approaches to some of the most pressing issues facing cities in the region.”

Some of these challenges relate to youth unemployment, mobility, obesity, waste management, support for the disabled and immigrants.
 
The finalists and their ideas as summarized by Bloomberg Philanthropies are:

1. Asunción, Paraguay – Data: Closing the city’s socio-economic data gap by conducting citzen-led research to gather demographic information that can inform and measure the impact of policymaking for the first time.
 
2. Barueri, Brazil – Social Inclusion for People with Disabilities/Workforce Development: Increasing access to the workforce for people with disabilities by creating a physical and virtual network to improve job training, analyze workplace conditions, and provide technical assistance to employers and job candidates.
 
3. Bogotá, Colombia
– Education: Twice daily, the city will leverage all transportation channels, public facilities, volunteers and the city’s cultural history to enhance and shorten the severe school commute times for children.
 
4. Cap-Haïtien , Haiti – Waste Solutions/ Environment: Reducing deforestation and mangrove destruction by creating community biodigesters, which are closed containers that break down organic waste and turn it into renewable energy.
 
5. Caracas, Venezuela – Social Inclusion for People with Disabilities/Mobility: Enrolling volunteers to drive people with motor disabilities to and from public transport points and providing assistance during their commutes, opening access to education, culture, health care, employment and productive citizenship for a vulnerable segment of the population.
 
6. Corumbá, Brazil – Environment/ Economic Development: Combatting further environmental degradation caused by improper disposal of ore – a mining byproduct – by repurposing the waste into productive materials for construction.
 
7. Curitiba, Brazil – Social Inclusion for People with Disabilities/Mobility: Drawing on its history of transit innovation, improving the mobility of disabled people by integrating more inclusive transport services and introducing better designed routes.
 
8. Estación Central, Chile – Social Inclusion for Immigrants/Entrepreneurship: Promoting social inclusion by matching immigrants with new business ideas to technical assistance, office space and local entrepreneurs looking to partner to launch a new startup.
 
9. Godoy Cruz, Argentina – Waste Solutions: Preventing illegal waste disposal in canals – an essential feature of the city’s irrigation system – by placing sensors to monitor and identify the exact location where infractions occur.
 
10. Guadalajara, México – Transparency / Government Efficiency: Tackling corruption by streamlining the legal requirements for construction projects through a new geo-referenced app that publicly maps business names, plans, licenses and payments, speeding processing times, and increasing transparency.
 
11. Kingston, Jamaica – Youth Unemployment / Workforce Development: Tackling entrenched youth unemployment through a mobile digital platform that encourages young people to explore, create and access career opportunities in a variety of industries, especially Jamaica’s cultural and music industry, based on their strengths and interests.
 
12. Medellín, Colombia – Public Safety / Financial Empowerment: Reducing demand for illegal loans that finance organized crime by creating neighborhood lending collectives that offer low-interest commercial loans and connections to employment.
 
13. Milagro, Ecuador – Environmental Sustainability: Encouraging emergency preparedness for children through the creation of a network chaired and formed by students that promotes better preparation for adverse weather and natural disasters.
 
14. Pudahuel, Chile – Education: Pairing older residents wishing to volunteer with the children of working families in need of after-school child care, limiting social isolation for seniors and providing a vital service for families.
 
15. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – Public Health: Improving children’s health-care standards and outcomes by removing silos and integrating data across agencies to improve the health and well-being of children ages 0 to 6.
 
16. Santiago (Commune), Chile – Public Health: Through citywide challenges, encourage neighborhood groups to work together to reduce childhood obesity; communities earn points they can use to fund local recreational and civic infrastructure.
 
17. São Paulo, Brazil – Economic Development: Creating an online exchange that connects growing local demand for locally produced farm products from restaurants, markets and schools to struggling local farmers on the outskirts of the city, addressing a market failure.
 
18. Tlalnepantla de Baz, México – Social Cohesion: Publishing and promoting a municipal catalog of good deeds, an effort to address widespread civic apathy by engaging citizens in acts like helping the elderly and improving the local environment.
 
19. Tuxtla Gutiérrez, México – Anti-Corruption: Fighting corruption and improving efficiency by streamlining service delivery for public-facing transactions, and allowing users to monitor the activity of civil servants through a new mobile app.
 
20. Valdivia, Chile – Entrepreneurship: Directing promising academic research toward practical problems and helping the local economy by testing bright ideas from local universities in real-world markets with a new mobile lab.

Jason Shueh former staff writer

Jason Shueh is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.