The Future of Civic Technology

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In the coming weeks, we will see a flurry of post-election opinions and predicted changes resulting from the recent U.S. election. I will leave that to those with far more experience and insight into this year’s voting data.

As someone who has spent the past few years working closely with government leaders throughout the U.S. in order to harness emerging technologies and data to make civic services and support more accessible to more people, my own mission and vision remain clear .

We must continue to develop and share the technology and tools that can deliver better self-service access to the information and services we need within our own communities, urban or rural, that empower us to make informed decisions, interact with our government, and improve our own economic mobility.

Today, people living in cities are still accessing civic technology for instant information about their transit systems to make decisions about their commute to work. Parents are still launching mobile applications to access information about the schedules, lunch menus, and even notices of frightening lock-downs at their children’s public schools. And business owners are still using today’s technology to not only serve their customers but to interact with the government entities which regulate their companies.

Cities all over the country are continuing to open up more data and to deploy more automated tools which allow citizens self-service options to apply for permits, pay fees, and report issues to their government leaders.

The industries of Civic Tech and Gov Tech were barely getting started only a decade ago, and thanks to the rapid expansion of technology and data, these industries are now mature enough to step up and address the bigger challenges of resolving the rural and poverty gaps in access to reliable, affordable internet and to scale existing user-friendly technology platforms which can empower more ordinary citizens to create their own solutions which address their unique barriers to economic growth, stability and security.

Through our work at APPCityLife we have already helped cities deploy mobile apps and integrated smart technologies to make services more available to citizens. We have worked with the youth and mayor of Albuquerque to deploy a mobile app to track one million acts of kindness.

And by collaborating with organizations including the Living Cities Foundation, the McCune Foundation and the City of Albuquerque, we are nearing the launch of a new integrated technology solution and mobile app, TrepConnect, which will empower small business owners and entrepreneurs to independently learn about and access the wide variety of available services within their own community so that more business owners can achieve their own economic stability and mobility.

I am especially thrilled that this solution has been designed to scale and to be shared with other cities and rural communities, so that the efforts and funding into this pilot project can allow other regions to now use the same solution to support their own economic growth through small businesses and entrepreneurship.

I am encouraged to know that with the continued support of foundations and investors focused on using technology to improve the operations of government and access to information and services, those of us working within Civic Tech and Government Tech can continue to use the tools at hand and to invent new technologies which can continue to improve the lives of Americans wherever we live.

This post originally appeared on Broad Insights via Inc

Cycle of Civic Innovation

1*lGHFflHc2sAQXQVlNaK68g.pngIf cities are to thrive, they cannot — and must not — hold back the rising tide of innovation, but when you consider that cities are also tasked with protecting their citizens from harm, finding the balance between protection and innovation is not easily achieved.

For Airbnb and Uber, their respective disruptions of the status quo were widely embraced by the public — just as their problems have been widely criticized. Both companies are part of the Sharing Economy, which came on the scene around the turn of the century and encompasses a wide variety of companies based on peer-to-peer sharing of access to goods and services.

By embracing the unique approach of the Sharing Economy, both companies enjoyed a meteoric rise to global adoption, but both companies have also been plagued with lawsuits and resistance from governments concerned over the lack of protection for citizens and the inability to regulate or collect conventional taxes from these innovative startups which often operate outside of current regulatory structures.

Airbnb

When Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia came up with the crazy idea of using a few air mattresses on the floor of their apartment to sell sleeping spaces to attendees of a sold-out tradeshow, both were unemployed and just looking to make a few bucks to pay their rent. Their impromptu “Air Bed and Breakfast”, complete with un-toasted Pop-Tarts, landed three paying guests — and the short-term rental platform, Airbnb, was born.

Despite early skepticism that people would not want to spend the night with complete strangers, Airbnb grew in popularity by building an online platform which, among other things, removed the barriers so that anyone with an extra room could easily earn extra income. In addition, the platform focused on delivering a unique experience by enabling travelers to live like locals and enjoy the conveniences of home at a fraction of the cost of staying in a hotel.

While a majority of visitors have had positive experiences using the platform’s services, an increase in reported mishaps, injuries and crimeshave lawmakers concerned. In fact, many cities are not making it easy to operate an Airbnb rental, including global tourist destinations like Paris, Amsterdam, London, San Francisco and New York City.

Taking it a step further, some city and state governments are pursuing legal action, with one New York City apartment owner now facing a $300,000 lawsuitfiled by the owners of her building in response to a city administrative law judge fining the landlord for their tenant’s “bad acts”.

And, of course, the short-lived Airbnb listing for a $200/night igloo which was hastily constructed after a blizzard in New York City, while humorous, highlights the inability of the company to fully control the quality or honesty of the listings on its platform.

Airbnb is making some effort to address mounting concerns by offering a compromise of sorts at the U.S. Conference of Mayors, promising the mayors in attendance that in exchange for their support, Airbnb would begin collecting upwards of $200 Million in new taxes within 50 of the largest cities in the U.S.

In addition, the company’s pledge of transparency and release of New York City data was lauded by many as a step in the right direction. But others, like Mark Headd, a longtime advocate for open data and government, pointed out that the release of data is only one small step in the right direction, especially since the data was never published in a digital format. In fact, anyone wanting to view the highly redacted data had to do so in person at Airbnb’s New York office.

Uber: Destined to Repeat the Past?

In 2013, four people filed a lawsuit against Uber claiming the company should classify drivers as employees instead of contractors and asking for reimbursement of such expenses as gas, insurance and car maintenance.

Today, that lawsuit has attained class-action status and mushroomed to encompass 160,000 individuals worldwide. It is but one of many lawsuits and complaints lodged against ride-hailing startups which are disrupting the taxi industry.

Eric Posner points out in his 2015 essay that something quite similar happened to the taxi industry in the 1920’s with the introduction of the mass-produced automobile. In New York City, riders hoping to avoid the higher cab fares would hail part-time drivers who were using their own personal vehicles.

As more independent drivers took advantage of this opportunity, the glut of unregulated drivers negatively impacted taxis to the extent that the government stepped in and began issuing medallions to registered taxis in an attempt to stabilize the industry and protect consumers.

Today’s taxi drivers often spend years paying off loans to afford their medallion, which until recently cost over $1 Million — and it is the cost of those medallions which many attribute as the catalyst for the success of today’s new ride-sharing companies like Uber.

And just to bring things full circle, in late 2015 cab drivers filed a lawsuit against New York City, claiming that the city misled cab drivers about the value of the required medallions and that the city has allowed companies like Uber to usurp the property rights of cab drivers through disparate regulation.

Disrupting the Cycle of Civic Innovation

It would be easy to blame the dysfunction within the cycle of civic innovation on the failure of lawmakers and regulations to keep pace with innovation, but, in a chicken-and-egg sort of quandary, the more difficult question is whether it is this perceived dysfunction, this lack of regulation, that makes it possible for innovation to even happen.

Neither Uber nor Airbnb were overnight successes; it took years of testing and pivots to achieve market adoption. By innovating outside of the system, the companies were able to disrupt established industries and deliver new options to consumers. And while the hour of reckoning with heavier government regulation appears to be nigh, innovation resulted from freedom of inventing outside of those regulations.

In today’s rapid pace of technology changes, cities have discovered they cannot innovate fast enough to keep pace with the constantly changing smart city and civic tech inventions which are already beginning to deliver more efficiency and easier access to city services and information.

Many government agencies are partnering with this new breed of tech startups despite the barriers of outdated 20th Century regulations by implementing new procedures to experiment or implement pilot programs. As more cities disrupt their own established procurement processes, the question is whether cities will become tomorrow’s disruptive innovators.

If cities can collaborate with private enterprise to keep pace with new technologies while simultaneously addressing needed changes to regulations — we might be witnessing the best disruptive innovation yet.

this article first appeared on inc.com

When Women are the Problem for Women in Tech

This past week, I read Meg Nordmann‘s post Why ALL Women in Tech are Women-In-Tech. She writes, “A fellow female (who is a very talented software engineer) told me to my face today that I am “NOT a woman in tech.” … Her reasoning: I was a marketer.” If you haven’t yet read her post, it’s definitely worth the read.

It is discouraging to know women are still facing this kind of blatant bias, but what I find reprehensible is when it is another woman who is the problem. I do not understand women who don’t help lift up other women, and I really don’t understand women who actively work to keep other women down. This kind of pettiness is demoralizing and cannot be tolerated.

Madeline Albright once said that there is a special place in hell for women who do not help other women.

Perhaps.

But that seems like a very long time to wait to fix the problem.

If you would rather not wait that long to address bias you may be facing, here are five methods to address the problem that you can try right now.

Lead by Example

If you don’t like how it feels to be on the receiving end of another woman’s bias about your right to call yourself a Woman in Tech, lead by example what you’d like to see in others. Treat other women with the dignity, respect, and kindness you’d like to receive. When you realize a woman may be struggling with feelings of inadequacy, boost her courage. Invite her to a tech gathering and introduce her to your peers. In doing so, you will help her build a broader network of support that can give her the courage to push forward and embrace her career in tech. Become a portal for others to enter by being a woman who makes room for other women to feel welcome within the tech industry.

Educate with Facts

When a woman’s concern over maintaining the integrity of her field of study leads to bias towards others in fields she may consider beneath her own, appealing to her emotions will rarely result in the desired outcome. Instead, try using facts to dispel her misconceptions. Share articles or reports that detail the variety of jobs that now require technical training and skills. Provide examples of your own required technical training or skills. Or point out historical, cultural or global biases which would have prevented her own entry into her chosen field. Use facts to convince her that maintaining the integrity of her own field of study is not the same as adhering to a narrow set of biases which result in the unnecessary exclusion of others.

Draw Clear Boundaries

We’ve likely all encountered the woman who believes that everyone else has a right to her opinion – and attempts to politely disengage or change the subject are useless. If she cannot or will not respond to your cues of discomfort, you may need to be straightforward. Draw clear boundaries about what is not acceptable. If she is choosing to violate your boundaries and is unaware or unapologetic for the hurtful nature of her words, responding with the same type of direct communication will clarify the boundaries that must be respected if she wants to talk with you.

Refuse to Engage

If our difficulties are the result of someone else thriving on the drama of controversy, we may find it impossible to resolve the issue. If this is the case for you, sometimes your only option is refusing to participate in her drama. By choosing to avoid interactions when possible, you limit her negative effect on you. And while the advice to not participate in the controversy is easy to give, it isn’t easy to do. When we are aware that someone else is saying things that are untrue and demeaning, our first reaction is to defend our reputation. But when we choose to engage, it rarely results in a better reputation. Refusing to engage won’t always help you avoid the pain of the situation, but it will allow you to rise above the controversy and maintain your integrity. And, with any luck, without your fuel to feed her fire, she’ll move on to someone new.

Call Her Out

Sometimes bias isn’t loud or direct but a whisper campaign of continual innuendos, digs, insults, backhanded comments. Women who may understand on some level their bias towards you might not be well-received by others may behave outwardly as if she is supportive while continuing to undermine by excluding you from activities or projects, making jokes about your weaknesses, or failing to acknowledge your successes publicly or privately. When bias takes on a subversive nature, it is often quite effective to call her out in front of others. Yes, it makes for some very awkward, uncomfortable moments when you refuse to ignore her digs but instead ask her point-blank about her intent or meaning. The good news is that it usually only takes once or twice to effectively shut down the problem.

Whether a woman participates in tech as an engineer, a developer, a marketer, or in some other capacity, there is room enough for all of us. It is a difficult industry that is rapidly changing, and we have no business making things even more difficult on each other.

How Urban Tech is Disruptive Government Procurement

(originally published on What’s APPening)
IMG_6565I spent the past few days with our COO at the Smart City Startups Festival in Miami, Florida, interacting with some of today’s most visionary, innovative urban tech startup founders who are disrupting almost every facet of the urban landscape. All of the startups showcased at the summit have the potential of changing the future of our cities. Some are implementing solutions which are quite ingenious in their simplicity, like Loveland Technologies, which makes ownership of land parcels transparent (and raised funds through creative sales of inches of Detroit land parcels through “inchvestors”, and Vizalytics, which filters through the cacophony of data to help small businesses quickly understand what policies, work orders, or inspections will directly affect their business. Other showcased teams are immersed in big ideas like those of, BRCK, whose rugged tech is bringing internet access to remote regions of the globe. It was an incredible honor to have the opportunity to demonstrate how our own company, APPCityLife, is helping deliver powerful mobile apps in cities which can change the way people interact with their city, from being able to get to a job on time by using a real-time tracking app for transit to finding out about distributions of fresh fruits and vegetables at a local food bank.

IMG_3988But the invention of cool urban tech doesn’t mean it’s going to be available to you, the citizen, any time soon. One of the biggest barriers to getting this tech into the real world remains the challenge of navigating archaic government procurement policies. If you think waiting in the customer service line of a Department of Motor Vehicles is a practice in frustration, try pushing a single contract through almost any city government. But there is good news. Because the clamor for better tech is now coming from within and without government agencies, some civic leaders, organizations and entrepreneurs are exploring alternative paths to engage with urban tech startups.

Nonprofits like the Knight Foundation, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, Living Cities, Bloomberg PhilanthropiesNew Cities Foundation as well as many others funding programs aimed at disrupting solutions for select issues such as education, entrepreneurship and economic development. In addition, organizations like Code for America have also helped to disrupt through advocacy, by forming brigades of volunteers within communities to address local issues, and by deploying carefully selected fellows into select cities each year to address a particular need. Other organizations, like Citymart, are focused on disrupting the procurement process itself. With several successes under their belt within the European community, the Barcelona-based company has opened an office in New York City’s Civic Hall and signed on several initial cities to participate in a series of challenges which invite innovative urban tech startups to submit solutions with the chance to move forward with a larger contract should an initial pilot prove successful.

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And then there are the city administrators who are choosing to disrupt the way they work with urban tech startups. One nugget of advice often shared by government administrators is for startups to work for free. I have to admit that the advice that startup founders should work for cities for free can be a bit disconcerting, if only because it is almost always given by someone who not only stands to benefit from free tech but is certainly not working for their own government agency for free. While this model does have its benefits, there are also drawbacks that must be taken into account. When a startup is delivering a service for free, they are far more likely to run out of cash and leave a government agency adrift with a non-working technology – and no one to hold accountable. Additionally, entering the market with a free model may help startups determine the willingness to use a technology, but that is not the same a willingness to pay for that same technology. When founders give away services to any customer, government or otherwise, it is very difficult to begin charging at some later date. We’ve seen this free-first model pay off in very big ways, but it takes setting up clear boundaries ahead of time as to what parts of service will be free, how long the free model will last, what next steps will be possible if initial free phase is a success, etc. When a free-first model can prove a startup’s ability to deliver and the city’s ability to save money or deliver services better, it can be an excellent opportunity to get a foot in the door and disrupt the status-quo. But when it is not set up with clear expectations and end dates, it can eat a startup’s budget with nothing to show for it.

Here are a few additional ways we’ve found to be successful in disrupting current procurement policies to get new urban tech into the hands of the people who need it. When startups devise business models which generate revenue from sources outside of government, it becomes a win-win for everyone around. In addition, proving future savings to a government agency can be a good way for urban tech founders to gain early customers. If new tech will streamline processes, improve efficiencies, or encourage citizens to embrace more affordable options – and if the startup can track the data needed to prove those cost savings, every sale after the initial pilot will be easier. And lastly, when founders take the time to understand the problems a city department is facing – what their biggest headache is within a specific task or as an agency – and when a startup can show that their tech will solve that problem, founders can gain the buy-in and willingness from the government to find money or babysit a contract through procurement processes to gain access to that pain-reliving solution.

Of course, the bigger issue is the procurement policies themselves. Most have not kept up with emerging civic tech. But we cannot afford to wait for politicians and legislators hash out the nuance of new policies. Working at the slow pace of policy change is not an acceptable solution for anyone. Until better procedures manage to gain enough votes to become law, those of us within the urban tech community must continue to disrupt not only the way cities interact with the people who live there but the way cities work with urban tech startups. As a society, we cannot wait for legislators to get up to speed and pass laws that make sense for this new world of smart cities – there is too much at stake. When we have the power to lift entire communities out of poverty by delivering better city services like reliable transit or helping deliver needed supports like food-finding apps to food banks, there is a moral imperative to find new ways to foster urban tech startups and deliver the successful solutions throughout the world.

Is The Story of Your Life Holding You Back?

squarewordWe all have stories. You probably know your own by heart – those few rehearsed sentences that explain how you’ve ended up where you are in life. We hone our answers a bit every time, and after a while, we begin to believe that the version we share with others is the real truth about our journey. But far too often, those rehearsed fragments which explain away our choices, that cover up our mistakes, disappointments, failures. The gloss of our public rendition allows us to hide from the real truths that have shaped our journey. By the same token, we can color the way we forever view our own journey by the way we choose to frame the story about any given experience. If we focus on the negative, we may miss the bigger truths. And that’s the real tragedy, because it isn’t until we explore the reasons we tell the stories we do that we can begin to understand how our stories may be coloring the way we see ourselves and may be the very thing holding us back from what we really want.

Everything Is Ruined

Made with Repix (http://repix.it)One of the first times I discovered my very young daughter might become a talented artist was when I entered her room as she applied her own finishing touches to our marriage license. It would never, ever look the same. I wasn’t even sure it was legal now with all the damage to it. (It is. No one gets out of their marriage vows that easy.) For days, I sulked. I felt angry at my daughter for ruining such an important piece of our history. And then, in a moment of clarity, I realized this new version was better. Does anything scream married quite like a first-born’s scribbles all over the license? By simply reframing how I perceived the experience, something that was devastating was transformed into what remains as one of my favorite memories.

At My Age

IMG_3548-EditOne of the youngest applicants for HauteHopes, Alissa Chavez, started her company after an 8th grade science fair project. When Jessica Eaves Mathews and I launched HauteHopes, our goal was to establish a nonprofit scholarship fund for disadvantaged women entrepreneurs. But when Alissa applied, it took me a by surprise. She’d gained national visibility – including being featured in Glamour Magazine, and had run a successful crowdfunding campaign. She didn’t seem like the kind of entrepreneur who would facing disadvantages which were significant enough to prevent her from bringing a viable business to life. But because of her age – despite her drive, vision, intelligence and technical capabilities – she couldn’t find an investor willing to take a chance on a teenage girl. Alissa recently joined our ten other finalists on stage at our first benefit gala where each finalist had 90 seconds to pitch their business concept to the audience as well as judges that included a congresswoman, a commissioner, and J. Kelly Hoey, the highly influential and powerful networker and angel investor based in New York City. Not only did Alissa land as the judges’ top choice, but she was named the audience choice as well.

IMG_3674-EditOh, and the most inspiring part of this story? Another of the scholarship winners chosen by the judges has also faced the same struggle with age – but on the opposite end of her journey. Already in her sixties, Judith Costello is banking her years of experience as an art therapist and artist to finally launch her dream – a destination art experience for couples, families, children, the elderly. Age should never be the story we use to hold ourselves back – or to allow others to hold us back.

I’m Not Qualified

IMG_3102When I first founded APPCityLife , I worried that others might not take me seriously. I wasn’t an engineer, I didn’t come from the tech world, and this was my first startup. As time passed, and my company gained its first few customers and employees, I grew more comfortable with my story of inadequacy. “I am unqualified for everything I do,” I’d say, rather proud of that fact. I was proud of what I’d created despite the disadvantages I’d faced, and I thought this story perfectly summed that up. But recently I realized my statement wasn’t one of empowerment at all; it was a safety net. If my company failed, well, who could blame me? I wasn’t qualified, after all. And if it succeeded, I was right up there with miracle makers. I don’t say that about myself anymore, because the truth is that I am very qualified for what I do. I’ve learned every skill I’ve needed and have grown to fill whatever the role has demanded. Funny enough, since my new story leaves no room for anything less than all-in, I’m not only happier but I’ve grown so much more comfortable in my role.

What is your story? Do you have one that just might be holding you back? Your story is your own. It’s not someone else’s, so don’t let them decide the words to yours. Be sure you don’t allow anyone else’s story to define yours. So often we give our power away and hang our happiness or success on the balance of someone else’s story. But mostly, just remember that our stories are not written in stone. Look at your situation, and if the way you see your life is holding you back, choose a different view. Find a way to frame your story that empowers you, lifts you up, and gives you the strength and courage to go all in. It’s worth it.

Blind Auditions: Can it Change the Ratio of Women in Tech Journalism?

Backstage getting ready to pitch APPCityLife at the first MobileBeat conference held in San Francisco, July, 2010.

Backstage getting ready to pitch APPCityLife at the first MobileBeat conference held in San Francisco, July, 2010.

I am a huge fan of The Voice, especially the early episodes when a celebrity judge chooses a contestant based on talent and then discovers the person on stage looks nothing like what they expected. Sometimes the contestant isn’t even the same gender as what was assumed. So it was with great interest that I read a post by Dylan Tweney, the Editor-in-Chief at VentureBeat announcing Blind Auditions for his publication. He first noted the results of a study in which more women were added to top orchestras when blind auditions were instituted. Tweney went on to say that VentureBeat was implementing a similar approach for hiring new tech journalists. Based in the center of the Silicon Valley tech startup scene, VentureBeat’s new leader is hoping that his new approach will lead to more women journalists covering tech, but even he admits that only time will tell.

I am heartened by Twenty’s public commitment to finding ways to change the ratio of women tech journalists, if only at his publication. My first interaction with VentureBeat came when I was invited to pitch my brand new startup, APPCityLife, at the company’s first mobile event, MobileBeat 2010. Twenty startups were selected from the applications, and of those twenty startups, I was the only female involved. Among the rest of the teams, the judges, even the staff from VentureBeat – I was the only female to be found on stage.

I learned two very important lessons at that event. The first was that if I was to be successful as a female tech founder, I would have to be more resilient, more persistent – and willing to create an independent voice for our company, because I couldn’t count on coverage by the press if I was in such a minority. That realization created a sense of urgency for me, and over time, I’ve learned that having that kind of fire to your back gives you an edge. Sure, it’s higher stress, but it also is a great motivator. The second thing I learned is that being a woman in a male-dominated field has its advantages. When you’re in a field where women are scarce, I’ve found that some – definitely not all – women gravitate to you, want to create alliances and find ways to do business to help even up the playing field a little bit. Women also have the advantage of approaching their industry through a different filter than most of her competition, and the results are sometimes innovative solutions that meet a need in the marketplace in a very different way, setting her company apart from the competition. Female founders also have the ability to lead differently. I certainly found this to be the case for me. I was a mom tasked with raising toddlers before I became a CEO tasked with leading a team, and my years as a mother definitely shaped me into a different kind of tech founder. I’d like to think it’s for the better.

The lessons learned raising my children changed the way I approach the challenges of being a CEO.

The lessons learned raising my children changed the way I approach the challenges of being a CEO.

And, thus, I find it encouraging that one of today’s leading online tech and venture publications is taking a new approach to hiring that may possibly more women writing about tech and venture capital in the publishing industry today. I am hoping the results are promising, because I believe if the final outcome is more women on the VentureBeat staff, it may become a catalyst for changing hiring practices at other publications as well. I believe with more women journalists contributing, we could find more women founders getting a fair shot at coverage in the media. We’ll likely find that the topics covered change as well, since women journalists usually have different experiences which lead to different reference points and even interests when approaching the same story as a male colleague. I think it will even lead to different water cooler conversations and debates among the staff which may reveal biases and provide an opportunity for growth.

The changes at VentureBeat are an exciting first step in the right direction. Whatever the outcome, I’m hoping this isn’t the last thing VentureBeat or other publishers try. While print may reach far smaller circulations today than ever expected, online journalism has the potential to capturing a world-wide audience. The written word holds the power to change perceptions, reveal biases and bad behavior, drive the conversation and, sometimes, change the future of those who manage to gain the attention and interest of journalists. I, for one, am rooting for more of those moments in the public eye to be about women doing great things – not only for the sake of the women gaining coveted time in the public eye, but mostly for the barriers it will remove for younger generations.

The Real Reason Girls Don’t Want to Code

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I recently sat down for a visit with friend who is running a program focused on STEM, and his insights into the boy/girl ratio were discouraging. “We offer coding camps and courses and work hard to get the word out to everyone. We send invitations to all of the girl-focused organizations. But last time, we only had one girl show up.  This time? None.”

A study released by Google indicated that when girls aren’t familiar with technology, they view STEM as hard, difficult and boring. But here’s the thing: I honestly don’t believe that girls are turned off by STEM because it’s hard or simply because girls think they’re bad at math. Girls aren’t wimps or wilting flowers; they don’t shrink from challenges just because something isn’t a strength. When girls are inspired, when they believe the payoff is worth the risk, discomfort, fear or effort, they can be unrelenting in the pursuit of a goal. Self-doubt doesn’t stop a girl when she wants something bad enough.

The problem isn’t that girls don’t think they can code; the problem is that they don’t want to code badly enough to get past any of their doubts or weaknesses. If you think about it, why shouldn’t girls be turned off? Think of what we see in movies, television – or in the news. The entertainment industry rarely portrays ‘tech’ characters with anyone young girls easily identity with; far too often those characters are either bad boy bro-culture or awkward misfits – neither of which are stereotypes that inspire girls to imagine themselves enjoying a career spent coding. And if you read tech news at all, you know how often it is filled with stories of badly behaving executives, unequal pay for women, and limited opportunities for funding for women in tech. We, as a culture, really aren’t doing a very good job of selling tech to girls.

If we are going to get more girls into STEM and have them like it, I firmly believe we need to change the “why” of these programs and events. Consider that have girls have flocked to Girl Scouts for over a century, in large part, because Girl Scouts play to girls’ natural strengths of leadership and social problem solving.

We need to stop telling an entire gender they need to embrace STEM because it’s good for their brain or if they don’t, boys will get all the good, high-paying jobs. It’s not working, and I’m kind of glad, because it means girls aren’t buying the logic that they need to do something just because boys do. We need to play to girls’ strengths and invite them to participate in projects that create solutions for social issues or problems that they care about – and then offer accessible tech which empowers girls to stop thinking about doing STEM and just use the technology, developing skills along the way as a means to an end. When STEM is simply a set of skills and tools to help solve problems we care about, it takes the scary out of tech.

Besides, girls most definitely embrace tech – think of the evolution of selfies since the introduction of camera phones, of instagram videos and photos with powerful storytelling in the unique framing and juxtaposition of images, and even the storyboarding on Pinterest – all predominantly female audiences using tech as the background for their creative expression.

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Our team at APPCityLife recently flew out to California as a technical sponsor for a local weekend challenge focused on solving congestion problems. When I asked one of the attendees, what motivated her and her companion to come to the event, she said, “We don’t either one of us know how to develop apps, so we just showed up hoping someone else here would like our idea enough to take it for their own project and run with it.”

I should add that she told me this as she stood next to me moments after she and her team were named the winners. She stood there smiling at her other two team members, shaking her head in dismay. “We won. We won,” she said. She paused and then said again, “We won!”

Imagine that.

Imagine waking up early on a rainy Saturday morning to attend a local hackathon – and being willing to do that without any hope of participating in any meaningful way beyond attempting to convince someone else with the right skills to take your idea and run with it. But when she and her companion heard the announcement that our platform was available to attendees, they wanted to learn more. We initially developed our platform for our own needs of robust app development and management, but its user-friendly interface makes it more easily accessible for those without prior coding experience. The need for such a gateway platform in the civic space inspired us to begin opening it up to the public through events like that weekend’s hackathon.

The couple attended our brief bootcamp and eventually teamed up with another attendee. For the rest of the weekend, the three worked under the mentoring of our team to build out their prototype mobile application and test the viability of the original ideas of a woman who believed her solution could improve the experience of riders while helping stimulate the local economy. She showed up with an idea and left with the understanding that she didn’t have to give her idea away to someone else with the right skills; she and her team could own it themselves and create their own solution.

It has been one of my proudest moments in my company when we were able to celebrate the success of her team. It was something to realize we were able to offer a portal into this incredibly rich world of tech, and our team of mentors made that experience a positive, rewarding one.

The response since the hackathon has been more than I expected. I was happy with an early win and validation, but I wasn’t expecting what followed. Invitations are starting to roll in for our team to bring our platform to civic and tech events across the U.S as well as Mexico City. We’ve entered very early conversations with a few educational institutions about launching gateway STEM programs. And we have already forged exciting new partnerships with inspiring groups like the Geek Girls Club of the YWCA of the City of New York, which, by the way, is also the oldest women’s organization in the U.S.. In fact, our team will host our first bootcamp of the year this coming January in the heart of New York City for high school girls who are actively exploring this rich, exciting world of STEM, whether by traditional means or something else in-between.

The demand is high and growing rapidly. We’re a small startup, but we’ve already imagined great things that we simply got busy and made happen. I am committed to push forward with one of our more lofty goals – to empower those who have had little or no access or enough valid reasons to enter the world of STEM. I am hoping others will be inspired by our early wins – like when our civic bootcamp ended up with over 50% women in attendance – and that others will be inspired to support and join our efforts so we can begin to change the ‘why’ for more girls and help shift the metrics just a bit more every time in the right direction. Together, I firmly believe that we erase the real and imagined barriers into tech by creating easier access to gateway platforms which lower the barrier of entry for so many groups who have believed themselves a poor fit for whatever reason within this world of STEM.

That’s a pretty powerful ‘why’, don’t you think?

Also published on Huffington Post.