How Civic Innovation Fellowships Can Go Global

In recent years, civic innovation fellowships have shown great promise to improve the relationships between citizens and government. In the United States, Code for America and the Presidential Innovation Fellows have demonstrated the positive impact a small group of technologists can have working hand-in-hand with government. With the launch of Code for All, Code for Europe, Code4Kenya, and Code4Africa, among others, the model is going global.

But despite the increasing popularity of civic innovation fellowships, there are few templates for how a "Code for" program can be adapted to a different context. In the U.S., the success of Code for America has drawn from a wealth of tech talent eager to volunteer skills, public and private support, and the active participation of municipal governments. Elsewhere, new “Code for” programs are surely going to have to operate within a different set of capacities and constraints.

Over the past year, we've kept these thoughts in mind working with the SlashRoots Foundation (SlashRoots), the Mona School Of Business, and the Caribbean Open Institute to incubate Code for the Caribbean (CftC). CftC is a new initiative that partners with government agencies in the Caribbean to help them become more agile, open, and participatory. CftC is supported by the International Development Research Centre and is a founding member of the Code for All network, Code for America’s international program, and based in Kingston, Jamaica.

The inaugural class of Fellows began this past June and is working with Jamaica’s Rural Area Development Agency (RADA), an agency of the Ministry of Agriculture, to explore inventive solutions for combating praedial larceny (the theft of agricultural produce and livestock). Praedial larceny is one of the biggest problems plaguing Jamaica’s agricultural industry, which employs one in five citizens.

We were thrilled to join the Fellows in Kingston last month to deliver a training seminar covering ethnographic research, design methods, and good practice for engaging with institutional partners. Our training focused on how to understand complex challenges, and how to map relevant actors and efforts to identify promising interventions. The Fellows have a doubly difficult task—they are trying to tackle praedial larceny, in addition to using their engagement to encourage the government to address social challenges differently—so we wanted to make sure they were well prepared.

Beyond providing support to the Fellows, the training experience was instructive to our own understanding of how to structure and replicate a civic innovation fellowship in an entirely new context. Specifically, those looking to launch a new "Code for" should:

1. Understand the needs, motivations, and constraints that drive each talent market.

Having met many Code for America Fellows, I entered the training with the assumption that the CftC Fellows were in the room for similar reasons, namely the desire to help government become more effective to, in turn, deliver better social outcomes.

While this motivation was undoubtedly present, there was an additional, equally significant motivation among the participants: the desire for access to the training and resources offered by the fellowship. Hosted in a new incubator space in Kingston and advised by many of the country’s most innovative minds in technology and communications, CftC provides access to training that is typically not available in the country. (Read the decision-making process articulated by one of the fellows here.) As a result, fellows were invariably interested in how design practices could be applied to their broader professional pursuits.

When new civic innovation fellowships are conceived and launched globally, considering the contours of their respective talent markets would be a wise first step: what do participants hope to gain from the experience, what opportunities have they been exposed to previously, and what are the employment opportunities post-fellowship? While many participants may recognize the importance of civic progress, it may also be seen as an unviable path to a sustainable income in their context, and therefore a luxury.

2. Respect individual boundaries.

Jamaica has the fourth-highest poverty rate in the Americas. Of the 23 countries in the region, Jamaica has the second highest unequal distribution of income (as measured by the Gini coefficient), which contributes to a high crime rate, particularly in urban centers. Yes, social inequality is a very real challenge, but so is personal safety. The willingness of fellows to cross social divides in pursuit of civic outcomes, therefore, can vary by individual.

And so when telling fellows that all individuals have needs and aspirations that are worth understanding, or when asking them to travel to parts of town that they aren’t comfortable in, programs need to understand the pressures this may place on fellows. While programs may be unaware of the previous experiences that make fellows more or less are open to engaging in such work, they must still respect personal boundaries.

And we must be prepared to facilitate conversations around these sensitive topics, particularly as fellowship programs may bring together people of very different backgrounds.

3. Nurture and support these innovators.

In the U.S., there is a whole ecosystem of professional communities, media outlets, and other cheerleaders that applaud the work of civic innovators.

While public sector wages in the U.S. are low in comparison to the private sector, social-minded professions have a history of being culturally celebrated. Professionals with careers committed to the social good also enjoy support systems—psychologically, professionally, and financially—to help match the benefits of working in the private sector.

In other contexts, the absence of such support can constrain those who seek to be civic innovators. With Jamaica's high youth unemployment, giving up a job for an untested civic innovation fellowship is a difficult choice to make. A lack of precedents and support networks amplify the risks that fellows take on.

These inaugural CftC fellows and their supporters are visionary, brave, and selfless. The fellows earn a stipend that does not compare to what they could earn in the private sector. The Slashroots team is largely volunteers who also have their own day jobs and engagements. They do what they do as a labor of love and because they believe in the potential of these models for the development of their country and its people.

The CftC team deserve our admiration and need our support. Here's to their upward trajectory!

Image courtesy of Reboot. This post was originally published on Reboot's blog.

via Collection of the New-York Historical Society / Wikimedia Commons

Fredrick Douglass was born into slavery in 1818. At the age of 10 he was given to the Auld family.

As a child, he worked as a house slave and was able to learn to read and write, and he attempted to teach his fellow slaves the same skills.

At the age of 15, he was given to Thomas Auld, a cruel man who beat and starved his slaves and thwarted any opportunity for them to practice their faith or to learn to read or write.

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via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

On April 20, 1889 at the Braunau am Inn, in Upper Austria Salzburger located at Vorstadt 15, Alois and Klara Hitler brought a son into the world. They named him Adolph.

Little did they know he would grow up to be one of the greatest forces of evil the world has ever known.

The Hitlers moved out of the Braunau am Inn when Adolph was three, but the three-story butter-colored building still stands. It has been the subject of controversy for seven decades.

via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

The building was a meeting place for Nazi loyalists in the 1930s and '40s. After World War II, the building has become an informal pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis and veterans to glorify the murderous dictator.

The building was a thorn in the side to local government and residents to say the least.

RELATED: He photographed Nazi atrocities and buried the negatives. The unearthed images are unforgettable.

For years it was owned by Gerlinde Pommer, a descendant of the original owners. The Austrian government made numerous attempts to purchase it from her, but to no avail. The building has served many purposes, a school, a library, and a makeshift museum.

In 1989, a stone from the building was inscribed with:

"For Peace, Freedom

and Democracy.

Never Again Fascism.

Millions of Dead Remind [us]."

via Jo Oh / Wikimedia Commons

For three decades it was home to an organization that offered support and integration assistance for disabled people. But in 2011, the organization vacated the property because Pommer refused to bring it up to code.

RELATED: 'High Castle' producers destroyed every swastika used on the show and the video is oh-so satisfying

In 2017, the fight between the government and Pommer ended with it seizing the property. Authorities said it would get a "thorough architectural remodeling is necessary to permanently prevent the recognition and the symbolism of the building."

Now, the government intends to turn it into a police station which will surely deter any neo-Nazis from hanging around the building.

Austria has strict anti-Nazi laws that aim to prohibit any potential Nazi revival. The laws state that anyone who denies, belittles, condones or tries to justify the Nazi genocide or other Nazi crimes against humanity shall be punished with imprisonment for one year up to ten years.

In Austria the anti-Nazi laws are so strict one can go to prison for making the Nazi hand salute or saying "Heil Hitler."

"The future use of the house by the police should send an unmistakable signal that the role of this building as a memorial to the Nazis has been permanently revoked," Austria's IInterior Minister, Wolfgang Peschorn said in a statement.

The house is set to be redesigned following an international architectural competition.

via Chela Horsdal / Twitter

Amazon's "The Man in the High Castle" debuted the first episode of its final season last week.

The show is loosely based on an alternative history novel by Philip K. Dick that postulates what would happen if Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan controlled the United States after being victorious in World War II.

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via Mike Mozart / Flickr

Chick-fil-A is the third-largest fast food chain in America, behind McDonald's and Starbucks, raking in over $10 billion a year.

But for years, the company has faced boycotts for supporting anti-LGBT charities, including the Salvation Army, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and the Paul Anderson Youth Home.

The Salvation Army faced criticism after a leader in the organization implied that gay people "deserve to die" and the company also came under fire after refusing to offer same-sex couples health insurance. But the organization swears it's evolving on such issues.

via Thomas Hawk / Flickr

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes explicitly announced it was anti gay marriage in a recent "Statement of Faith."

God instituted marriage between one man and one woman as the foundation of the family and the basic structure of human society. For this reason, we believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman.

The Paul Anderson Youth Home teaches boys that homosexuality is wrong and that same-sex marriage is "rage against Jesus Christ and His values."

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In 2012, Chick-fil-A's CEO, Dan Cathy, made anti same-sex marriage comments on a radio broadcast:

I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, "We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage". I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.

But the chicken giant has now decided to change it's says its charitable donation strategy because it's bad for business...Not because being homophobic is wrong.

The company recently lost several bids to provide concessions in U.S. airports. A pop-up shop in England was told it would not be renewed after eight days following LGBTQ protests.

Chick-fil-A also has plans to expand to Boston, Massachusetts where its mayor, Thomas Menino, pledged to ban the restaurant from the city.

via Wikimedia Commons

"There's no question we know that, as we go into new markets, we need to be clear about who we are," Chick-fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer Tim Tassopoulos told Bisnow. "There are lots of articles and newscasts about Chick-fil-A, and we thought we needed to be clear about our message."

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Instead, the Chick-fil-A Foundation plans to give $9 million to organizations that support education and fight homelessness. Which is commendable regardless of the company's troubled past.

"If Chick-Fil-A is serious about their pledge to stop holding hands with divisive anti-LGBTQ activists, then further transparency is needed regarding their deep ties to organizations like Focus on the Family, which exist purely to harm LGBTQ people and families," Drew Anderson, GLAAD's director of campaigns and rapid response, said in a statement.

Chick-fil-A's decision to back down from contributing to anti-LGBT charities shows the power that people have to fight back against companies by hitting them where it really hurts — the pocket book.

The question remains: If you previously avoided Chick-fil-A because it supported anti-LGBT organizations, is it now OK to eat there? Especially when Popeye's chicken sandwich is so good people will kill for it?


Oh, irony. You are having quite a day.

The Italian region of Veneto, which includes the city of Venice, is currently experiencing historic flooding. Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro has stated that the flooding is a direct result of climate change, with the tide measuring the highest level in 50 years. The city (which is actually a collection of 100 islands in a lagoon—hence its famous canal streets), is no stranger to regular flooding, but is currently on the brink of declaring a state of emergency as waters refuse to recede.

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