Cranes attain for the sky on Amazon’s campus north of downtown Seattle, a logo of the expansion that has fueled the financial system and fomented discord within the metropolis. (GeekWire Photograph / Kurt Schlosser)
Seattle’s tech business and the remaining of this booming metropolis are at odds like by no means earlier than, and tech leaders acknowledge that any efforts to mobilize the tech group to clear up civic problems will be met with a wholesome dose of skepticism.
However that risk isn’t stopping some of the most important tech corporations in Seattle from launching a new group to join their staff with civic life.
“We just have to be convicted that this is the right thing to do, and this is going to be good for everybody, and do it regardless of what people say about it, because it doesn’t matter,” says know-how investor and civic chief Heather Redman. “We’re being criticized now, so we might as well be criticized doing something good.”
We’re being criticized now so we’d as nicely be criticized doing one thing good.
Partaking tech workers on Seattle points is the mission of the group, referred to as sea.citi, a new effort spearheaded by some of the area’s largest corporations. Redman and Eileen Sullivan, Amazon’s regional authorities affairs lead, have spent greater than a yr recruiting corporations and board members, researching points, and getting sea.citi off the bottom. They’ve been working behind the scenes to construct sea.citi however the group’s launch has not been publicly reported till now.
Sea.citi is launching in September with a board of administrators representing many of Seattle’s tech titans. As well as to Amazon’s Sullivan and Redman, of Flying Fish Companions, executives from Madrona, Vulcan, Tableau, Zillow, Fb, Google, Expedia, AT&T, and Verizon sit on the board.
That board has employed Nicholas Merriam as Chief Engagement Officer to lead day-to-day operations. Earlier than becoming a member of sea.citi, Merriam was the director of International Impression Hub.
Sea.citi will develop strategic initiatives focused at some of Seattle’s huge challenges and coordinate on a regular basis tech workers to volunteer and donate. Up first: Okay-12 schooling.
Sea.citi CEO Nick Merriam. (Photograph by Taylor Harris)
“There’s a number of people that have moved to Seattle to take technology jobs and work for some of these great companies and really what they need is they need a pathway that is of interest to them,” stated Merriam. “Yes, they might be heads down but I think if we present them with the right opportunity in a segment that is of personal interest, there’s going to be appetite for that.”
The primary program brings assets and mentorship to 10 South Seattle public faculties as half of a partnership with the nonprofit Communities in Faculties.
“This hasn’t been done before in Seattle,” stated Ruel Olanday, government director of Communities in Faculties. “This is the first of its kind in regards to lending and intentionally building a relationship with the private sector, with the public sector, to support schools in Southeast Seattle.”
Sea.citi isn’t the primary group to attempt partaking tech workers in civic affairs. Seattle Works, for instance, brings company staff collectively to volunteer locally. The Washington Know-how Business Affiliation hosts occasions and connects tech workers on advocacy campaigns. Just some weeks in the past, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan shaped a new Innovation Advisory Council to solicit concepts from the tech business on points like homelessness and visitors.
These are just some of many civic engagement alternatives for the tech business. Diane Douglass, government director of the nonprofit Seattle CityClub, is reserving judgment on whether or not the town wants one other group. Douglass, who isn’t affiliated with sea.citi, stated she welcomes any group that encourages civic participation. However she added that it’s essential to collaborate inside the present ecosystem.
“I absolutely think it’s critical, it’s critical not to reinvent wheels that don’t need to be reinvented and to leverage opportunities for collaboration and partnership when we can,” she stated, including that it’s additionally necessary to “learn from the successes and failures of what came before.”
Flying Fish Ventures co-founder Heather Redman.
Sea.citi does stand out from different civic tech teams in a number of methods. For one, the group was initiated by leaders within the tech business. As half of her position as chair of the Seattle Metro Chamber of Commerce, Redman visited San Francisco final yr. Again in Seattle, she is a managing companion at Flying Fish Ventures, a enterprise capital agency she co-founded in 2017. Redman had already been looking for methods to convey the tech business into civic life when she met with sf.citi, a San Francisco group working to do exactly that. Sullivan was additionally wanting into the sf.citi mannequin as half of her work on Amazon’s authorities affairs workforce.
The 2 related again in Seattle and spent the subsequent 15 months working with sf.citi advisor Alex Tourk to replicate the mannequin in Seattle. Although they function equally and have the identical mission, the 2 organizations usually are not affiliated.
“San Francisco was obviously one of the canaries in the coal mine … and things got really confused down there where you start having people really hate each other who used to be neighbors,” Redman stated. “You had tech workers turning into demonized. You had individuals in San Francisco feeling like they have been being pushed out and the character of the town was altering. I feel we’ve seen some of that in Seattle as nicely.
Nevertheless, she added, “what we haven’t yet seen is the deep engagement by the people that are working at tech companies, and tech companies themselves, in the community in the way that maybe you did 50 years ago.”
Amazon’s involvement in sea.citi can also be noteworthy. The e-commerce big has performed an lively position in Seattle’s transformation however confronted criticism for a scarcity of civic engagement in contrast to different corporations. That has been shifting in recent times; Amazon has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to nonprofits like Mary’s Place and FareStart and is constructing a everlasting homeless shelter on its Seattle campus.
“I think that appetite for engagement and for caring for other people and building community is definitely there,” Redman stated. “But we’ve also communicated to new people and particularly to new tech people, ‘You’re the problem. We don’t like you.’ ”
The ocean.citi board and government staff. (Sea.citi photographs)
Sea.citi’s board is dominated by Seattle-based tech corporations regardless of calls from the group for cross-sector collaboration and a regional strategy to native points. Sea.citi expects further corporations from around the world to be a part of however the group is meant to symbolize the tech business phase. Within the San Francisco equal group, for instance, Williams Sonoma is a member.
“We’d love to have every tech or Williams Sonoma-equivalent company join,” Redman stated.
The ocean.citi staff is aware of it gained’t be straightforward to persuade each Seattleite of the group’s deserves. The tech business has been criticized for pushing a political agenda with out partaking on options to civic problems. Probably the most seen instance was Seattle’s short-lived head tax, which might have funded reasonably priced housing development by taxing massive corporations within the metropolis. Amazon, Vulcan, and different corporations donated hundreds of dollars to the marketing campaign to repeal the tax, which was finally profitable.
Extra just lately, the mayor’s innovation council was met with skepticism from some Seattle progressives who questioned whether or not it was extra about publicity than options.
Sea.citi is deliberately avoiding Seattle’s most controversial points, like homelessness and affordability, on the outset. The group vetted concepts for a variety of initiatives, deciding on schooling as the world that might be probably the most useful for tech employee volunteers and least polarizing to the broader group.
“What I’m hoping this will do is provide people a safe way to engage without feeling like they’re going to be called out like, ‘You newbie, what are you doing?’ At schools, nobody can complain about helping kids,” Redman stated. “It’s not like you’re marching against whatever, you’re helping kids. You’re engaged in the community in a really useful way.”
Sea.citi is beginning with schooling however ultimately plans to tackle different Seattle challenges, like transportation, homelessness, and neighborhood security.
The group has raised about $250,000 to get off the bottom. Corporations that be a part of sea.citi pay membership dues based mostly on their worker rely. For instance, corporations with 1-250 staff pay someplace within the ballpark of $500-$2,500 yearly whereas corporations with 2,500-5,000 staff have dues of $25,000-$50,000.
The schooling initiative known as Greenlight. On Sept. 6, staff of sea.citi member corporations will ship faculty provides for college kids at Aki Kurose Center Faculty, serve a catered lunch, and mentor college students on their post-school objectives. Over the previous few months, staff of sea.citi corporations have been donating cash to the Greenlight discretionary fund, which will be managed by Communities in Faculties. The nonprofit will direct funds to packages and particular person college students with particular wants.
Greenlight is modeled after an analogous initiative by sf.citi that has inspired tech workers to donate money and time to 55 San Francisco faculties over the previous few years.
“We really want to work with our members to design and deploy campaigns that help their employees build awareness, garner support, and have direct pathways for action,” Merriam stated. He needs sea.citi to “then use that momentum and that energy to fuel some of the great work that’s happening here in Seattle.”
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