In order to highlight Austin Tech Alliance’s growing membership of individuals who support our mission to promote civic engagement in Austin’s tech sector, we regularly feature profiles of ATA members.
What is Leadership Austin?
Leadership Austin is a non-profit and we work with individuals from throughout the community who have an interest in making an impact on greater Austin. We have a variety of programs for people to come through and learn more about themselves, the people around them and the issues that are shaping the community to together build the capacity to create the change that they want to see. This is an internal capacity, in terms of who are you on an individual level, asking who I am as a leader, how do I lead, and how do I show up and lead others in an authentic way. It’s also in terms of how do I choose community issues to advocate for and collaborate on that are aligned with my core values, and how do I build the capacity to talk across differences and understand the world through other people’s perspectives, especially those perspectives that are very different from my own and perhaps even people who I strongly disagree with. So helping leaders through that journey of how they can grow, learn and work together to impact the community.
Is Leadership Austin part of a larger or broader organization?
Yes. Leadership Austin participates in the Association of Leadership Programs (ALP). There is a “Leadership Pick-a-City” in just about every city in the country and not all of them engage with ALP. Most around the country were started through their local chamber. Leadership Austin was originally founded with the Greater Austin Chamber and then became its own 501(c)3 in 2002. Most organizations around the country are still with their chamber and others are like us where they separated, not in a bad way, but a way where we get to focus on staying a little more neutral and have a great relationship with all the local Chambers. Our focus works to bring people from the business, non-profit, social and public sectors all togethers. That’s how we get our elected officials, non-profit leaders and corporate leaders all in a room together
Why is Austin a good place for something like Leadership Austin?
I think any city benefits from people coming together and collaborating and making sure there’s a pipeline of leaders for people to plug in on a variety of levels. I think Austin especially needs an organization like Leadership Austin because of how fast we’re growing and how complex it is to solve problems in a community that is growing so rapidly. That growth impacts everyone in the community very differently. When we look at some of our leadership, not all of those voices are represented. So how should Austin grow, who should we be considering and how do decisions that we make as an organization impact people throughout the city? One of the things that’s really important to us at Leadership Austin is that we are bringing as many voices to the table as possible and making decisions that truly do consider everyone’s perspectives. This includes individuals that don’t all live within Austin zip codes. Although our name is Leadership Austin we reach out to Greater Austin with over 10% of our class participants living in the region and may work in Austin. These perspectives are just as important as those who live within the city limits … trust me these folks have an opinion on transportation.
It sounds like Leadership Austin focuses on civic engagement in the community in a way that ATA does as well. Can you talk about why Leadership Austin decided to partner with ATA?
Civic engagement is really at the core of how we look at turning leadership into community impact. ATA and Leadership Austin both serve as conveners and ask: how do we bring people together to enhance civic engagement? Combining our platforms is really powerful.
Why is civic engagement important and what are essential aspects of civic engagement?
Very big question.
I think we know that communities thrive when decisions are made in the best interest of everyone and the more that we are connected. We look at civic engagement from lots of different perspectives. We partner with other organizations who do research on what civic engagement means and how we can measure it. Some of the things that resonate most with our core values and philosophies at Leadership Austin are around social connectivity. Not only are we looking at civic engagement as far as wanting people to vote and show up to talk to their elected officials but also as how we are connected to our neighbors and connected to the community at large.
We know that when those relationships are strong, true and deep and when we understand the human in all of us that we then make different decisions as a community, whether that’s the way to go back into our place of work and talk about hiring or building a non-profit board and making sure all those voices are included. That relationship-building part of civic engagement – how do we actually come together as a community – is huge for us and we know that we cannot move forward as a community to be inclusive and equitable without everyone at the table.
What are some challenges that the Austin community faces when it comes to civic engagement and what’s being done to combat those challenges?
From an issues point of view, we know that we have these challenges around affordability, transportation and the things that impact just about any city as it grows. We do spend a good amount of time helping to educate people about what’s going on it those spaces. What does our education system look like, how does our transportation and land infrastructure work together? Just helping to create a baseline knowledge for those things that people might not be aware of unless it impacts them directly, is important to us.
Layer on top of that the equity piece. Conversations about race and equity have become a very large focus for Leadership Austin over that past few years. That’s direction that we’ve gotten from our board and something that’s been important to our staff as we’re out in the community and we’re listening to what is it that an organization like ours can help do and bringing people together to talk about race and talk about inequities in all of these areas. For a very long time Leadership Austin has talked about these issues that impact our community and how we can all understand them more and plug-in in different ways, whether that’s through volunteering, or through making decisions as a large employer, running for office, talking to your elected official – those sorts of things. It’s become more and more apparent in Austin through a lot of the work that’s coming out of the Mayor’s office and other organizations in town that are bringing awareness to socio-economic and racial inequities that we’re always talking about those things, too. We all know as a community that we are challenged by the way that our city continues to be divided and the impact that it’s having on very specific areas of town and specific groups of people that live here. So equity, especially around race, is a huge focus for us.
We know that because it’s one of the biggest challenges that the community faces, that we need to be not necessarily at the forefront but backing it up through other initiatives that are going on that we can help support. Leadership Austin itself is not the organization that goes and creates new organizations to solve problems. We do, however, train the leaders that are part of organizations that can solve these problems. So we build up some of the efforts that are already going on and help people think differently.
Can you talk about what Leadership Austin and ATA has done together and why it’s important?
Tech is core to each and every issue we talk about when we look at issues facing the Greater Austin area. You can’t talk about any subject that doesn’t today or in the future have a technology implication. We had a project that surfaced from one of our programs that was a perfect fit to partner with ATA that is in the early stages of development called informed.vote.org. This project was focused on helping citizens access an online tool that would provide information on where candidates for elected office stand on important community issues and civic challenges. The goal is to aggregate candidate questionnaires from community organizations in a central location, where individuals can learn about local elections, research candidates and sign up to stay informed with the election process in one single location.
Why is it important to be a member of ATA?
Something that we’ve learned through many years of bringing people together is how influential innovation and technology can be in transforming communities.
We need more and more traditional systems to see the importance of technology as a driver of transformational change and need more technologists engaged in our community issues. To have a place where all of it can come together and work toward the social good has a lot of power.