Our Organizing Director, Lisa Conn, spoke last week about political advocacy at Collaborate, a conference bringing together the nation's leading innovators, startups, and entrepreneurs for engaging conversations. Learn more about Collaborate here. Read on as Lisa explains the role of grassroots advocacy on the political process and how tech is trying to close the government feedback loop.

I often hear skeptics claim that tech and politics do not (and should not) mix. Tech is fast, efficient, and innovative, while government is slow, overly bureaucratic, and wasteful. But in reality, our democracy parallels the start-up model more than you might initially suspect.

As the Director of National Organizing at, I work alongside both successful entrepreneurs and leading policy makers. And from my experience, what do these two groups most share in common? A strong emphasis on feedback.

Think about it. When entrepreneurs build a product, they continually test user feedback, learn from their assumptions, and then improve the product. Likewise, when representatives make decisions, they turn to feedback loops of their own: elections, town halls, petitions, in-person meetings to understand what policies their "users" want. This is advocacy, and it's a tragically-overlooked force for change.

The problem today is that too few people take advantage of government feedback loops. Most of the general population only engages in the political process during high-profile presidential elections, if at all. That's every four years. I can't imagine a startup being successful if it only received feedback every four years, so why should we expect this of our government?

Luckily, there is a clear solution. We need to provide our government with smart feedback, more often. And it's my belief that the tech community a group celebrated for being bold, innovative, and solutions-oriented is well-positioned to make this happen.

Now, as newcomers to advocacy, tech doesn't need to reinvent the wheel. In fact, I think one of the oldest models is the most promising community organizing. Just look at any major social movement in modern history: civil rights, women's suffrage, even President Obama's campaigns. Each of these movements depended upon the efforts of people who organized communities in a way that continually produced new leaders.

At its core, community organizing is about uniting people around shared values. It grows influence by training volunteers, who then go out and mobilize their own community of supporters, and so on. It's effective, scalable, and iterative, all qualities that go hand-in-hand with the tech mentality.

Back in 2012, I witnessed community organizing's power first-hand as a Regional Field Director for the Obama campaign in South Florida. My team was expected to turn out over 300,000 voters and register 50,000 new voters in only ten months. So what did we do? We cultivated fearless leaders among our initial group of volunteers, taught them everything we knew about organizing, and watched as they brought more new leaders into the fold. This process continued, neighbor-by-neighbor, until Election Day when we won the state, and the election.

Replace those volunteers with entrepreneurs and leaders within the tech community, and you get a rough sketch of how operates. Our national membership is comprised of people from the tech community who are passionate about being part of the political debate. In turn, these innovators inspire others within the community to lend their skills to improving our advocacy, thereby democratizing the feedback mechanisms of government.

The intersection between tech and politics is still evolving, meaning the possibilities for a new and improved landscape are limitless. Imagine a democracy that people have access to. Imagine representatives who are held more accountable to their citizens. Now imagine a tech community unified around making this vision a reality.

Read more insights from Collaborate speakers and attendees on their blog.

This week, caught up with Rebecca Shi, Executive Director of the Illinois Business and Immigration Coalition, to talk about the major political issues Illinois is tackling in 2015, her work fighting for driver’s licenses for the undocumented community, and the bipartisan movement in Illinois for impactful immigration reform.

Read on to learn more about Rebecca's insider perspective on government transparency. Make sure to join your local chapter's next #ThinkFWD panel discussion event to participate in discussions like these. What are your goals for the future of Cook County? How do you hope the immigrant community will help achieve these goals?

Shi: For us at the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition, one of our main goals is to make sure our economy continues to grow in Cook County and throughout the state. We are one of the largest producers in the country in terms of agriculture, specifically vegetables. We’re striving to create an environment that incentivizes business and allows these farms to thrive. 72% of farmworkers in Illinois are immigrants, and many are undocumented, so these issues go hand-in-hand. At the state level, we passed legislation to allow undocumented immigrants to receive driver’s licenses. This means that when an undocumented person is driving to work, or taking their kids to school, they don’t have to worry about being pulled over for a broken tail light and deported.  



We wanted to provide you with an overview of the series of votes yesterday surrounding efforts to repeal the President’s executive immigration actions.

Yesterday’s show vote from the House Republican Conference holds up critical funding for the Department of Homeland Security over the right to restart deportations of DREAMers, and wastes valuable time on a bill that House GOP members know has zero chance of becoming law.

A number of amendments to the funding bill would roll back important and necessary protections for DREAMers, the parents of kids who are U.S. citizens and permanent residents, talented students who go to school in the U.S. and want to stay here to grow their companies and create American jobs, and other undocumented immigrants who have been living here and already contributing to our communities and our economy for years.

In summary – were this passed into law, these millions of people would be placed at risk of deportation - ripping apart millions of families, stifling our economy, and hurting our country. We are encouraged that 26 Republicans broke with their party in opposition of a particularly harmful amendment. And we’re thankful to the 10 Republicans and nearly every Democratic member who voted against the entire measure.

The House floor votes included five particularly harmful amendments that won't accomplish the meaningful immigration reform that Americans across the political spectrum overwhelmingly support. With the help of our friends at Alliance for Citizenship, here are the key points on each amendment:

Today, we're glad to see a strong bipartisan effort in the U.S. Senate to introduce a commonsense high-skilled immigration bill that would make it easier for the best and the brightest STEM students who've gone to school here to contribute more fully to our communities and our economy. We are a nation of immigrants, but we no longer have a system of laws that make sense for our economy and for our families. The introduction of this bill is a key step to ensure that we can continue to lead the world in innovation: simply put, our nation is not living up to its potential, and we are missing out on economic growth and the creation of American jobs until we make it easier for the best and brightest to stay here and contribute.

8 Women-in-Tech Organizations You Need to Know

Posted by on January 08, 2015

It’s no secret that women are seriously underrepresented in the tech industry. In 2014, the White House estimated that by 2020 there will be 1.4 million jobs in programming and computing fields, yet women make up only a small percentage of the tech workforce and computer science programs across the country. In fact, according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology, women make up only 26% of the computing industry – and only 10% of those women are African American, Asian-American, or Latina. 



Organizations such as Bay Area Girl Geek Dinners, Women 2.0, The Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology and CODE2040, all operate with the mission of leveling the playing field and  closing the inequality gap by fostering clear pipelines into the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics workforce for underrepresented groups. Here are a few more notable organizations working hard to combat gender inequality in tech and lift up female tech leaders and role models. Chapters Compete in Content Showcase

Posted by on January 07, 2015

Last month, chapters in seven cities were challenged to create content to highlight the significance of executive action on immigration and show the impact of our broken immigration system on people in our communities.

“Get to Know Rishi,” the San Francisco Chapter Democracy Project’s photo essay, was voted best project by judges Seth Rogen, CRO of Mashable, Dana Griffin, Chief Marketing Officer at Attention USA, and Lisa Conn, National Organizing Director. The San Francisco team told Rishi’s immigration story through a series of graphics, and will build out the project at their next FWDMonthly.

Get involved in the fight for immigration reform by joining your Chapter!

Rishi Misra, a ambassador, came to the United States in 1997 as a student. He has been fighting for the opportunity to receive a Green Card for over a decade. His story exemplifies what is fighting for – comprehensive immigration reform that works for American families and our economy, allowing entrepreneurs to bring grow their companies and create American jobs. 


Sample of San Francisco Chapter Team’s photo essay, “Get to Know Rishi”

Rishi worked a medical consulting firm for several years before transitioning to work at a healthcare startup. Though he helped build the company, create jobs, and improve access to healthcare for Americans, Rishi’s immigration struggles continued. Immigrants like Rishi must make huge sacrifices as they wait for a more permanent status in our backlogged immigration system. Rishi has spent years away from his family, can’t benefit from U.S. social services even though he pays taxes, and faces stringent restrictions on employment.

Undocumented student is first to research DACA’s impact on wages

Posted by on December 19, 2014

245% – that’s how much Francisco López-Flores’s wages increased after he received Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). After charting the profound effect DACA had on his own life, Francisco, a UCLA student, started researching the impact DACA had on the wages of his community.

On Friday, Francisco traveled to Washington D.C. to present his findings to lawmakers. caught up with him before his presentation to chat about his experience as an undocumented student, the fight for reform, and his investigation into the measurable impact of DACA. DACA hugely impacted your life. What was your life like before receiving DACA?

López-Flores: I came to the U.S. when I was five years old with my mom and was raised in a single parent household in Riverside, CA. My family has been very much affected by immigration policy over the last twenty years. My mother was deported, but she was luckily able to return. My younger brother was also deported and decided to stay in Mexico, and my youngest brother is a U.S. citizen.

I’m very lucky to have received DACA because I saw the effects almost immediately. With respect to wages, I saw a 245% increase in my wages. Before DACA, a lot of my work was informal and below minimum wage. There’s no protection for undocumented workers. I would work unloading cargo at a warehouse from trailers that came into the ports in LA and Long Beach, I would clean houses – you name it and I’ve done it to try to get by. Now that you have DACA you’re able to work full time at Santa Monica Hospital as an HR Specialist. What did it feel like to receive your work permit?

López-Flores: I’ve entered the formal labor market. My skillset can finally commensurate with my job type. I feel so lucky to be able to apply for scholarships that I didn’t have access to before without a social security number. I feel like DACA has given me a huge advantage. You ended up being the first person to research the direct impact of DACA on wages. How did you make that happen?

López-Flores: I study Chicano Studies and Society and Genetics at UCLA. I approached my professor with the data I had about my own wage growth after DACA. My professor really liked the idea of doing more research with a greater sample size. So, for my class project I interviewed six subjects about their wage growth after DACA. Then, we did a survey with over 200 respondents. The data we’re presenting today shows that before DACA, the mean wage for respondents was $7.19 per hour. After DACA, these individuals have a mean wage of $15.29 per hour. That’s a 113% increase in wages! The increase in wages is enormous – Can you tell us more about what you’re doing with all of this data?

López-Flores: Lawmakers have been really interested in this research because there really isn’t much data about the economic impact of DACA, specifically on wage growth. My professor at UCLA has done previous research on migration and wage growth and helped me to assemble a report that will be presented today. I traveled to D.C. with the North American Integration and Development Center and the César Chávez Department of Chicana/o Studies at UCLA to present on the data we’ve compiled and also showcase data on how DACA recipients have benefitted from other kinds of financial inclusion, such as access and use of banking services, credit, loans, and tax filings. What does President Obama’s executive action on immigration mean for your community and what does 2015 hold for you in the fight for immigration reform?

López-Flores: I’m really excited that these executive orders were done and that 5 million people will be able to benefit, but I think we need to address the 7 million people who were left out. So, I think 2015 is really about framing immigration reform is an economic issue of utmost importance. I want to continue to measure the impact of DACA and of the new programs from set forth by executive action.

Undocumented students really changed the discourse on immigration. We weren’t able to pass the DREAM Act, but we eventually got DACA. I think this project is reframing the issue and showing the impact on the young people who are affected by programs like DACA.

Announcing the Advocacy Widget

Posted by on December 11, 2014

Today, is excited to announce a new way we’ve made our work available for other pro-reform organizations to use. We’ve worked hard over the past year to build up our arsenal of tools for easily contacting members of Congress and encouraging our elected leaders to support action on immigration – and now it’s easier than ever to get your community involved.

We’ve created an easy-to-implement tool that allows any site to prompt their visitors to contact members of Congress in support of immigration reform. It’s simple – just copy a few lines of code into your site and we'll take care of the upkeep!

With this tool you can:

  • Enter your zip code and find your representative
  • See where your representative stands on key immigration issues
  • Contact your representative using our call tool, on twitter and Facebook, or by sending a letter in support of reform

Interested in adding this to your site? Here’s how!

If you want to give your visitors the ability to contact their representatives in support of immigration reform, simply copy the following code and paste it where you want it to show up on your site. We’ll take care of the rest, and you’ll always have the most up-to-date information available to your visitors. Simple. Convenient. Impactful.

<script type="text/javascript">
  document.write('<iframe src="" border="0" height="350" width="400" id="fwdwidget" scrolling="no" style="border:0 none; background-color:transparent;"></iframe>');

See the widget in action:

Update: A Crucial Step Forward To Fix Our Broken Immigration System

Posted by on November 21, 2014

Today, President Obama unveiled his plans for executive action on immigration reform at Del Sol High School in Las Vegas. I wanted to lay out what this means – and thank you for being the reason this happened.

We applaud the President for taking critical steps today to fix aspects of our broken immigration system that will mean millions of families can live their lives free from fear of deportation. It means families across America can come out of the shadows without fear and more fully contribute to our communities. It means we are focusing our resources on going after hardened criminals – not deporting parents just trying to make a better life for their kids. Moreover, we are encouraged by the President’s pledge to continue working to make it easier for entrepreneurs to create American jobs, and help keep the best and the brightest who come from around the world to study at our universities.

Today happened because of you.

Executive action means:

  • Nearly 5 million undocumented immigrants could be eligible for the programs announced this week that allow immigrants of any present age who were brought to this country as children to apply for three years of protection from deportation, and for work permits.
  • The GDP will increase by $90 billion to $210 billion and the federal deficit will decrease by $25 billion, by 2024. 
  • Average wages for all workers, both U.S.-born and immigrant, are projected to increase by $170 from these actions alone. 

This moment would not have been possible without the tireless work of grassroots immigration reform supporters. Countless calls, letters, town hall meetings, demonstrations, and petitions have kept immigration reform at the forefront of national discussion.

The tech community and made today’s announcement happen because we utilized innovative advocacy tools for on- and offline organizing. We’ve been proud to help hundreds of thousands of supporters reach their elected representatives to send a clear message that the time for reform is now.

  • We’ve had over 350,000 different people make contacts to members of Congress and the President, both online and off.
  • We’ve hosted over 100 events across 15 states, and worked with partner organizations on hundreds more.
  • We’ve developed innovative advocacy tools – like Push4Reform, BuiltByImmigrants (BBI), and Selfies4Reform – to engage supporters creatively and help them interact with their elected representatives at the touch of a button.
  • We maintain chapter programs in 7 cities with tech hubs across the country; our robust chapters reach supporters across the country, actively engaging 8,000 members each month.
  • We’ve helped widely amplify the inspiring story of U.S. Air Force veteran Jesus – who was welcomed home from his military service abroad by news of his sister Alejandra’s detention – and their call for the President to act boldly on executive action.

Today’s announcement will have a monumental effect on 5 million lives, but our work here is not done. We have friends, family and allies who we fight alongside everyday for whom today will not bring relief – and that is exactly why we need to keep fighting.

These actions are no substitute for legislation, which remains the only way forward on the permanent solution to our broken immigration system our country so desperately needs. We’re thankful for the champions on both sides of the aisle who have worked in good faith with members of the tech community, DREAMers and their families, and so many other important voices on legislation. We are deeply committed to continuing our fight for the legislation our country needs.

But for today – thank you. This was big, and it's because of you.

Todd Schulte, Acting President of, released the following statement after President Obama announced executive action on immigration reform:

"We applaud President Obama for announcing important steps that mean millions of families can live their lives free from the fear of deportation and contribute more fully to our communities. Moreover, we're encouraged by the White House's pledge to continue working to make it easier for entrepreneurs to create American jobs, and help keep the best and the brightest who come from around the world to study at our universities."

"To be clear, these actions are no substitute for legislation. is proud to be a part of this step forward, but we have lots of work to do. We will continue every day to fight alongside our champions from across the country and on both sides of the aisle to find the permanent legislative solution that will finally fix our broken immigration system. Tonight is a critical step forward. We have lots of work to do."

Join the Movement Fight for Immigration Reform Today

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