Embracing Changemakers: Prioritizing Diversity in the Tech World Helps Ensure More Equitable and Compassionate Service Delivery
The work of developing the complex systems that comprise our social safety net is critically important, yet too often this work does not involve the very people these systems are designed to help. We believe it’s critical that organizations such as Alluma not only serve these communities but also reflect them in the individuals who work with us.
This summer, Alluma partnered with Code2040 to advance our mutual goal of bringing greater racial and social equity to the tech world. Code2040 is a national organization that aims to dismantle structural barriers that prevent Black and Latinx technologists from participating in the tech landscape, and as part of that effort runs a fellowship program that gives diverse college students majoring in computer science the opportunity to gain real-world experience by working with top technology organizations.
They were pleasantly surprised to see that there was a place for them, their skills and their passion in tech, and that it was possible to use tech for good, and not just in the corporate world.
We were thrilled to welcome three of these fellows this past summer. Over the course of eight weeks, they worked – virtually – with several of our units, creating a body of work that moved important projects forward at Alluma and gave the fellows hands-on experience and exposure to a social-tech organization. Their efforts have resulted in real successes that will help us advance our mission, and left the fellows not only with a sense of true accomplishment but also with a new perspective on how they – young people of color who live and breathe computer science – can fit into a world that they may not have thought would accept them. As a social-tech nonprofit, Alluma is committed to using technology to connect individuals to services and support as core to our mission, not our bottom line. We had a chance to talk with all three fellows, and each of them expressed the same two take-aways: they were pleasantly surprised to see that there was a place for them, their skills and their passion in tech, and – working in a nonprofit social-tech organization – that it was possible to use tech for good, and not just in the corporate world.
The fellows touched several corners of our organization, from helping to enhance our newest eligibility solution, One-x-Connection (OxC), by interacting directly with people in need of services; building better ways for us to share data with colleagues; and exploring ways to better protect personal health information.
Here is just some of what they told us.
Elias Saravia, an applied mathematics and data science major going into his final semester at the University of California, Berkeley, was driven to work for Alluma because of our mission to help people connect to government services and benefits, but also because of our engagement in racial advocacy work and our commitment to having more people of color work at tech organizations. “Most people in the tech industry don’t look like me,” said Elias, who hails from North Hollywood, California. “The idea that Alluma was so welcoming was definitely a selling point.”
Working with us was Elias’s first official internship experience, and despite being nervous, his team made him feel like an active and important part of Alluma. “Everyone had 100 percent confidence in my abilities and I have been able to learn so much,” he said. Starting on his first day, he was immersed in learning different technologies such as Snowflake, Tableau, Airflow, and Azure, and worked on a data project that would make it easier to pull and share data throughout the organization. “Finishing the project was transformative, seeing something start from scratch to completion,” Elias said. He wants to further his love of data by pursuing a master's degree – and eventually a Ph.D. – but his time at Alluma has also made him interested in working for a nonprofit and “giving back.” He’s leaving his options open, saying “I want to see what the universe holds for me.”
Technology goes beyond just great code; it is a mechanism to create change. Zuri Harvell, a computer science major at Spelman College who will graduate this year, learned that lesson at Alluma, realizing that nonprofit values and technological innovation can come together to affect people’s lives in a positive way. A New Jersey resident, she wanted to use her passion for technology to help people. Having previously worked for larger tech and financial companies, Zuri sought a more well-rounded experience. At Alluma she was able to learn more about human-centered design and how to make tech more people-focused. “I got to walk through the OxC application with real people to learn how to make the platform more accessible for those looking for help,” Zuri said, describing the work she did on Alluma’s newest eligibility and enrollment solution. This usability testing is crucial to ensuring that tech solutions adapt to the lived experiences of those who use them. “Technology can positively affect the lives of those who are often marginalized,” she noted. Being at a social-tech nonprofit and interacting with people on the front end of a platform has made Zuri think more about the values she wants in a future employer. “Coming to Alluma has shifted my perspective on where I want to go,” she said. She intends to find a job in tech once she graduates, and is considering the healthcare field – her parents run a pediatric dentistry office and she now sees a possible place for herself in the health world.
The idea of using technology to help communities in need became a reality for Allison Chavez during her time at Alluma. A native of Orange County, California, and wrapping up her final year at the University of California, San Diego, she initially was surprised that a nonprofit could also produce technology made with the intention of helping people. “I wanted to help people but didn’t think that was possible within tech,” Allison said. “Alluma showed me that it was.” Allison’s project involved working on complex issues concerning data anonymization, which involves protecting personal data. She wrote a report that will be used as a resource to help Alluma ensure strong data privacy standards. “I could have kept researching forever on just this topic,” she said. “I enjoyed the research and it was great giving my team important information about how to better protect data.” Excited by her accomplishment, Allison now has an interest in technical writing after completing this project and hopes to work for an organization actively making a difference in people’s lives, especially people of color. “There are so many possibilities for making an impact, and I’m excited about what the future may hold,” she said. “I’m putting my eggs in every basket.”
“Having the opportunity to work with Code2040 and these fellows was a great experience for all of us at Alluma,” said Rea Pañares, Alluma’s Deputy Chief, Strategy & Impact who supervised Zuri. “Each of them dove right into their projects and brought a new energy along with them, even in a virtual world.”
“Organizations that do the hard work of building the safety net for communities of color should strive to look like those communities,” said Steve Spiker, Alluma’s Executive Director, Chief Data Officer, who supervised Allison and Elias. “These students had so much to give us. They demonstrated the truth that more diverse teams develop better ideas, and brought important perspectives to the work of connecting people to their dreams.”
These three changemakers benefited Alluma significantly with their work and perspective. As organizations and companies involved in producing change that impacts people, let us take the time to look within our organizational structure and ensure that we are creating teams that reflect the world in which we hope to live.
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