Innovative Partnership Awards $200,000 to Four Atlanta Civic Entrepreneurs


ATLANTA – Four Atlanta social ventures have been awarded a total of $200,000 by the Sara Blakely Foundation and Atlanta Emerging Markets, Inc. (AEMI) through the Civic Impact Loan Fund, an effort created in partnership with the Center for Civic Innovation (CCI) to support early-stage civic entrepreneurs in scaling their businesses and expanding their community impact in Atlanta.

“With these investments, we’re supporting Atlanta entrepreneurs working on the front lines, each and every day, to make a positive impact on other peoples’ lives and improve the overall equity, health, and inclusivity of our city,” said Dr. Eloisa Klementich, President and CEO of Invest Atlanta and a member of the AEMI board. “The innovative solutions and commitment these female entrepreneurs bring to their efforts will create new jobs and balanced economic growth in their communities. I am proud that the City of Atlanta continues to stand at the forefront of supporting early-stage social impact businesses and look forward to working with the Spanx by Sara Blakely Foundation and the Center for Civic Innovation to grow this program well into the future.”
“For me, this is about investing in the person…not just the business,” said Sara Blakely, founder and CEO of Spanx and the Spanx by Sara Blakely Foundation. “Not only do I believe we need to close the gap in women’s access to capital, I believe we need to give these women the holistic support that will enable them to soar. After providing them with a year of mentorship and training in partnership with CCI, we are celebrating their success and excited to invest in their businesses so they can grow and scale their impact.”

Each organization contributed $100,000 to fund early-stage civic entrepreneurs. In July 2018, four applicants were selected to receive the $200,000 in total funding: ChopArt, Dashboard US, The Dharma Project, and re:imagine/ATL. All four of the women leading these organizations are recent graduates of CCI’s Civic Innovation Residency program, a one-year intensive leadership, business development and coaching program for civic entrepreneurs in the greater Atlanta-area that was sponsored by the Spanx by Sara Blakely Foundation. CCI also provided deal sourcing, underwriting, mentorship, and programmatic support.

The Spanx by Sara Blakely Foundation was founded in 2006 to empower women and girls through education, entrepreneurship, and the arts. The Civic Impact Loan Fund, created in December 2016 by Atlanta Emerging Markets, Inc. in partnership with the Center for Civic Innovation, is an innovative investment tool that provides flexible, zero-interest loans to entrepreneurs who have early-stage businesses that are making a difference in their local communities.

“These women represent the greatest assets of our economy—our civic problem solvers,” said Rohit Malhotra, founder and executive director of the Center for Civic Innovation. “Each of their businesses exists to solve a specific systemic challenge, and their success will create ripple effects for generations. Civic Entrepreneurship is in Atlanta’s DNA. We’re just shining a light on the people who are on the ground, doing the work.”

The 2018 recipients are:

  • Malika Whitley | ChopArt works to extend dignity, community, and opportunity to youth experiencing homelessness through multidisciplinary arts immersion and mentorship. This investment will allow ChopArt to formalize its service offerings and increase their internal capacity, which will allow them to expand their client base to shelters across the region and country.
  • Beth Malone | Dashboard US specializes in artist-led projects that use human-centered design to re-imagine the way we all experience our environments, improve livability, and preserve culture in our communities. Dashboard works in neighborhoods and communities with high amounts of distressed property and their projects bring these buildings and spaces to life.  The organization aims to create 100 new part-time jobs for community members and 10 permanent jobs every year over the next three years. 
  • Rutu Chaudhari | The Dharma Project provides mindfulness and yoga classes to those working in professions that face high levels of trauma and stress, such as police officers, first responders, and teachers. The loan will allow them to increase revenue and expand services into more schools, police precincts, and communities in Atlanta.
  • Susanna Spiccia | re :imagine /ATL works to empower the next generation of storytellers through film and digital media production by training students and connecting them directly to professionals in the industry. The business plans to use the funding to grow and scale their programs to reach more students and expand into new cities across the United States.

Now in its second year of operation, the Civic Impact Loan Fund has provided funding to a diverse group of early-stage businesses in a diverse set of impact areas, including community development, the arts, wellness, and education. Last year, Civic Impact Loan Fund loans were awarded to 2016 Civic Innovation Fellows honorCode and Marddy’s and 2017 Food Innovation Fellow (in partnership with Food Well Alliance) Gilliam’s Community Garden. The success of the first class in creating strong community impact demonstrated proof of concept for the fund.

Atlanta Emerging Markets, Inc. (AEMI)

AEMI is a certified Community Development Entity (CDE) that seeks to foster economic development, job creation, and neighborhood revitalization in Atlanta’s distressed neighborhoods. An affiliate of Invest Atlanta (the City of Atlanta’s economic development agency) AEMI was created in 2006 to utilize federal New Markets Tax Credits (NMTC) to attract private capital to the City.  

Spanx by Sara Blakely Foundation

Since its inception in 2006, the Spanx by Sara Blakely Foundation has donated millions to charities around the world, focusing on charities that empower underserved women and girls. In 2013, Sara Blakely became the first self-made, female billionaire to sign the Melinda and Bill Gates’ and Warren Buffett’s Giving Pledge, promising to give at least half her wealth to charity. While many of the world’s resources are being depleted, one is waiting to be unleashed: Women. The Spanx by Sara Blakely Foundation is on a mission to support women and help them SOAR through education, entrepreneurship and the arts.

Center for Civic Innovation (CCI)

The Center for Civic Innovation invests in outcome-driven and community-led ideas that create systems-level change. Launched in 2014, the focus of the Center for Civic Innovation remains to lead community-wide conversations on issues of inequality, to invest in entrepreneurial ideas in the social sector, and to strengthen civic engagement so people’s voices and ideas remain at the center of public decision-making. Over the past 2.5 years, they’ve invested over $1.5M of new capital into 69 entrepreneurial, community-led ideas.

Feeling inspired by our
Civic Innovation Residents?

 Many of them got started in our Civic Innovation Fellowship –  a six-month leadership and entrepreneurship program focused on the development and growth of ideas that create social impact in Atlanta. Applications are open  now - August 31st.

Many of them got started in our Civic Innovation Fellowship –  a six-month leadership and entrepreneurship program focused on the development and growth of ideas that create social impact in Atlanta. Applications are open now - August 31st.

Center for Civic Innovation Announces 2019 Civic Innovation Residents

The Center for Civic Innovation is thrilled to announce our full class of 2019 Civic Innovation Residents! Now in its second year, the Civic Innovation Residency is a one-year intensive leadership and business development program for civic entrepreneurs in the greater Atlanta-area.

The 12 individuals selected for the Residency program run enterprises with products, services, and programs focused on solving issues of inequality in Atlanta. During this 12 month program, Residents will work on scaling and sustaining their social impact and strengthening their leadership and operations to get there. In addition to monthly intensive training sessions and one-on-one coaching, each Resident receives work space and up to $25,000 of investment that goes toward their business and leadership development.

The work of the Civic Innovation Residents is a vital part of both our social fabric and the economic growth as a city. “These residents are making an economic case for the power and potential of social problem solving.
— Rohit Malhotra, Founder & E.D., Center for Civic Innovation

Ten of the 12 participants in the Residency are graduates from the Center's 2018 Civic Innovation Fellowship program, a six-month leadership and entrepreneurship program focused on testing the early stages of ideas and ventures in the social sector.


  • Alex Acosta | Soul Food Cypher: Utilizes the power of freestyle rap and lyricism to transform the lives of individuals and their communities.
  • Sam Aleinikoff | College AIM: Supports students in Metro-Atlanta on their paths to and through college by building sustainable college-going cultures within school communities.
  • Marcus Blackwell | Make Music Count:  Increases elementary and secondary students’ mathematical skill development through piano playing and reducing their math anxiety.
  • Terri-Nichelle Bradley | Brown Toy Box: Inspires black children to pursue careers and hobbies where black people are typically underrepresented.
  • Jasmine Crowe | Goodr: A sustainable food surplus management company that leverages technology to combat hunger and reduce waste

  • Nedra Deadwyler | Civil Bikes: Curates culturally connected and relevant stories to engage people with place.

  • Jenn Graham | Civic Dinners: Uses technology to bring diverse people together to break bread and have a structured conversation that builds empathy and trust.

  • John Kennebrew | Showcase Group: Strengthens and empowers families involved in the juvenile justice system through social and emotional interventions, and by using STEAM.

  • Tiffany LaTrice Williams | TILA Studios: Empowers black women to create and showcase their art.
  • Trish Miller | SwemKids: Aims to eliminate negative perceptions and barriers to swimming proficiency for black children and their families by equipping them with the skills to have a healthy and safe relationship with water.
  • Charnette Trimble | Westmont Estates Community Action Group: Seniors living in Westmont Estates are able to Age in Place with dignity by connecting them to government home repair programs
  • Samantha Watkins | Urban Perform: A non-profit organization making exercise accessible and affordable to the underserved communities of English Avenue, Vine City and Washington Park in Atlanta.
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All of the women in the program are supported by the Sara Blakely Foundation, which has a strong commitment to investing in women entrepreneurs in Atlanta. After the program, the Civic Innovation Residents become eligible for additional flexible capital for operations and impact growth through the Center for Civic Innovation’s Civic Impact Fund, which is run in tandem with Invest Atlanta and the Sara Blakely Foundation. 

I am proud to support a new class of female entrepreneurs here in Atlanta. They are the new guard of social change – operating at the intersection of entrepreneurship and philanthropy. I am inspired by the work they are doing and excited to see what their futures hold!
— Spanx founder and CEO, Sara Blakely.

After the program, all Civic Innovation Residents will become eligible for additional flexible capital for operations and growth through the Center for Civic Innovation's Civic Impact Fund, which is run in tandem with Invest Atlanta and the Sara Blakely Foundation. 

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Feeling Inspired by
our Residents?

Many of them got started in our Civic Innovation Fellowship –  a six-month leadership and entrepreneurship program focused on the development and growth of ideas that create social impact in Atlanta. Applications are open now - August 31st.

About Us

The Center for Civic Innovation was established in 2014 in response to Atlanta national designation as the country’s most unequal city. Since then, the Center’s focus has shifted to hosting community conversations about city-wide challenges, investing in new ideas with the promise for better outcomes and influencing public policy by advocating for and demonstrating better channels of engagement between residents and policymakers. Since its creation, the Center for Civic Innovation has invested more than $1.5M in almost 70 new ideas led by local civic entrepreneurs.

Our Patners & Investors

Investors in this program include: the Sara Blakely Foundation, the Kendeda Fund, MailChimp, the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, Chick-Fil-A Foundation, Equifax Foundation, and the United Way of Greater Atlanta. The intention is to invest in community-driven leaders with high-potential products and services that tackle deep-rooted issues in Atlanta. 2019 Residents are focused in the areas of art/culture, education, workforce development, food security, and civic engagement.

Leadership Breakfast with Rashad Taylor

This morning, our executive director Rohit Malhotra sat down with Rashad Taylor, the Chief Equity Officer of One Atlanta, the Mayor's Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.

Couldn't make it? We've got you covered with five of our favorite quotes from the talk this morning. Go on, get inspired. 

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"In terms of robust community engagement, that hasn’t started yet, but that’s definitely something we gotta do. We can’t do this work if we’re not guided by what the community needs."


"I kind of see myself as a little bit of a disruptor. The most exciting work has been working with TI and others who want to get involved in the housing space, the education space."


"Politics is a contact sport, and it's never been an easy conversation, and most politicians that I’ve worked for wrestle with it."


"I ran, I won, and it was one of the best decisions I made. It’s hard to break into Atlanta politics if you’re not from Atlanta. The good thing was I’d done a lot of work in the communities, working for Vincent Fort and doing other community service."


"I encourage young people to just jump into it. Don’t think you need to be 45 and have a 401k. There is never going to be a perfect time.I didn’t think I would run for office at 27, but I’m glad that I did. If young people get elected, there’s less baggage. There’s more wide-eyed optimism. You see the world differently."

Check out the full video from this Leadership Breakfast below. 

What people are saying

CCI Recap: More MARTA

In November of 2016, 72% of Atlanta voters approved a half-penny sales tax — expected to raise $2.5 billion over the next 40 years — in order to expand and improve public transportation in Atlanta. Recently, MARTA released a list of proposed projects which has elicited strong opinions from many residents. On Wednesday Ben Limmer, MARTA’s assistant general manager in charge of planning, joined us to discuss the project list and answer questions from community members.

Watch the entire event here:

Short on time? Read our Top 5 Takeaways:

1. The More MARTA expansion is a once-in-a-generation opportunity. 

As Ben Limmer explained, “we only get to do this once and we gotta do it right” — with the first sales tax increase in the City of Atlanta since collection started in 1972.

2. Equity is key.

For the past several years, Atlanta has been consistently ranked as one of the cities with the highest levels of income inequality and the lowest levels of income mobility. Because the areas where low-income people live and the areas where low-income jobs are concentrated are often far apart, safe and convenient public transportation is a crucial part of any plan to address inequity in Atlanta.

3. There is no one solution.

MARTA’s project list includes Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), Arterial Rapid Transit (ART) and Light Rail Transit (LRT), as well as increased frequency on existing routes, especially during non-rush hours and on the weekends.


4. Our transit wish-list is bigger than our budget.

While the list of potential projects released before the sales tax referendum includes $11 billion of projects, the sales tax is expected to raise $2.5 billion over the next forty years. MARTA does expect to receive money from the federal government — current plans assume the Feds will pick up the tab for 50% of the light rail budget and 80% of the BRT budget. MARTA is also exploring potential innovative financing opportunities, like public-private partnerships. Still, not every project will make the final cut.

5. Community engagement is a long process.

 Wednesday wasn't the first meeting and it won’t be the last. MARTA engaged the community both before and after the sales-tax referendum (including an event at CCI!), and held over 40 meetings and collected 4,300 survey responses in 2017. Now, after releasing the project list, MARTA is collecting a third round of public input. Ben Limmer emphasized that the current project list is not final: Everything is on the table. Overall, Atlanta residents have very strong and differing opinions on what should be prioritized, especially around the BeltLine (the released project list includes some, but not all of the original proposed light rail) and the Clifton Corridor, as Emory did not join Atlanta until after the referendum.

Love cool maps of Atlanta? Want the wonky details?

See the presentation slides from the event here.

Even more nerdy details, information about upcoming events, and MARTA’s survey

Check out MARTA’s More MARTA page here.



You can the list of MARTA's scheduled public engagement opportunities here. We will be following up with MARTA’s staff on a few things that came up at the event including our questions about open sourcing the data from the More MARTA surveys and the idea of a citizen’s council to help residents be connected during planning for MARTA projects. Stay tuned for updates on that! 

Here are a few links and information that came up in our talk:

June 20th Presentation to City Council
As mentioned by an audience member, the Atlanta City Council reviewed and approved the initial project lists in 2016 for MARTA and TSPLOST. The legislation that allowed the More MARTA tax requires City Council to approve a list of potential projects that would then go through a review process to create a final project list. We are currently in the review process.

MARTA Initial Outreach Survey
MARTA published a report on its initial outreach survey in October 2017. This information was used as part of the review process to create the current proposed MARTA project list.  We have requested the raw data from MARTA and will work with them to see if that data is available and can be released.

Two very specific projects seem to be top of mind for many attendees: the Clifton Corridor and the full Beltline loop.

Atlanta's Overall Transportation Plans
Did you know Atlanta has a long-term plan for its transportation future? Atlanta’s Transportation Plan is in-progress the comprehensive transportation plan currently being prepared by the Department of City Planning and is available here. The document covers the current conditions and future ideas to solve some of the City’s most pressing transportation needs.The transit portion of the plan starts on page 32.

The last comprehensive plan to be adopted was the Connect Atlanta plan which was adopted in 2008 with several updates added in recent years. This plan focused on solutions including transit, sidewalk, and road upgrades to solve Atlanta’s transportation issues.

In addition to these resources, the Atlanta Regional Commission also has the Atlanta Region’s Plan, a comprehensive transportation plan for the entire Atlanta region.

In 2018 the Georgia state legislature voted to create “the ATL” a new regional transit authority for Atlanta. The Atlanta Regional Commission has a good overview of what this means for Atlanta and MARTA.

Housing Justice League Report
A few questions asked at the event focused on the potential of transit investments to change the socioeconomic makeup of a community. The Housing Justice League, a local housing advocacy group, created a report on the Beltline and its impacts on communities.

The full video from the forum is on our Facebook page, but you can click here to go ahead and relive the forum or share it with the world. You can also click here to check out our recap of the evening to find highlights, key dates, and additional resources and information you need to know. 

AgLanta "Grows-A-Lot": What you Need to Know

Last Wednesday, Mario Cambardella, the City of Atlanta’s Urban Agriculture Director visited the Center for Civic Innovation to speak about the AgLanta “Grows-A-Lot” program.

Melonie Tharpe, our Programs Director, explained how the program grew out of conversations surrounding urban agriculture and equitable food access that took place at the Center for Civic Innovation. As Tharpe explained, “We really like convening people, asking them: What is it you actually want to see? And then helping them think through how to actually make it happen.”

Starting in 2016, CCI and Cambardella hosted a series of events where people and organizations that want to grow and access food could identify barriers and discuss what kinds of city policies would be most helpful in overcoming those barriers. During these discussions, participants identified access to land, information, and resources as their greatest challenges, and proposed land grants, farming opportunity zones, a NPU food access survey, and a food hub where produce could be processed and marketed as potential solutions.


With this information, Cambardella and his department designed the AgLanta “Grows-A-Lot” program, which invites entrepreneurs, non-profits, and residents to apply for a 5-year renewable license to adopt a vacant, city-owned property to start a new urban garden or urban farm. In addition to land, selected urban farmers and gardeners will receive assistance with the permitting and insurance process; Cambardella also secured funding from the City of Atlanta to provide each farm and garden with its own water meter.

Cambardella explained the importance of community engagement in designing and implementing this program: “We want to stay in constant contact with the public that we serve, because inevitably I work for you.” He added, “we’re trying to build a resilient, equitable, and accessible local food system here in Atlanta.”

Watch the entire event here!

Applications are currently open and due Thursday, June 14! For more information about the program, including application requirements, visit the AgLanta Grows-A-Lot program page.

CCI Recap: Atlanta BeltLine Quarterly Briefing

If you couldn’t make it to Friendship Baptist Church last Tuesday for the BeltLine’s Quarterly Briefing, look no further: We’ve written a recap just for you!

 It was standing-room only as more than 300 community members attended the briefing to hear project updates, ask questions, and listen to a panel discussion concerning equity on the BeltLine, led by the Center for Civic Innovation’s Executive Director Rohit Malhotra. Panelists included Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms; Odetta MacLeish-White, Managing Director of the Transformation Alliance; Brian McGowan, President and CEO of Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. (ABI); Tim Keane, Commissioner of the City of Atlanta Department of Planning; and Brandon Riddick-Seals, interim Executive Director of Atlanta Housing.

It was standing-room only as more than 300 community members attended the briefing to hear project updates, ask questions, and listen to a panel discussion concerning equity on the BeltLine, led by the Center for Civic Innovation’s Executive Director Rohit Malhotra. Panelists included Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms; Odetta MacLeish-White, Managing Director of the Transformation Alliance; Brian McGowan, President and CEO of Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. (ABI); Tim Keane, Commissioner of the City of Atlanta Department of Planning; and Brandon Riddick-Seals, interim Executive Director of Atlanta Housing.

After brief introductions from Beth McMillan, Director of Planning and Community Engagement for the Atlanta BeltLine, Atlanta City Councilperson Ivory Lee Young, Jr. (District 3) and Councilperson Cleta Winslow (District 4), Sadie Dennard, a deacon of Friendship Baptist Church, welcomed the audience and shared a bit of the churche's long history.

The Atlanta BeltLine then shared project updates including new hires and material progress in a the form of an 11 minute video.

Following project updates, community members were given an opportunity to ask questions. Displacement and affordable housing were key areas of concern, as community members challenged the Atlanta BeltLine to uphold promises.


Panel Discussion

Rohit Malhotra introduced the the panel, promising “to make sure the voices in this room are heard in an effective way, but also to make sure this conversation also moves forward.” To do so, he asked panel members to set clear goals so the public could hold them accountable.

Panelists moved beyond rhetoric, explaining the rationale behind policies, addressing past missteps and shared how they planned to better address equity  and affordability in the future. For example, McGowan said that once ABI became focused on “building the BeltLine, I think we lost sight of people and community. The project itself is about people and community. It always was. This is a community and economic development project.” Commissioner Keane expressed how difficult it is to address inequity, yet offered some room for hope. After a conference with western cities in Seattle, he concluded “Atlanta is thinking more out-of-the-box right now than any of those cities.” Odetta MacLeish-White, in her role as Managing Director for the TransFormation Alliance works with various community organizations in Atlanta and around the country, expressed that “folks are very concerned… We need more specificity on definitions. We need to know what are the tools and the strategies that will be put in place to keep myself and my family where we laid our roots down.” Malhotra then challenged Riddick-Seals to explain how he defines affordable housing and area median income (AMI). Riddick-Seals explained that “our dollars that we use and the tools that we have are based on the metropolitan statistical area,” which includes Marietta and Sandy Springs and is set by the federal government.


Equity continued to be central to the discussion, as Malhotra praised Mayor Bottoms for placing the word “equity” at the center of her inauguration speech and asked how she planned to turn these words into action. Mayor Bottoms responded, that she’s “not just saying it, but hopefully really showing to our leadership team that I mean it… and making sure that our team understands that we have permission to think differently.” McGowan connected income inequality and mobility to physical mobility, explaining “there’s a lot of people in Atlanta who can’t get to where the jobs are. You can see the skyline, but you can’t get there.” Malhotra went further asserting, “transit is a civil rights issue.”

The panel also discussed frustrations with the community engagement process. As MacLeish-White explained, “I think people see opportunities but are afraid they will not be part of the decision making.” Mayor Bottoms responded, explaining that “as elected officials, you’re getting a lot of information from a lot of places. There may be 100 sticky notes on the wall, and there are probably 100 different opinions. That’s why you have to trust the leadership that you have elected really to reflect the voice of the entire community and not just a small portion of it.” She agreed that “we have to listen and engage differently,” especially so many people affected by the BeltLine don’t even know it exists. Finally, Malhotra asked Mayor Bottoms to name a metric or goal that she plans to meet by this time next year. Bottoms promised “there will be formalized coordination and leadership on behalf of the city as it relates to the affordability conversation.”

You can watch the whole meeting above. The panel discussion starts at 1:22.

Meet the Interns!

Aliyah Williams

Originally from The Bronx, New York, Aliyah is a junior at Georgetown studying culture and politics. Aliyah hasn’t spent much time in Atlanta before and is excited to learn more about the city and explore it over the summer. At the Center for Civic Innovation, she will be working with Rohit and Melonie to enhance the center’s public programming and fellowships. She’s excited get a new perspective on the journey of different social enterprises, and is fascinated by and the stories that each of the different fellows and associates can tell. Aliyah is particularly inspired by Next Generation Men & Women, whose mission is to expose students to the work environments and professions that they one day might want to work in, as she was part of a similar program that she loved. “I’m vibing with CCI right now,” she says looking around the “inspiring space.”



Eriana James

A Chicago native, Eriana is a rising junior at Georgetown majoring in African American Studies and double minoring in Sociology and Justice and Peace Studies. This city girl embraces her inner tourist mentality when going to any new place. She’s ready to get lost in everything food and must sees in ATL. At the Center for Civic Innovation, she will be working with Dayle and Alex on the happiness team. “It’s the little things that never in a million years you’d notice...that keep the staff happy.” In the first week, Eriana has developed a newfound appreciation for the attention to detail from the snack bins in the kitchen to how the couches are aligned to make sure everyone is comfortable. She loves working behind the scenes and wants to know all the ins and outs of CCI.


Jan Menafee

Originally from Dayton, Ohio, Jan is a rising junior at Georgetown University studying Science, Technology, and International Affairs. It’s his first time in the deep south for an extended period and he’s already felt the warmth–  both the expected “Hotlanta” weather and the southern hospitality. One of his main summer goals is to get on one of the new Bird Scooters and ride around the city. At the Center for Civic Innovation, he will be working with Rohit and Melonie to enhance the center’s public programming and fellowships. He’s ready to get to know each member of the CCI staff. “They’ve all had whole careers before coming here,” he says. Getting to know each of their backstories and understanding how their journey has led them to CCI.


Josh Madwed

Originally from Trumbull, CT, Josh is a rising senior at Georgia Tech studying Industrial Design. Josh is looking forward to another summer in Atlanta exploring neighborhoods like Buford Highway, South Downtown, and Candler Park. Additionally, Josh looks forward to attending summer festivals in Atlanta, particularly the annual Atlanta Grilled Cheese Festival. At the Center for Civic Innovation, Josh will be working with Andrea in communications, developing innovative visual communications; he is especially excited to develop GIFs for the Center. Josh is passionate about graphic communication and loves CCI’s visual language. Overall, Josh is most excited to get to know the staff, fellows, and residents at the center, as he finds their unique backgrounds and journeys particularly inspiring.


Kell Crowley

Born and raised outside of Boston in Wellesley, Massachusetts, Kell is a rising sophomore at Georgetown University studying Science, Technology, and International Affairs. Kell’s only time in Atlanta prior to this summer has been spent in the airport, so she’s looking forward to getting to know the city. At the Center for Civic Innovation, she will be working with Rohit and Melonie to enhance the center’s public programming and fellowships. She’s excited to learn how different organizations operate on a day to day basis through CCI. After her first event at CCI, Kell was impressed by the large and diverse community that was engaged in the event. So far, she has been surprised to learn how young CCI was since its impact on the community is striking.


Marina Alaricheva

The only international CCI intern of the summer, Marina is originally from Russia. She’s in Atlanta working on her Masters in Public Policy at Georgia State. It’ll be her first summer in Atlanta and she’s really looking forward to all of the festivals that are going on each week, specifically the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s performance in Piedmont Park. At the Center for Civic Innovation, she will be working with Kyle and Melonie to enhance the center’s programming. She’s excited to work on the content and problem solve. She’s fascinated by CCI’s company culture and the environment they’ve fostered. She’s become very interested in different forms of public engagement aside from general meetings and hopes to learn from different speakers at the upcoming events.


Rebecca Aman


Rebecca is a junior at Brown University studying Economics. Rebecca is CCI’s only Atlanta native intern. Each summer she looks forward to the Atlanta Ice Cream Festival in Piedmont Park and running the Peachtree Road Race. She’s also excited to be home over the summer to spend time with her family and their newest member: a Bernese Mountain Dog/Poodle mix. Rebecca will be working with Andrea on the communications team. She’s hoping to learn how problems are solved at the center since it's not like conventional non-profits. She’s excited about CCI’s network and plans to learn a lot from the different people that speak at events throughout the summer. “Everyone here is cooler than me,” she claims. Her expectation for “cool kids vibes” has certainly been met.

Real Talk Recap: Community Engagement is Hard Work

This week, more than 50 community members attended the Center for Civic Innovation's May Real Talk panel on the trial and error of community engagement. As Atlanta continues to grow and local governments launch increasingly ambitious projects, community engagement is increasingly important.


CCI team member Kyle Kessler introduced the topic, emphasizing that community engagement is a spectrum that ranges from informing the community and inviting the community to participate, to empowering the community to make decisions. Later, CCI team member Bem Joiner introduced the panelists, who worked to engage the Atlanta community on projects such as the Atlanta Beltline, the Better Together Decatur campaign, and the Downtown Master Plan. After Kyle and Bem's introductions, participants all gave short presentations on their experiences and challenges engaging their communities, such as including difficult-to-reach communities, and the resources needed for successful community engagement.

You can download Kyle's presentation here.

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Panel Dissussion 

 Panelists include from (left to right) Nathan Soldat and Whitney Fuller (Community Engagement Managers at Atlanta BeltLine), Audrey Leous (Project Manager, Planning and Urban Design at Central Atlanta Progress), and Casie Yoder (Casie Yoder Consulting and Former Chief Spokesperson for City of Decatur). 

Panelists include from (left to right) Nathan Soldat and Whitney Fuller (Community Engagement Managers at Atlanta BeltLine), Audrey Leous (Project Manager, Planning and Urban Design at Central Atlanta Progress), and Casie Yoder (Casie Yoder Consulting and Former Chief Spokesperson for City of Decatur). 

Panelists and audience members discussed the promises and challenges of community engagement, including difficult-to-reach communities, the resources needed for successful community engagement, and challenges of accountability during the implementation phase. Nathan Soldat and Whitney Fuller from the Beltline explained how 20% of Atlanta residents will be directly affected by the project, and stressed the need to use both new digital tools and old school methods like postcards, as many older, legacy residents may not have access to high speed internet. Additionally, Whitney Fuller explained that while meetings typically are held during dinner time, she does not have a budget for food, which can be challenging community members balancing many responsibilities. Finally, Nathan emphasized while the process of building community trust takes time, this trust is “crucial because the community is your real partner in this process, and those relationships really mean a lot when you need advocacy for your project, for what you’re trying to accomplish.”


 Whitney Fuller describes how she moved to a neighborhood adjacent to the beltline to better understand her community's interests.

Whitney Fuller describes how she moved to a neighborhood adjacent to the beltline to better understand her community's interests.

Audrey Leous described how Central Atlanta Progress hosted several open houses at Georgia State, where community members could interact with maps and photo boards, explaining how she tried to move past the old meetings model to make community engagement exciting and, well, engaging. Cassie Yoder who led the Decatur Together Campaign explained how communities have the most influence during the first stages of any project, but often only become engaged once construction begins in their backyard. Additionally, she highlighted the importance of community engagement managers who look like the community, live in the community, and have similar lived experiences as community members. Finally, panelists expressed how crucial resources are in leading a successful community engagement process.

Audience members asked the toughest questions, challenging the panelists to work more closely with community organizations, and asking why projects sometimes do not look like what communities agreed to. Panelists explained the challenges of financial and political constraints, as well as the difficulties of keeping community members involved during the implementation phase.


 Charnette Trimble, Civic Innovation Resident at the Center for Civic Innovation and long-time community activist, challenges the panelists: Why do projects often look nothing like what the community agreed to?

Charnette Trimble, Civic Innovation Resident at the Center for Civic Innovation and long-time community activist, challenges the panelists: Why do projects often look nothing like what the community agreed to?

At the end of the event, panelists encouraged audience members to stay involved.

What next?

On June 4, the Beltline will host its quarterly briefing meeting 6-8:30 pm at the Friendship Baptist Church.

Central Atlanta Progress recently formed a Downtown Master Plan Task Force and encouraged community members to join and sign up for its listserv to stay informed.

#CCIIntern: Risha Parikh

A Day in the Life of a #CCIIntern


Tell us a little more about yourself.

I have a love/hate relationship with coffee and getting news updates on Twitter. I have a love-love relationship with Waffle House and Atlanta’s art scene. I have a hate-hate relationship with mean people and the Comic Sans font.

How has your internship made you think about the role you and others have in the community?

I love that CCI doesn’t try to assume it knows everything about the Atlanta community at the forefront. The Atlanta community can be really easy to get wrong because it’s more like a salad bowl with a lot of unique subcultures and ethnographic differences. It trusts that the fellows are the experts--that they understand and the needs of their “users” (forgive me for using a tech term) the best. We just have to help them need-find and solution for these needs in the most sustainable way possible.

I’ve also learned a lot about how experimentation and technology can be introduced to the civic impact space. I used to think the only way to make civic impact was this rote process of donations and distribution. However, that’s not the case!

Being an informed and LOCAL voter is the new millennial pink. Seriously. It’s cool. Everyone should make it part of their seasonal routine.

Who did you work with during your internship (directly)?

I worked mostly with Andrea Cervone, who also leads a Hannah-Montana-esque double life as a city councilwoman for Clarkston. I also worked a lot with Kyle and Melonie, who guided Tim and me through our research process for an open data policy in Atlanta.

What is the source of inspiration for the work you do?

Does it have a creative element? Is it innovative/an idea or project that no one’s ever worked on before? Does it improve people’s lives? (And as a bonus, do they play good music in the office?)

How did you get to where you are today?

I have ridden on the shoulders of giants, from my parents to my friends at Georgia Tech to my professors. I’m also just a ‘yes’ person. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve tried to get out of my comfort zone as much as possible and say yes to as many different kinds of opportunities as possible. That’s also why I have so many interests, and I’m happiest when I get to combine those interests and interdisciplinary skills in a place like the Center for Civic Innovation.

I’m also a dot-connector. I’m good at identifying the potential links between different people and scenes. This skill has served me well, especially with project management.

What brought you to the center?

I’d been following the Center for Civic Innovation on Twitter for a few years. In addition to the really cool events that CCI organized, Rohit, the founder, seemed like such an interesting person: here was a 1st-gen Indian-American–like me–who defied the stereotype and didn’t become a doctor–like me–and founded an organization with an amazing group of people. I used to be a science major, so I liked that the Center for Civic Innovation was a sort of civic “lab” for the city. Eventually, I saw the tweet that internship applications were out, so I bit the bullet and applied!

What has been your experience interning at the center? Name some highlights of your time here, favorite experiences, favorite things about being at the center.

One of my favorite things about the center is how COOL everyone is. Just one conversation with anyone on the team--or even any of the fellows, for that matter-- leaves me fascinated. It’s amazing how many famous people in Atlanta hip-hop Bem knows, or the variety of side-projects that Dayle has, or the amount of urban studies facts Alex knows.

What advice do you have for future CCI interns?

  • Ask lots of questions. Everyone who works or co-works at CCI has the most fascinating life. You’ll learn a lot about the multifaceted world of civic innovation just by “hanging out” and talking to people.
  • Pay attention to the challenges as well as the positives CCI goes through. When you’re “on the inside” in any organization, you learn about the unique issues that you have to deal with on a day-to-day basis. Knowing how to problem-solve across different areas is a good skill to have!
  • If there’s a project or initiative you’re interested in that’s outside of your “on-paper” role, ask if you can participate! Chances are you’ll be able to work on it in your spare time.
  • Be proud to rep CCI around the city! Invite your friends to CCI’s facebook events. I haven’t met anyone who hasn’t enjoyed going to them.