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Atlanta: A tale of two cities

Our hometown is a city with one of the highest income inequality gaps and lowest upward mobility rates in the United States, and today, trust and participation between people and government leaders is at a historic low.


We want to change that

The mission of the Center for Civic Innovation is to address these challenges by empowering people to shape the
future of our city by designing local public
policy from the ground up.


Eliminating inequality in
our city





Over the next 5 years, the three mission-based
goals that we aim to achieve are:

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People are empowered to
understand inequality.

We want the public to better understand the systemic roots of inequality in Atlanta by ensuring information about these issues and the effectiveness of current interventions is readily accessible and available.

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People are empowered as a fundamental
voice in public decision-making.

We want a more effective system of community engagement between people and public decision makers, so that they hear from, listen to, and engage with one another. A strong system of engagement is built on understanding and trust.

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People are empowered to
be problem solvers.

We want Atlanta to serve as a hub and national example for the testing and scaling of community-driven ideas that address inequality.  We want to support civic problem solvers with resources, capital, and a peer network to strengthen and grow their impact.

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The Center for Civic Innovation opened its doors in 2014, after a diverse group of people who love and live in Atlanta wanted to build a community space for conversation and action around Atlanta’s future. Jokingly called Atlanta’s unofficial “Department of Failure,” the Center for Civic Innovation was intended to be an unbiased platform for tough dialogue and debate on the direction of this city and a place for trying and testing new approaches to addressing Atlanta’s systemic challenges around inequality.

Since we first opened our doors, the Center for Civic Innovation has:

  • Raised almost $1M from philanthropic and impact investors to invest in the growth 100+ civic entrepreneurs from the metro Atlanta area

  • Investors include Sara Blakely (founder of Spanx), MailChimp (Inc’s 2017 Company of the Year), Kendeda Fund, the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, Chick-fil-A, United Way, Food Well Alliance, Equifax, and Arby’s.

  • Revamped the third floor of an old department store to open a 10,000 sq. ft. centrally located meeting and learning space for the Atlanta civic community in South Downtown. We became an advocate and convener for the area’s small businesses and entrepreneurs.

  • Engaged and built a community of 25,000+ people through events, programs, and conversations.

  • Facilitated or led on improvement of city engagement processes for City of Atlanta’s Office of Sustainability, Food Well Alliance, Atlanta Regional Commission, South Downtown, Underground Atlanta, and city-wide elections.

  • Developed #VoteATL campaign as a driver for information and engagement around the 2017 local elections in Atlanta, making us an instrumental resource for both the public and for city candidates.

  • Received Echoing Green Global Fellowship, a City of Atlanta proclamation, and a Best of
    Atlanta award.


Breaking down the silos and having the real talk:

The first step for the Center for Civic Innovation was to build a community around civic issues in Atlanta. In 2014, local social impact work was broken into silos, uncoordinated, and in many ways, competitive among organizations that should be partners. In September of 2014, we opened up a physical space in the heart of South Downtown Atlanta with the intention to build a home for “conversations, experimentation, and action.” Our first campaign was called #Atlanta2018, which served as a visioning exercise for the public to think about where Atlanta would be in 4 years, with the understanding that we’d definitely have new leadership, increased infrastructure, and increased risk of division in opportunity.

Almost every week in 2014 and 2015, we held a conversation, training, or roundtable to bring together diverse voices from across Atlanta. This included serving as a safe space for reflection after the Ferguson shooting and trainings on what the words “social enterprise” meant.


Empowering local leaders as “civic entrepreneurs”

The conversations we held sent a resounding message: Atlanta can and must do better. There is so much opportunity for better services and programs to serve people. The social sector in Atlanta lacked an entrepreneurial spirit and value system, meaning most social impact work in Atlanta was being done through a traditional charitable or government-led model. Like most cities across the country and especially in the South, the social impact work driven by leaders in Atlanta was not seen as “investable.”

In 2015, we partnered with the Atlanta Community Food Bank to invest in farmers and food producers as “civic entrepreneurs,” meaning leaders with products, services, and programs that directly solve against a citywide challenge. We wanted to prove that the success of a civic entrepreneur is not only measured through their increase in revenue, but more importantly, their value can be measured by how well they solve the problem. For food entrepreneurs, that value came from the reduction of food insecurity and nutrition-related illness.

Each food entrepreneur was given a small amount of capital and monthly coaching to both strengthen their internal operations and scale their impact. This program set the tone for expanding this model of investing in community-driven ideas specific to an industry to a geographically-focused model. In 2016, we launched a program to invest in a range of entrepreneurs focused on a diverse set of issues, but confined to a very specific geography: the westside of Atlanta. In 2016, these neighborhoods garnered a lot of attention because of new real estate development and interest, which was both great for the local economy’s growth but a serious risk and threat to the historic neighborhoods and people that have called it home for generations. We invested $100,000+ into strengthening the validity and potential for scale of a number of neighborhood-driven programs and services.

These two programs, our Food Innovation Lab and our Westside Innovation Lab, were pilot programs that helped us design our Civic Innovation Fellowship. We took all of our learnings, good and bad, and developed a program that focuses on investing in community-driven ideas with the potential to create high impact.


Atlanta elections, #voteatl, and learning what “community engagement” really looks like:



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A few fun facts

Here are some fun facts about the CCI crew to give you a glimpse into our culture. 

  • Our team prefers BitMoji over any other communication tool.

  • We believe in naps.

  • The official team food for the first two years of our existence was pizza. All the pizza.

  • Our team is one of many talents - and it includes a fine arts extraordinaire, a hip-hop connoisseur, an elected official, and a South Downtown expert.

  • We work really hard - and that means we enjoy the small victories.

  • Our interns come from all over the country!





Founder & Executive Director

Dayle Bennett

Experience Director


Policy & Research Director


Matt Weiss

Operations Director


Community & Programs Director


Community Programming Manager


Asile Patin

Community Engagement Manager


Ian Cohen

Co-Director, Fellowship Program


Sagdrina Jalal

Co-Director, Fellowship Program


Val Porter

Senior Advisor


Elyse Klova

Data Lead

Bem Joiner

Community Engagement Advisor


Want one of our team members to speak at your event?
Fill out our quick speaker request form and we will be in touch!


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