Center for Civic Innovation Talks Atlanta with Presidential Candidate Pete Buttigieg

All photos taken by Brock Scott

All photos taken by Brock Scott

All photos taken by Brock Scott

All photos taken by Brock Scott

On Thursday, June 6, 2019, the Center for Civic Innovation’s (CCI) Founder and Executive Director, Rohit Malhotra, was invited to lead a thoughtful and challenging discussion with presidential candidate and Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg. The unscripted conversation, set to the backdrop of a packed theater at the Variety Playhouse in Little Five Points, centered on the challenges and opportunities unique to Atlanta and on creating trust between government and the people it serves.

Ahead of the event, Mayor Pete Buttigieg agreed to meet with local community leaders from CCI’s Fellowship program, which supports community-driven solutions to inequality in Atlanta. These Fellows talked about issues in education, art and culture, housing, food justice, and civic engagement with the candidate, who called the moment “one of the most inspiring ones thus far on the campaign trail.”

The conversation kicked off shortly thereafter, and was themed against Malhotra’s 2016 TEDx talk on the importance of trust in government. This event brought those issues to a national stage, touching on topics such as affordable housing, government transparency, and neighborhood-level engagement.

When asked about how the presidential hopeful aims to rebuild trust in this country, he pointed out the need to move fast, but recognized that trust takes time. “We’ve got to build trust at lightning speed which is not how it usually works. In South Bend, it took years.”

Malhotra pointed out that a similarity between Atlanta and South Bend is the reality of a growing economy coupled with stalled upward mobility for many residents.“Inequality turns us into a tale of two cities. You want to root for the city but are also concerned that it’s leaving people behind,” Malhotra said during the interview. Buttigieg responded with a strategy to “lift up minority entrepreneurs, invest in people, and clear up obstacles to people trying to live a good life, putting direct dollars in places they need.”

Buttigieg and Malhotra didn’t shy away from topics of race and identity. When asked how he planned to engage voters that didn’t look like him, Buttigieg responded, “the only real way to do that is to invite people of color, people on margins, people outside of the conversation to say not only we’d like you to support our campaign, but also to ask ‘how would you like to shape the campaign’.”

The best way for candidates to learn about what is happening in Atlanta is through honest and open dialogue with the incredible people on the ground doing the work
— CCI Founder & Executive Director, Rohit Malhotra

The topic of Atlanta’s Neighborhood Planning Units also took center stage, as the Center for Civic Innovation is embarking on a multi-year initiative to evaluate the effectiveness of Atlanta’s official system of community engagement against its original intention and focus. Buttigieg responded that, “We can have public participation in a way that’s much more empowering than if it’s just a checklist.  You’re creating capacity in community to make decisions for themselves.”

“The best way for candidates to learn about what is happening in Atlanta is through honest and open dialogue with the incredible people on the ground doing the work,” said Malhotra after the event. “We hope all campaigns, small or large, will take that opportunity, whether through CCI or one of the other dozens of amazing organizations in Atlanta. It will open up a lot of hidden perspectives.”

All photos taken by Brock Scott

All photos taken by Brock Scott


About The Center for Civic Innovation:
The Center for Civic Innovation is an Atlanta-based nonprofit, non-partisan organization that is elevating community-driven solutions that address widening inequality and low civic participation. CCI invests in entrepreneurial solutions from community leaders and also evaluates ways to strengthen engagement between people and government. Over the past five years, they’ve supported and invested in almost 100 community-led solutions and have run interactive and inspiring campaigns to educate the public about local elections and the functions of elected positions.

CCI has a multi-year history of hosting tough conversations on Atlanta-based issues with over 50 local and national civic leaders. In 2017, they launched an initiative called #VoteATL to educate Atlanta voters on elected that impact our communities. Ahead of this presidential election, the Center for Civic Innovation believes that all candidates should have Atlanta top-of-mind as a national example and have been willing to engage with any and all campaigns wanting to learn more about the challenges and opportunities in Atlanta.
Learn more at and more about VoteATL at

About the event:
The event, titled around “restoring trust in government, generational justice and entrepreneurship” was open to the public. While ticketed (starting at $25) and hosted by the candidate, all community leaders and team members invited by the Center for Civic Innovation did not require tickets and were invited as guests in order to speak with the candidate on Atlanta-based issues. To our knowledge, no one from the public was turned away at the door, with or without a ticket.

CCI does not endorse any candidates for office. We are committed to open, honest dialogue about challenges and opportunities facing Atlanta and seek to have that conversation with all civic leaders across political parties, sectors, and levels of government.

Team CCI