Life after City Hall: Running a Shelter, Building a Network

A shelter in Houston, TX, for victims of Hurricane Harvey

On the evening of August 25, hurricane Harvey began to move into the Texas Gulf Coast. The greater Houston area is east of where Harvey made landfall, on what is known as the wet side of the storm, with rain bands carrying water from the Gulf of Mexico. Usually, Gulf hurricanes keep moving inland, gradually losing strength as they move away from the coast. But Harvey did the unexpected, stalling just onshore. Very little wind, no longer a storm surge, just record-breaking amounts of rain. Parts of Houston received as much as 52 inches of rain over four days, leading to massive flooding.

When I was Mayor of Houston, Texas (population 2.38 million), I had the opportunity to touch thousands of people’s lives. Now, as a part of NDI’s Women Mayors’ Network (WoMN), I am able to tap into the reservoir of talent and ability that current and former mayors provide each other. My recent work on relief efforts following hurricane Harvey proved a timely reminder of this fact.

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Disinformation: A New Challenge to Democracy or More of the Same?

Recent headlines on the role of Russian disinformation in the 2016 U.S. presidential election have ignited important policy discussions on the impact of information warfare on democratic systems. While disinformation is not new and has been used for years to turn the tides of policy in the favor of its perpetrators, developments with respect to social media, big data, and artificial intelligence mean that disinformation now poses a very different type of threat to democracy.

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Shining a Light on Violence Against Women Within Political Parties

Sandra Pepera, NDI director for gender, women and democracy, presenting on Violence Against Women in Political Parties in Honduras

While research indicates that there has been progress regarding women in politics and female candidates – the international average of women in parliaments nearly doubled from 1995 to 2015 – significant barriers to women’s engagement in politics, and within parties more specifically, remain. Violence against women is one of the highest barriers.

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Turn up the volume: Adolescent girls and young women using their voice

Speakers at the She Leads event. From left: Olaoluwa ​ ​Abagun (Nigeria), Sophia Houdaigui (USA), Anna Lubitz (USA), Saba Ismail (Pakistan) and Lauren Flanagan (Ireland). Not pictured: Doreen Dama Sirya (Kenya) and Andrea Iraheta (Honduras)

Today, in celebrating the International Day of the Girl Child, I wanted to reflect on the recent event focused on the political leadership of adolescent and young girls that took place on September 18 in New York City. Among the persistent honking, blaring sirens and crowds of people common with each convening of the United Nations General Assembly, seven young women -- all under the age of 30 -- took to a microphone to share their stories of political engagement. These women were from Kenya, Honduras, Nigeria, Pakistan, Ireland and the United States, but their stories declared a common theme: in order to ensure that we have an equal, representative pool of young women who are politically engaged, we must reach and encourage them before they reach the age to vote.

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Democracy 101: What is democracy? (not a rhetorical question)

“Our democracy is dead.”

I’ve heard this phrase uttered all across the world after the passage of a restrictive voter law, the closure of an independent news outlet or the results of a questionable election. Friends and acquaintances over the years have lamented: Because of x, my country is no longer a democracy.

Is it not? Was it ever?

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Blockchain and the Public Trust

Attendees at the 2017 Blockchain Summit. From left to right as Heidi Pease from UCLA Blockchain Lab; Saadia Madsbjerg from Rockefeller (in front); Roya Mahboob (mic); Stela Mocan of World Bank.

In late July, a broad range of technology, business, philanthropy and policy leaders from around the world gathered at the third annual Blockchain Summit. This was no ordinary technology conference. First, nearly half the attendees were women; and second, the discussion centered less on technology and more on practical ways these new blockchain-based technology tools can be used for the public good.

Simply put, “blockchain” is a type of database used to store and keep public records. Changes to any records are automatically and permanently tracked and identical copies are stored in multiple locations. It is often described as a decentralized and distributed bookkeeping or ledger system designed to be a more secure and efficient way to transfer digital information.

Today, blockchain is best known as the technology underlying Bitcoin and other digital currencies. But the July gathering was devoted to exploring other non-financial industry uses where blockchain’s secure and verified digital record keeping also might prove valuable.

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How Smart Automation Can Be Used In International Development

Yes, that’s a cat in giant cat-foot slippers. Read the story to learn why it’s (vaguely) relevant to AI.

Artificial Intelligence is one of those buzzwords in tech that everyone’s heard, but few people actually understand how it can be used in practice. If you’re to believe Hollywood or Stephen Hawking, AI either means androids that are indistinguishable from humans (except for the inability to use conjunctions) or super-intelligent computers that could spell the end of the human race. After attending a Tech Salon on how AI can be used in international development, I can say with absolute certainty that it is neither of those things… yet. But the “commodification” of AI is making “smart automation” -- a term I quite liked as a useful synonym for AI -- much more accessible outside Silicon Valley. In fact, you probably already used some form of AI today without even knowing it.

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Making Science More Social: A Neuroscientist Lost in Politics

This multidisciplinary group from the Madeleine K. Albright 2017 Fellowship at Wellesley College comprised two economists, an environmental scientist, a mathematician and a neuroscientist and presented on trade-induced inequalities.

When people think about gender inequality, they very rarely think about the effects that it has on a cognitive level. In fact, the gap between the natural and social sciences has grown so wide that advancements in both fields, which could benefit one another, end up lost within their specific bubbles. Bridging the gap between these two fields makes us all better equipped to tackle the greatest challenges that affect humanity.

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Happy International Youth Day!

Happy International Youth Day! I remember watching President John F. Kennedy’s 1960 inaugural address. “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” he said. As a teenager, those words had a profound impact on me, and they still resonate today. Most people who dedicate their lives to public service can tell a similar story of inspiration -- an epiphany that drove them to change their communities for the better. But going from inspiration to action can be daunting. Many young people who are inspired to make a mark on their communities don’t feel like they have the support or know-how to get started.

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Inclusion Matters: From the Paralympics to NDI

Aoki at the 2016 Team USA Media Summit. Photo: Simon Bruty, Sports Illustrated

Growing up, I dreamed of playing professional sports. When I first met a person who used a wheelchair like me and was a competitive athlete, I felt like I could do anything. Even if I had not made it to the Paralympic level, knowing that there existed a place where my disability and I were explicitly welcomed was heartening. The same is true at NDI. Inclusion is at the crux of what we do, whether it be with youth, persons with disabilities, LGBTI persons, or ethnic and religious minorities. When NDI and its partners explicitly talk about the importance of inclusion, it resonates with those who often feel excluded. NDI, and organizations like NDI, that take inclusion seriously and embrace it in their work are a source of hope for those of us in the disability space who can, at times, feel invisible. I can say from first hand experience, that true inclusion really does change lives.

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