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Civic Hall Beta Member: Erin Vilardi, VoteRunLead

BY Jessica McKenzie | Thursday, January 15 2015

Erin Vilardi at work in Civic Hall (Photo: Marina Villela)

This month Civic Hall, the new home for civic tech in New York City, opened its doors to beta members like Erin Vilardi, the founder of VoteRunLead. Beta members are people working in the civic tech space who have been invited to try out Civic Hall for the month of January: to work in the space and see what it is like, and in turn provide feedback to the Civic Hall team. We caught up with Vilardi to ask about her work and find out what she hopes to see and do here at Civic Hall. We're profiling some of Civic Hall's members as they start to join and use the space; stay tuned for more. This interview has been edited for clarity.

Erin, could you tell me a bit about who you are and what brings you to Civic Hall?

I've always been a feminist (my sister had me subscribed to Ms. Magazine when in middle school) and then I realized I was a systems person, too, as I didn't take on a single “women’s issue” as my cause. I really believe that if more women were in power the world would be a better place, and not just for women and girls, but for men and boys as well.

VoteRunLead uses training and technology to finally move the dial on women’s local representation. There are 550,000 locally elected officials, with innovation and engagement with your representative happening primarily in the states, yet everyone is fixated on the 538 federal positions in D.C. We need all the city councils, school boards and state legislatures to be (at least) half women. I first came to PDF a few years ago to dive in and start using technology to go bigger and better. VRL had trained over 15,000 women, but we needed to be reaching hundreds of thousands to make historic change. There I met Heidi Sieck (Civic Hall's Chief Operating Officer) and we began working together. She and Stacy Donahue of Omidyar Network helped me navigate this community and were passionate about starting something at the intersection of women, politics and technology. Then, with some seed money—the Omidyar Network and feminist philanthropist Barbara Dobkin and Abby Disney helped me get this off the ground—we launched September 10, last year.

What are some things that you'd like to accomplish here at Civic Hall?

I would really like to build out an all-female tech team: developer, community engagement manager, and designers. I'm hoping to find talented people through the network here. And the first thing on my to-do list is to reboot Invitation Nation, a meme-generator and e-card that lets you invite a woman to run for office, which is the primary way that women get started in politics. We've had the tool for a while but we need to figure out how to market it more broadly; how to tap into women's social networks to recruit awesome women that the parties aren't.

What about Civic Hall really appeals to you, or what would you like to see put into place?

Going from a successful yet traditional field operation to a data-driven, online training platform is a shift. Being in a community with people who are willing to support you as you transition, learn and test ideas is priceless. I also love the idea of a visual [digital] board that let's you know who's in the room: their name, organization and a one-line status update that could clue people in to what you're working on. It could also be a way to let people know you're working on something like a project proposal and shouldn't be interrupted.