Meet Code for Canada's New Executive Director
May 4, 2021
Hi. I’m Dorothy. I’m a civic technologist. And I’m also Code for Canada’s next Executive Director!
Stepping into this role is truly an honour and a privilege. Some of you might know me as the former Director of Partnerships at Code for Canada. I was also one of the first members of the Board of Directors. Since then, I’ve had countless conversations with our community of public servants, collaborators, and contributors. Talking to others, seeing their eyes light up, and almost sensing the neurons firing in their brains about Code for Canada’s mission reminds me how important this work is.
It's really nice to meet you
My passion for civic tech began early in life, before the movement even had a name. I’m a second generation Chinese Canadian born and raised in Toronto by parents who have roots in Hong Kong and southern China. Growing up in a predominantly white neighbourhood, I was used to being the only Asian kid in my class. While my family didn’t look like most others in our community, my parents worked hard to provide my brother and I with an enriching childhood. We took advantage of all the opportunities available to us: soccer teams, local fundraisers, jazz band, volunteer food drives, Girl Guides, even a stained glass window camp (?!). My parents found joy in getting involved in our community and I’ve carried that passion with me throughout my life.
So even as I pursued an engineering degree and became a technology consultant and product manager, I kept looking for ways to give back and get engaged. I volunteered with CivicAction’s incredible Emerging Leaders Network and worked on initiatives to help build the civic capacity of rising leaders. And along with Code for Canada’s co-founder, Gabe Sawhney, I was part of the team that launched Civic Tech Toronto in 2015. Watching that community grow from a few people in a room together to one of the largest civic tech communities in North America convinced me that I wanted to do civic tech full-time.
Civic tech for a post-COVID Canada
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that well-designed digital services -- like the COVID screening applications developed by Ontario and Alberta -- can help residents and restore their trust in government. But the pandemic has also demonstrated how less-than-stellar services, notably difficult vaccine registration platforms, can do just the opposite.
At the same time, COVID has also compounded the inequities in our society; one look at the data from the pandemic should be enough to show you that issues of race, class and gender are intersectional. I feel strongly that any solution to rising inequality requires government. As both institutions in need of reform and institutions with the power to affect widespread social change, governments need to play a leading role in dismantling systemic barriers.
As civic technologists, the pandemic should be a call to action to ask ourselves how we can help tackle such wicked problems. Like Jen Pahlka says: “we can’t sit there and blame government for not being everything we hope it could be. It’s our job as citizens to get involved and make it work.”
As I step into my new role, I’ve been thinking a lot about how Code for Canada and the civic tech movement can grow and pivot to address the needs raised by COVID-19. It’s early days, but here’s how I think we can help (and hey, this might change; we try to be as agile and iterative as possible and that extends to our vision and strategy):
- Expanding our programming to serve a greater diversity of government teams. One area I’ve been thinking a lot about since starting at Code for Canada is how we can support smaller governments. COVID-19 has really amplified and accelerated problems faced by local and regional governments. How we support them now can have lasting impacts beyond recovery. It’s time for Code for Canada to prototype smaller and more flexible collaborations so we can be there to help government teams at all levels.
- Finding ways to tackle public -- not just public sector -- challenges. I believe Code for Canada has a role to play in helping to address our country’s most pressing challenges. Seeing what organizations like Code for America have made possible with criminal records or food stamps, I’m inspired to bring that to Canada. We can be a hub that connects governments, communities, residents with lived experiences and civic technologists together to build shareable solutions.
- Championing diversity and inclusion in civic tech. I’ve been reflecting on the importance of keeping ourselves accountable and recognizing the privilege we might have. Technology projects are a reflection of the people who make them so it’s vitally important that we build diverse, equitable and safe spaces for civic tech to grow. We’re starting with ourselves by revisiting our policies and culture and documenting our progress. Like Esther at Code for Australia says, we’re not here just to build things; we’re here to build a community that lives up to the promise of civic tech.
So that’s what’s on our plate, and we’re keen to roll up our sleeves and get to work.
This work takes a village
I’m just one person. The work of Code for Canada and civic tech is made possible through the community of practitioners, contributors, public servants and advocates. In my new role, I see myself as someone who’s here to empower others to grow in their work and help them realize their potential.
To our partners and our community, I’m here to listen. There’s a ton that I don’t know and that’s OK! We’re all going through a continuous learning process because that’s the only way we can figure out the kind of change we need to make in the world. Through connecting with government partners of all sizes and community organizers across the country, I’m hoping to have candid conversations about your needs and collaboratively figure out how we can help.
I’ve told our team that I always have an open door policy and that extends to you. If you’re working (or want to be) at the intersection of technology, design, and the common good, I want to hear from you! My inbox is always open: email@example.com, or you can find me on LinkedIn.
I can’t wait to hear from you.