On Thursday, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan met with representatives from some of the most powerful tech companies in the region at City Hall before racing south to catch the launch event of sea.citi, a group trying to get everyday tech workers more engaged with civic life.
The back-to-back events reflect an effort by Seattle’s tech industry, one of the top drivers of rapid growth and change in the region, to take a more active roll in community life and the challenges the city faces.
Sea.citi officially launched this week with Amazon, AT&T, Expedia Group, Facebook, Flying Fish Ventures, Google, Madrona Venture Group, Tableau, Verizon, Vulcan and Zillow Group as founding board members. On Thursday, sea.citi announced that Pacific Science Center will also be joining as a member. Sea.citi companies will encourage their employees to volunteer and raise money for different goals. The organization’s first initiative focuses on supporting South Seattle schools.
“We have an untapped resource of innovative thinkers who live and work here in our city and they want to better understand the civic challenges that Seattle’s facing,” said Eileen Sullivan, a senior public policy manager at Amazon, during the launch event. “They’re looking for a way to fit in and contribute to their community.”
In partnership with the nonprofit Communities in Schools, employees volunteered and provided school supplies on Thursday at Aki Kurose Middle School, where sea.citi’s launch was announced. GeekWire previously reported on the new organization in August.
Employees of the companies on the sea.citi board have raised $40,000 for the Greenlight Fund, discretionary money that will be controlled by Communities in Schools and used to support vulnerable students on a case-by-case basis.
“Working across the innovation economy, we’ll invite others to join us in these initiatives, tackling some of the most pressing problems we face as a community,” said sea.citi CEO Nick Merriam at the event.
Both sea.citi and Durkan’s new Innovation Advisory Council, which met for the first time Thursday, bring the tech industry into Seattle civic life in a more visible way. The industry has faced pressure to be more engaged as the city’s population and housing prices grow, traffic intensifies, and historic communities become displaced.
As managing director of Impact Hub Seattle, Sarah Studer works with nonprofits and volunteers trying to address those issues every day. She isn’t affiliated with sea.citi or the Innovation Advisory Council but says Impact Hub is supportive of any effort to bring innovators and city leaders together to work on Seattle’s most confounding problems.
“That being said … creating a table for people who already have resources and access to elected officials isn’t particularly innovative,” she told GeekWire. “The people who have the best solutions to problems are those who are experiencing them day-to-day, and I don’t know how effective or sustainable this will be without having those voices at the table.”
For tech investor Heather Redman, a bit of skepticism and criticism are to be expected. She sits on the mayor’s new advisory council and worked with Amazon’s Sullivan to get sea.citi off the ground.
“We just have to be convicted that this is the right thing to do, and this is going to be good for everybody, and do it regardless of what people say about it, because it doesn’t matter,” she told GeekWire before sea.citi’s launch. “We’re being criticized now, so we might as well be criticized doing something good.”