BAIL Banter Perspectives from Bay Area Internationalists (Lynn Fine)
BAIL Banter is a series of interviews with San Francisco Bay Area experts and members of the BAIL community. If you’d like to be interviewed or to recommend someone we should feature, please contact Prairie Summer.
For this edition we’re pleased to introduce Lynn Fine, who joined Code for America (CfA) as their International Programs Manager just over a year ago. In this role Lynn manages an international network of civic innovators, documents civic tech lessons learned from around the world and creates resources to support international groups to positively impact their own communities. She is a native San Franciscan who has worked in India and six countries in Latin America, resolving policy challenges and managing youth leadership projects. She received a Master in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School, where she focused on learning strategies to improve governance in developing countries with an emphasis on leveraging technology for social impact. Lynn believes that by working to improve governance we can make the delivery of services more effective and positively impact people’s lives. She is also a twin, an avid mate tea drinker and nature enthusiast.
BAIL: Can you tell us about your role at CfA, and what is most exciting or interesting to you about it?
LF: I’m CfA’s International Programs Manager. CfA works to try to improve the way that local governments use technology to better deliver digital services and foster civic engagement. There are a lot of organizations that are working towards similar goals in other countries. My job is to partner with these groups, document the work that they do and gather lessons learned about civic technology from around the world to create resources and trainings. What I find most exciting is getting to see the passion people have for this kind of work firsthand: observing technologists in action coding at Mexico City’s Innovation Lab to make civic apps or talking to a government official in Jamaica about how the work our partner is doing there will completely change his ability to do her job, for the better.
BAIL: What experiences or ideas drew you to the work that you do?
LF: I went to a bilingual Spanish immersion school and learning Spanish early on drew me to work abroad, mainly in Latin America. I ended up living in Argentina for almost 6 years and was really struck by the way the Executive branch wielded power in a very opaque way. I was working in public policy, which showed me how governance played a role in so many different sectors and how poor governance could undermine social services like health, education and social safety net programs (especially when funds were misused or processes were really inefficient). I kept thinking about how technology could not only make the services better and more efficient, but create more accountability for the management of programs. I started thinking about the money that could be saved and the efficiencies gained if government would better use technology. And if that could be achieved, then those funds could be used for social programs that desperately need good management and increased funding.
BAIL: What is the advantage of being based in the Bay Area?
LF: For my work, it’s absolutely crucial to be based in the Bay Area. We work with technology, so being near Silicon Valley not only gives us really great access to very high-profile mentors but it also gives the organization a lot of credibility. Being in the Bay Area also helps to weave certain tech practices throughout our work – things like good design, user-centered approaches and creativity, which is really helpful when our ultimate goal is to transform the culture of local government.
BAIL: What is most challenging about doing the work that you do in the Bay Area?
LF: In my experience, it’s really hard to do almost any international-focused work (with the exception of fundraising) separate from the country where that work is supposed to happen. You’re just disconnected from the reality on the ground. For example, I’d had dozens of Google hangouts with our partners in Mexico City about a program they were running (similar to CfA’s Fellowship program). However, until I went down there, met the people who were running their Innovation Lab in person and got to sit down with the different Fellows (young people with technology skills) who were partnering with the different government departments, I didn’t really understand their work. I couldn’t see that the Lab felt completely different from traditional local government, that it was this amazing creative space with a rooftop garden and open floor plan. That kind of stuff, the feel of a place, of a problem, of political structures, just can’t really be accurately conveyed virtually. You have to be there.
BAIL: What do you think is unique or surprising about the Bay Area international community? Is anything missing from it?
LF: That’s a really interesting question. I find that people in the Bay Area who are working on international issues are especially committed to the global nature of their work. It’s not that people in DC aren’t passionate, but I feel like in SF we’re separated from a lot of the power-brokering that goes on in DC that can be distracting from the real impact people want to have. The international community in the Bay Area feels very authentic, almost like the black sheep, typical SF misfit style – people who are trying to solve the same problems that have been around for a long time but they’re trying to do so in a different way, with a new, unconventional approach.
BAIL: Advice for others in the Bay Area on searching for jobs in the Bay Area? Any do’s or don’ts?
LF: In my experience the most importance thing was talking to a LOT of people and being curious about their work, even if the specific field they worked in was pretty far from my professional interest on the surface. Another tip that worked well for me was to research organizations who don’t specifically work on international issues but who might have an international component to their work. And BAIL is of course very helpful.
BAIL: Favorite spot in SF/Bay Area?
LF: Inverness, right near Tomales Bay in West Marin. I love it up there.