Student Perspective: “Dollars and Change” Week of June 30

Photo credit: Unsplash Project

WSII summer intern Monica Volodarsky sat in on a recent live taping of “Dollars and Change,” the social impact radio show on SiriusXM’s Business Radio powered by The Wharton School. Dollars and Change is recorded live every Thursday morning from 8-10 a.m. ET with a rotating cast of hosts.

Apprised of the Independence Day theme for this segment of “Dollars and Change,” I prepared myself for the oftentimes weighty talk of government that I was sure would dominate the discussion, where hosts Sherryl Kuhlman and Nick Ashburn welcomed their first guest.

However, much to my surprise, the conversation was much less about the role of the all-powerful government in our lives; instead, I learned about how the government can improve and adapt to include something that we all have in common: our love and need for technology.

Daniel Koh, the Chief of Staff at the City of Boston, opened with an insider’s look at how Boston has begun to welcome and utilize technology. CityScore, an initiative that collects data from across the city, is a tool to help the leaders of Boston make informed decisions that benefit its citizens. From quantifying the number of potholes in the city to the number of opioid overdoses that occurred within the last thirty days, CityScore is meant to enlighten not only the city officials, but the people, on what’s going on in Boston. This data, Koh relates, is meant to show the good and the bad, the success and the failures.

When asked about the effect of releasing negative information about the city, Koh suggests that “there is an appreciation with being honest” and that “it should be the right of the public to know”. After all, the initiative’s purpose is to make the citizen’s life safer and happier. With the success that the initiative has seen, Koh indicates that Boston will soon be releasing a starter kit, which will allow other cities to establish and utilize CityScore.

The sentiment that government can use technology as a tool to become more transparent was further developed by the show’s second guest Beth Simone Noveck, Professor at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering and Director of the GovLab. Noveck, who recently released her new book Smarter Citizens, Smarter State, relayed the rampant “deficit in trust” that citizens are experiencing toward their government today.

This distrust, Noveck suggests, is exacerbated by the government’s procrastinated acceptance of technology and its lack of accountability. Nevertheless, Noveck applauds the Obama administration for being the first “Tech Presidency” and taking steps toward innovation. The professor firmly states that there is an expectation, among millennials especially, that we can change the environment around us. For those willing to take that first leap, Noveck recommends visiting

Lara Metcalf, Managing Director of Social Finance, called in to “Dollars and Change” to discuss how the team at Social Finance is working across sectors to structure “pay for success” finance models. The goal of this approach (sometimes called a “social impact bond”) is to both identify effective interventions and structure financing approaches that can enable these interventions to scale or expand.

“We are dealing with the most innovative people in government,” Metcalf says, “But while we are doing projects that are serving two thousand, three thousand people…It can’t be their main focus.” To amend this issue, the managing director stresses the need for scaling, the ability for an organization to accommodate significant growth so that the intervention reaches more people.

The demand to adapt and accommodate was further discussed by Denise Turner Roth, the Administrator of the U.S. General Services Administration, and Hillary Hartley, Deputy Executive Director at 18F, which is a consultancy situated in the GSA.

Hartley described the role of 18F as fundamentally changing how the government approaches processes.  Roth seconded this statement, intimating that there are government agencies that want to enhance their technology footprints. Both guests expressed a desire within the government and their intermediaries to open up to different technologies, adapt, and, essentially, find a way “to measure happiness”.

Iit is exciting for a millennial like me to hear the changes currently taking place within our government. Although it will be quite a while until a stable trust is established between my generation and the administration, I’m positive that it is technology and innovation that will merge the gap.

volodarskyMonica Volodarsky is a summer intern with Wharton Social Impact Initiative. She is a rising Central High School senior and a 2015 Fellow with the Germination Project.