As the communities that governments serve grow more complex, so does the need for governments to tap into diverse resources in order to provide services.
“How should we help governments and cities get the technologies to them to provide services?” asked Dayssi Olarte Kanavos, president of real estate company Flag Luxury Group, LLC. and emeritus board member of New Yorkers for Children, a philanthropic non-profit that focuses on foster youth.
Often these explorative avenues manifest themselves through public-private sector partnerships, as was the case in the recent New York City Technology and Foster Youth Hackathon, which brought together technologists, nonprofit representatives, government officials and foster youth to tackle common foster care challenges.
The convening represented a direct, impactful collaboration between the private and public sectors, serving as an exemplar for future collaborations within child welfare and beyond.
“The current technology used in the foster care system is outdated, and the technology was never focused on the youth as customers,” Kanavos said. “Children are the customers, and everything we design has to be made with them in mind.”
Relying on a youth-centric approach, the hackathon, hosted by New York’s Administration for Children’s Services, directly engaged foster youth in designing policy and technology solutions to address the child welfare system’s most pressing problems. Hackathon challenges covered topics like foster youth resources, social worker case management and foster parent recruitment.
“If you think of children in the child welfare system as customers and build strategies and technology around them, then we will see a decrease in the negative outcomes – a decrease in the homeless population, in the jail population, in the number of those in foster homes, of the number of those plagued by drug abuse,” Kanavos said.
Kanavos first got involved with the foster care system through joining New Yorkers for Children, where she founded the Friends of New Yorkers for Children fundraising group. Kanavos is also a lecturer at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration.
“The youth aging out are the most at risk, and we’re trying to support kids who need this help,” Kanavos said.
While working with various New Yorkers for Children programs, including the Guardian Scholars and Back-to-School Package programs for foster youth, Kanavos’s experience within the private hospitality industry began to blend with her passion for aiding foster youth in the public sector.
“In the hotel world there are always moving technologies,” she said. “You see service businesses, and I could see a huge lag in comparison between what’s happening in the private sector and the public service sector. For example, in the hotel world we have concierge apps to streamline service and allow guests to interact with our services, and when we talk to government agencies, they’re not making use of those tools.”
Kanavos sees the wide opportunities to unite private sector ideas and technology with the challenges facing the public sector, specifically among foster youth.
“We know the pain points and how to address the problems and the solutions, and those young people involved are uniquely qualified to address the basic needs of foster youth.”
The infrastructure of government paired with the first-hand experience of foster youth creates a powerful combination. This combination, however, is missing input from private sector expertise.
“If we deploy technology in the right way, we can save the government millions of dollars. Government can save millions by investing in projects with the youth as a user,” Kanavos said.