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Northbridge Technology Alliance bridges tech, social-justice issues
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times
2016-12-21

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"Northbridge Technology Alliance is an effort to give ordinary people in the technology space some good options for influencing our society toward more socially progressive and socially equitable agendas," said founder/CEO Kathy Flint. "The Alliance comes from my belief that there's no such thing as being a neutral bystander in terms of social justice issues and that includes LGBTQ issues. I've had this position for a long time."

In 2011, Flint, alongside a small board of directors, created Northbridge to give socially progressive leaders access to the same kind of technology that corporations have. Flint explained that it's a volunteer-driven endeavor in which tech people teach those in the social-justice world how to maximize tech to do their work.

The mission, according to the alliance's website, is "creating software solutions for charitable organizations who are engaged in social justice and community-building efforts so that their collective impact is increased."

The alliance received its 501( c )( 3 ) status in 2012 and the following year Flint left her corporate IT-management job at US Bank to do this work full-time. Currently, the Alliance's board/staff/volunteers are 40 percent LGBTQ, and 30 percent of the members are led by LGBTQ people and/or are serving the LGBTQ community.

"We're a majority-minority organization, across the board," said Flint.

Flint was raised in Bourbonnais, Illinois, and graduated from Wheaton College with a bachelor's degree in music. She received her master's degree in music from Roosevelt University and later got her master's degree in computer science from the University of Chicago.

She started her IT career during the height of the internet boom in the 90s and grew it from there to her management position with US Bank before launching Northbridge.

Flint lives in Evanston with her wife Staycie ( a trauma hospital chaplain on the South Side of Chicago ) and their two kids. They've been together for 15 years and got married in June 2014 when it became legal in Illinois.

Even at an early age Flint recognized the inequities in society beginning on the school playground and within the classroom. She saw that some kids were supported by the system while others kids weren't.

"I had this noteworthy moment in my own life when I was on the playground watching some kids get teased by a bully every single day and finally I pushed him away from those kids," said Flint. "I was a very quiet, reserved child and it wasn't in my nature to do something like confront a bully but after I did that I noticed that he left them alone and life got a little better for us on the playground."

Another catalyst for Flint's social justice activism stems from her evangelical upbringing and the oppression she experienced at Wheaton College ( she's a member of the LGBTQ Wheaton College alumni group OneWheaton ).

"I've always thought of myself as a social justice activist and thought that during this part of my life where I'm in mid-career I actually have the type and level of special skills to put something together to truly make a societal difference," said Flint. "Once I realized that, a couple of things came together for me and I decided to go ahead and launch this alliance. There's all kinds of power that we don't necessarily realize we have but it's our job to notice it and bring those powers into the fight for social justice. That's what I'm trying to do with my life, model with Northbridge and help others to do the same thing."

This past summer Northbridge formally announced their membership model and currently have 100 organizations that are benefitting from their services.

"That includes 16 members and two pilot networks ( Center for Faith and Community Health Transformation and the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago ) comprised of many organizations," said Flint. "The Courage Campaign and the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago are Northbridge's LGBTQ members."

Flint explained that in the future they want to provide even more services to LGBTQ organizations in Chicago and around the world.

"Our memberships are available to anybody doing social justice work of any kind including LGBTQ people/organizations," said Flint. "We have LGBTQ people who, just on the basis of sexuality and gender identity biases, suffer quite a lot. Also, when you consider the intersectional nature of LGBTQ people who are struggling with issues surrounding racism, homelessness and a variety of other cross-cutting biases we see the LGBTQ community as a nexus of the type of people we're trying to serve."

Members receive access to the web-conferencing platform Nexus Web Meet at 20 percent of the market cost, unlimited training and tools to adopt and improve technology.

Nexus Web Meet was created by Flint and 20 other volunteers and allows organizations to do high quality meetings from remote locations with people from around the world.

"It's web-based collaborative video meetings and online learning that include presentations, chatting, polling and audio," said Flint. "This product gives organizations a way to draw from talent around the world when they otherwise wouldn't be able to afford it to due to travel expenses and the like. It's in the marketplace and getting a lot of attention within corporations sectors. People are recognizing that it's an important new mode of communication."

Flint noted Northbridge is currently in the pilot stage of a new tool, Nexus Advantage, that takes web conferencing and adds some social networking pieces to it. It will be launched next year. She said the mission isn't about selling software, it's to provide tools for social-justice organizations to do their work in an effective, productive manner.

"Nexus Web Meet saves six hours of travel time for each meeting and it's awesome," said Roger Hungerford of Peoria Deanery. "Thanks for the great product."

"It's joyful to be able to bring in somebody who might not be able to get there [using Nexus Web Meet]," said Rory Dean Smith, Antiracism Commission of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago. "People pay a lot of money for that kind of technology and it's great to be able to get it at a fraction of the cost through our membership with Northbridge."

Flint noted that these testimonials are just a small fraction of the positive feedback she's gotten from Northbridge members.

"Even given the extraordinary civil rights advances of the past couple years we're not all free," said Flint. "We at Northbridge have set our sights on continuing the hard work of tearing down the barriers that many in the LGBTQ family still suffer from, both here in Chicago and across the globe."

See northbridgetech.org for more information.


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