Tiffany Manuel

A national expert on changing systems to build better communities implored her tech-oriented audience Tuesday to “lean in” and work inclusively across industry, government, and nonprofit sectors on solving challenges facing communities by talking about and acting on opportunities for change and a better world.

People don’t need to be reminded how bad things are under barrages of negative news that force them to “lean out,” said Tiffany Manuel, president and CEO of TheCaseMade and the keynote speaker kicking off the Washington Technology Industry Association’s sixth annual FullConTech conference at the Microsoft campus.

“I’m calling you out,” Manuel said. “We have a great country, it can be even greater, but we have to lean in and do the work, so I’m calling you out,” she said, noting the audience of roughly 300 “risk-takers, change-makers, and entrepreneurs” who can employ the same inclusiveness they use to develop technology in areas like education, healthcare, homelessness, and the environment. “How are you working to build public will?”

Manuel urged a focus on aspirations, concepts like better educating people for the new economy and decent places for everyone to live.

Storytelling resonates better with people and inspires willingness to act, Manuel said. She cited an example of a Maryland community that closed its schools at the slightest hint of snow in the forecast, not because of the precipitation, but because teachers lived so far away for affordability reasons that they couldn’t get to school in time to open the doors.

“That becomes your affordable housing story” because it affects parents, she said.

That kind of problem can be solved, technically, but it’s not just a technical challenge, Manuel said. It requires people adapting, hearing others’ stories, building understanding and trust among parities.

“We need approaches that are explicitly inclusive, explicitly, of different people and perspectives,” she emphasized, calling on the group to take its inclusive strengths outside the office into the public.

“Talk about the opportunity to change the world that we have,” she said. “If you want to do this work well, you have to master the fine art of pulling people forward.”

She cited athletic apparel company, Nike, as an example. It doesn’t sell shoes by telling people they’ll get fat by not exercising, but by inspiring them to be fearless, to stand up for something, a point she underscored with a screenshot of Nike ads featuring Alex Morgan of the National Women’s Soccer League and former National Football League quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

“We do this in marketing, formal commercial marketing, but we’re not doing this with issues of public policy,” she said.

Manuel’s talk primed six “flash talks” by speakers from Lyft, Premera Blue Cross, the U.S. Census Bureau, Washington Institute of Technology, and Neural Shifts, who touched on everything from the need for inclusive cultures in workplaces, to better connecting college students to technology jobs, ways to better support gig economy workers, improving access to behavioral care, and the need to count everyone in next year’s census. Groups were scheduled to break into “invent sessions” in the categories, ideas from which “playbooks” will be created next month to advance the “plays.”

WTIA CEO Michael Schutzler and Julie Pham, vice president of community engagement and marketing, noted successes from previous years’ FullConTech plays.

“These are people of action,” Pham, in a later interview, said of FullConTech attendees. “Yes, there are lots and lots of problems, but it’s how do we move ahead on those problems. How do we also use the creativity of people … from different professional backgrounds so that we can all see those from different perspectives and just be more creative with our solutions.”