Key Takeaways From Dr. Raj Patel’s Fireside Chat 

July 2019 


Raj Patel is an award-winning writer, activist and academic with a focus on solving global hunger, one of the most challenging problems we face. 

Confronting hunger goes beyond food. Inequity, war, patriarchy, and racism disconnects the world from the nutrition they need. Basic resources are threatened by climate change and the failure to protect biodiversity. There can be no easy fix, but Raj has some ideas about how to solve these issues.

These are the takeaways from his talk at Brew & Brew that stood out most: 

Some oppositions are existential. 

There’s no amount of ink that’s going to stop certain injustices. Academia is not enough. Expertise will not change the world. 

This was a strong reminder that sometimes standing up to injustice means that you have to do more than write a well-researched article or take a bold opinion on Twitter. 

Sometimes, Raj argued, you have to get out in the streets and protest. You have to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the communities who need your help building power. Sometimes, taking a stand means being willing to harm your own career, to be tear-gassed, to be arrested. 

That sounds radical – and it is – but the important point here is that some causes are too great and the stakes are too high to simply think or talk about them. 

Solving hunger requires fundamentally different power dynamics. 

Raj proposed a system that rebuilds power in communities that have been overlooked or marginalized. He suggested letting communities define their own systems of values and build their own metrics and goals.  

This idea is deeply fascinating and I agree that existing models of power need to be disrupted. 

I’m curious about what the world would look like under this model of highly distributed power. Is it possible to move forward on global-scale issues like climate change and conflict when each community may have different ideas and approaches to how to make the biggest difference? Will any one community ever have enough power to impact the price of goods or to negotiate trade deals? Once power is evenly distributed, can we build new governing bodies that are truly accountable to their constituents? 

Those are some of the questions Raj’s talk encouraged me to explore. 

To solve hunger, we have to be willing to let communities mess up. 

When we shift power to communities, we have to acknowledge that they may get it wrong sometimes – and then we have to be okay with that. 

Raj talked about accepting responsibility for a report he published while working for the WHO that he didn’t agree with. He ultimately let the organization publish the report in his name; though, he had deep issues with the conclusions and how the report arrived at them. 

He left his name on the report after it was published even after leaving the organization and protesting against it. He felt compelled to take responsibility for his role in the report. Instead of covering it up, he admitted that he thought the report and his part in it were wrong. His name on that report serves as a constant reminder: Any theory of change should allow room for fuck-ups. 

We’re all human, after all. 

Hold the depression and the hope all at once. 

We face a dire future in many ways. Climate change is here and we’re feeling the effects of it today. My generation is more depressed and anxious than we’ve ever been. My peers are even questioning the morality of bringing children into this environment. 

While there is desperation, we have to hold hope at the same time. We have to find humanity, humor, and kindness in each other. We must seek out opportunities for improvement in the world around us. 

One of the questions Raj left us with was What sort of ancestors do you want to be? The kind who gave up and let future generations tackle our current challenges, or the kind who helped define a better future?  

It’s not your fault, but it is your responsibility. 

This is the takeaway that will stick with me most. Climate change might not be my fault but it is my and my generation’s responsibility. Racism is not my fault, but I am held accountable. Hunger is not my fault, but it’s my responsibility to address it. 

The burden of all of these inequities is great but if I want to have a say in the world my kids will grow up in, I need to be willing to take the burden upon myself. 


About the Author:

Brittany Solano

2019 Fellow

Brittany is a Vice President of Marketing and BD at JDI, a boutique consultancy that brings frontier technologies and science to market.

In her marketing role, she helps startups spark change in large and slow-moving systems like food, agriculture, and health care. Today she is particularly focused synthetic biology and cellular agriculture, digital therapeutics, genomics and precision agriculture.

In he BD role, she is responsible for developing new practice areas like energy distribution, cannabis, space, and nanotechnology. She spends as much time cultivating relationships in Memphis, Raleigh, Blacksburg, and Baltimore as she does in Austin or Silicon Valley.

Julie Oliver Fireside Chat Recap

Julie Oliver is a mom, yoga teacher, lawyer, Notley Vice President of Finance, and now a Democrat  running for US Congress 2020 in District 25. This is her second campaign in an attempt to unseat Republican Roger Williams. Julie has four kids and has experienced motherhood as a Medicare mom, receiving assistance at 17 when she was a pregnant runway.  Julie’s family members have struggled with healthcare affordability as well. Her experiences motivate her to fight for her key platform: universal healthcare. Here are some takeaways from her chat with Dan Graham and questions from the 2019 Notley Fellows.

*Summarized, not verbatim  

What’s your main platform?

As a Medicare mom who was able to raise a child, go to law school and have a successful career with St. David’s – I have firsthand appreciation for healthcare affordability programs and how they can change lives. I’m fighting for universal healthcare access for all.

How are you reaching across the aisle?

I think we can really only find true common ground if we get rid of big money and fix campaign finance. But I think veteran issues and gun control are areas we can make progress on.

What are some other areas are you passionate about?

Eliminating PACs and addressing campaign finance, immigration reform, gerrymandering and transportation access for healthcare.

What are you doing to win election?

I’m committed to running a grassroots campaign, not accepting any PAC money and driving across my district to meet and listen to the people I will represent face to face.

Why Congress instead of local government?

Healthcare is generally a federal issue and where I think I can have the most impact for Americans.

What are some tips for getting into politics?

Read, read, read. And listen always.



2019 Notley Fellow

Alex Ecenia hails from Florida but after 8 years in Texas calls herself a true Austinite. She worked in philanthropy for six years in Los Angeles, New York and Austin and has always kept charity work at her core. Last year Alex found herself loving the work she did but didn't feel fulfilled and she knew she needed to make a change. She took the leap and started her own events and marketing LLC, Rainey Productions. Now, she's helping clients build their brand by cultivating community-based experiences and igniting unique projects. Alex's passions are traveling the world and experiencing new cultures (she's been to 30 countries), staying active with Wanderlust Yoga and Soul Cycle, and soaking up fresh air by spending time outdoors with friends and a glass of wine.

A Fellow's Reflection: 2019 Fellowship Dinner with Eugene Sepulveda, Steven Tomlinson, & Josh Jones Dilworth

The first dinner for the Notley fellowship was hosted by Steven Tomlinson and Eugene Sepulveda at A. B. Porter. We sat down to dinner in their spacious backyard with candlesticks that were continuously extinguished by the wind. We sat down to tables with name cards using the signature Notley font. Each of the three table’s discussions were led by Steven, Eugene, Josh, Lisa, or Dan.  We (mostly) enforced the Labybird rule,only holding one conversation at a time. Since this was our first official dinner as a cohort, we took time to get to know each other as well as our gracious hosts.

Take Away 1: Types of listening

At my table, the first thing that struck me was the quality of conversation. We focused on listening to each other. We talked about three types of listening.

  1. Listening to respond

  2. Listening to ask questions

  3. Listening to understand

In the course of a normal day we tend to hover between types 1 and 2 (if we’re paying attention at all), and pretty rarely get to level 3. I felt an uncommon but certainly appreciated closeness to my tablemates because we were listening to each other to understand rather than to suggest some kind of solution. This genuine curiosity is the part of the fellowship I’m most excited about developing.

I learned a lot about the personal and professional challenges and aspirations of my table mates. For many of us “personal” and “professional” are closely related if not the same. We often overlook these connections when talking to people who aren’t in our most inner circle.

Take Away 2: Vulnerability

As the dinner proceeded we also explored the concept of vulnerability and why it makes projects successful. One person defined vulnerability as a loss of control. It’s a moment where you can no longer pretend that you can control the outcome. We may not have had that power to begin with. Another take is that you’re vulnerable when you’re giving the other person the tools to hurt you. It’s about sharing something that in the wrong hands, without trust, could take you down instead of build you up.

We talked about how rare and important these moments of openness are. When used correctly they unite people and push us to do our best. This reminds me of a discussion I participated in recently with my engineering team about what makes a good, efficient team. We settled on something very close to Google’s psychological safety. A team runs well when members of the team feel comfortable voicing concerns, expressing doubt, and suggesting improvements. That sounds a lot like vulnerability to me :)

Take Away 3: Principles for the fellowship

To close out the evening Steven shared with us three principles to keep in mind throughout the fellowship.

  1. Don’t try to impress each other.

  2. Share the good you want to create in the world. That’s the best way to make friends.

  3. Feel free to throw around early stage ideas. This group is a safe space to brainstorm and encourage each other.

While Steven admits that this advice was not preplanned, I’d say it’s pretty on the money. As we move through the next two years together (and beyond) I hope we focus on building trusting relationships and encouraging each other’s aspirations.

As I drove home from dinner, I thought about the last time that I had connected with strangers like this. For me, these kinds of conversations comes up most often when I travel. I love to meet people when I’m in a new place. It’s a great opportunity to gain a fresh perspective on my own life. What I don’t do as good of a job of is paying the same attention to the world and people around me when I’m home. This dinner reminded me that I can have those same experiences in the city where I live by choosing to interact with the world on a deeper level.

Sasha Parsons

2019 Notley Fellow

Sasha grew up in Sugar Land, Texas where she danced classical ballet for 12 years. Her passion for global policy education led her to run high school Model United Nations conferences for the past 10 years.

She moved to Austin in 2013 to study Plan II and Marketing at the University of Texas with concentrations in Spanish and Portuguese. Today, Sasha works at Indeed in the inaugural class of the Associate Product Manager Rotational Program. Her favorite part of her job is combining insights from data and conversations with job seekers to improve the way people get jobs.

Fellow Spotlight: David Rapoport

David Rapoport is currently the Business Operations Manager for Clearhead, a digital studio which was acquired by Accenture Interactive in 2017. He’s worked in roles across finance, accounting, and sales operations in his career.

David was born and raised in Las Vegas and attended the University of Nevada, Las Vegas for his Bachelor’s degree. He graduated in May 2018 from the McCombs School of Business with his MBA from the Evening MBA program where he also served as President of the Graduate Business Council.


In his spare time, David is a BBQ connoisseur and makes it a point to cross off the locations from Texas Monthly Top 50 BBQ List. He has visited 6 out of the Top 10….and counting.

What specific issues are close to your heart and why?

While it may not be the most exciting topic for everyone, financial literacy is one issue that is close to my heart. I grew up in a household of modest income and was able to learn the value of a dollar early on as I needed to save my allowance for any new toys or electronics, such as a new video game system or boombox. As I moved into my adult life, I have had to take it upon myself to seek out educational resources on how credit cards work, how to create a budget, how to understand taxes, and how to take the necessary steps to create my own financial independence.  

I know that not everyone has the same interest or ability to learn independently. Because of the lack of formal education available, I feel passionately that financial literacy should be a part of the basic education curriculum as part of a goal to create real-world ready adults.

What do you think local businesses can do to support nonprofit organizations?


In my opinion, the standard ask from nonprofits to local businesses is for event sponsorships rather than for strategic help. While donations and sponsorships are important to fund an organization’s mission, these local businesses have knowledge or experience that can help nonprofits solve some of their larger problems. So the next time a nonprofit comes to a business and asks for a check, I challenge the businesses to ask “What else can we help you with to achieve your goals?”

I think the other side of this equation can hold true as well where nonprofits can play a role in helping for-profit companies. There is much we can learn from nonprofits and their leadership teams that we can benefit from beyond just being an opportunity for a team volunteering day. We as business leaders need to work to create that two way dialogue with nonprofit leaders to better foster these relationships and view them as strategic partners.

What for-profit companies (local or national) are currently doing an exemplary job of being socially responsible, in your opinion? How?


Certified B Corps are companies that I believe are the leaders in social responsibility. These companies are ones that balance their purpose with that of being profitable. Companies like Klean Kanteen, Kickstarter, Allbirds, and Patagonia all have committed to their respective missions while still being socially responsible.

On a more local level, HEB comes to mind for all of their work in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, but their social responsibility goes far beyond that. They are focused on forming community partnerships, empowering small businesses, and being conscious of their environmental impact. You can see their impact from the smallest nonprofits in Austin to the largest communities across the state.

How can we make it easier for everyone to have a social impact?

One of the main opportunities that drew me to the Notley Fellowship was the ability to gain a starting point and a connection to the local Austin community. I feel like one of the biggest areas we can improve on is highlighting the opportunities where people can have an impact on their community. I genuinely feel that people are interested in helping, but are just looking to find the place that needs their help the most and that aligns with their personal passions. I think that educating the community on the many ways that they can become involved in something bigger than themselves will create larger network of individuals giving back to their communities.

Fellow Spotlight: Leigh Edwards

Leigh leads Business Development for the Austin office of Embark, a team of super smart CPAs who build relationships and solve problems.

Leigh is a native Texan and attended UT Austin, graduating from the Business Honors and Master in Professional Accounting Programs. Next up was, you guessed it, time spent in a Big 4 audit practice. After 4 years in the Deloitte Austin office and 5 years in various accounting roles at Austin companies, it was time to put down her TI-83. True story: the woman used a TI-83.

What Leigh learned is that a professional services provider can make your life 1) way better or 2) way worse. Providers who do not endeavor to understand their client’s goals and organizational culture may end up causing more problems than they solve. Leigh joined Embark because 1) Austin companies are growing crazy fast and need a provider that can keep up and 2) Austin’s crazy smart people need a rad place to work.

Leigh lives in South Austin with her husband, who is a born and raised Austin-ite. They are graced with the presence of the World’s Best Dachshund. Her name is Monroe, and she is definitely going to lick your face. A voracious reader, it’s Leigh’s life goal to be eulogized as ‘she was a book with legs’.

What specific issues are close to your heart and why?

There are 2.

Personal financial literacy: 78% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. Most people wouldn’t have $400 to cover an emergency. Financial literacy is a sorely overlooked topic in our education system and my personal and professional life consistently reminds me how few people have a grasp on their financial position. Debt, nonexistent budget practices, poor prioritization, distrust, and fearfulness seem to rule folk’s relationship with their money. In many ways money is freedom and to place people in a position of financial strength would be transformative for individuals, families, and the community at large.

Minimalism: There are 7 billion people in the world and everyone is trying to have it all. It’s economically, environmentally, and spiritually untenable. There are endless ways to live a meaningful life with less; finding more mindful approaches to consumption is a small shift that pays huge dividends across the board.

What do you think local businesses can do to support nonprofit organizations?

Corporate marketing and event budgets can be sizeable and a lot of those dollars are being used to maintain the status quo. I think local businesses can look critically at the money they are spending on internal and external events and think about how those dollars can be used more meaningfully. I think that answer can provide tremendous support for the nonprofit sector.

What for-profit companies (local or national) are currently doing an exemplary job of being socially responsible, in your opinion? How?

Local: Richard’s Rainwater. Richard fell in love with rainwater after he installed a whole-house collection system at his home in Dripping Springs in 1994. Driven by passion and curiosity, Richard decided to find a way to bottle and carbonate it. Rainwater is a truly renewable resource available nearly everywhere. It does not rely on surface water which requires energy and chemical-intensive treatment. Also, it does not rely on groundwater which impacts water tables and is a limited, isolated resource.

National: Patagonia. They are in business to save our home planet and appreciate that all life on earth is under threat of extinction. Using the resources they have—their business, their investments, and their voice—they aim to do something about it.

How can we make it easier for everyone to have a social impact?

The tried and true: buddy system. Social impact starts with yourself and your immediate sphere of influence (family, friends, co-workers). Think about what you are doing to make a difference and how you can include those closest to you in mutually resonant ways.

Announcing the 2019 Notley Fellowship Cohort

Launched in 2018 with a cohort of 22 high-growth individuals, the Notley Fellowship program has grown into a premier program for young professionals looking to make an impact. With a rise in the number of young professionals comes an abundance of talented, driven individuals that face the challenge of wanting to expand their impact beyond the walls of their offices. This is a unique opportunity for promising young professionals to step into a program that facilitates co-ownership over entrepreneurial projects that tackle Austin’s toughest challenges.

Throughout the Fellowship, Fellows will work with Austin business and civic leaders to gain knowledge surrounding social innovation, philanthropy, and issues affecting the Austin area. The Fellowship program empowers high-potential individuals to make effective connections with city stakeholders and innovators, approach their community’s problems with an entrepreneurial lens, and thereby create a systemically durable solution.

Today, we are excited to introduce you to the 2019 Notley Fellowship.

Meet The 2019 Fellows:

Alejandra Garcia - Alejandra is on the Growth team at The Guild, a hospitality start-up in Austin. Ale has been involved in various non-profit initiatives in Austin including Food In Tummies, and she co-founded Guilders for Diversity, an organization at The Guild.

Alex Ecenia - Alex worked in philanthropy for six years in Los Angeles, New York and Austin and has always kept charity work at her core. Last year she founded Rainey Productions, an events and marketing LLC.

Asia E. Haney - Asia is a professional in the Austin community who seeks to leave her indelible mark on society through culture, collaborative and social change. A business graduate of Huston-Tillotson University, Asia serves as the Interim Director of Recruitment and Admission at her alma mater.

Avram Rampersaud - Avram founded PocketCab LLC before joining Uber in 2013. He’s spent the last 6 years between Chicago, Singapore and Austin, working across Uber rides & UberEats and he currently leads global expansion for JUMP Scooters for Uber.

Brittany Solano - Brittany is a Vice President of Marketing and BD at JDI. In her marketing role, she helps startups spark change in large and slow-moving systems like food, agriculture, and health care. Today she is particularly focused on synthetic biology and cellular agriculture, digital therapeutics, genomics and precision agriculture.

Caitlyn Conner - Caitlyn is the Startup Champion for the Entrepreneurs Foundation at Capital Factory, devoted to supporting the philanthropic efforts of Austin’s tech and startup community. Being involved at the startup level of multiple companies fostered a deep sense of appreciation for those who build cultures that create positive change and maintain their altruism through growth.

Chelsea Buell - Chelsea is a strategic thinker in a creative space, currently solving design problems at Clearhead, a studio acquired by Accenture Interactive in 2017. She’s loved creating things ever since she was little.

Christina Burgess - Christina is a Director of Product Marketing at Khoros (formerly Spredfast). She has served as a non-voting board member of AIDS Services of Austin  and as Student Admissions Chair for the McCombs School of Business at UT Austin, with a focus on recruiting and retaining more women into the MBA program.

Claire Schmitt - Claire is the Director of Digital Marketing at BuildASign, and seeks to use the knowledge and resources she's accumulated thus far to amplify others.  Claire started and continues to run the BuildASign Women's Group, which promotes personal and professional development among its members.

David Rapoport - David is the Business Operations Manager at Clearhead, a studio acquired by Accenture Interactive in 2017. He is currently responsible for resource management, invoicing & collections, financial forecasting, and budget & contract management.

Hilary Corna - Hilary is a Bestselling Author and Founder of the Human Processes Continuum with a mission of humanizing business. Hilary’s work draws on 10+ years of industry experience in operations, culture and people development. Hilary been featured in the New York Times, ForbesWoman, NBC, Upworthy and dozens of other publications.

Kaelin Hooper - Kaelin is an avid learner of all things technology. Today, he’s tackling new ways to buy and sell homes online as a Product Manager on the consumer technology team at Keller Williams Realty International. He’s also exploring other problems to solve by using his experience in consumer tech.

Leigh Edwards - Leigh is a CPA, voracious reader and vocal user of the Austin Public Library system. Her love of reading has brought her to many of her passions, including healthy living, minimalism, and personal finance.

Maggie Engler - Maggie is a data scientist at Duo Security, where she works on behavioral analytics to detect fraudulent login attempts. Her interests include ethics in artificial intelligence, open data, and empowerment through technology education. Maggie volunteers with Women in Security and Privacy and the RSA Conference Security Scholar Program Committee.

Matt Sorenson - Matt serves as an Innovation Program Manager for the University of Texas System, helping students, faculty, and researchers get their life changing ideas and technologies to the people who need them.  Matt is a runner, Runified Podcast host, and author of My Mommy Runs, a children's book.

Sasha Parsons - Sasha currently works at Indeed in the inaugural class of the Associate Product Manager Rotational Program. Her favorite part of her job is combining insights from data and conversations with job seekers to improve the way people get jobs. Her passion for global policy education has led her to run high school Model United Nations conferences for the past 10 years.

Savannah Barker - Savannah recently joined Notley Ventures as their Director of Strategic Programs. Previously, she led Diversity & Inclusion efforts at Capital Factory. Before moving to Austin, Savannah spent years working in the nonprofit space in Los Angeles and helped launch the first-ever Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access Taskforce at Center Theatre Group, one of the largest nonprofit arts organizations in the nation.

Shaquille Gould - Shaquille is a Principal at Quake Capital, a venture fund and accelerator based in Austin. Previously, he worked for PepsiCo, several startups, and Google. In his spare time, Shaquille mentors at-risk students in the Austin area, enjoys reading, traveling and staying active.

Suhailah Waheed - Suhailah has served in the nonprofit industry professionally for the last three years. For two years she served on the board of the Young Women's Alliance as the VP of Development and now owns her own development agency, Giving Geeks. Suhailah believes everyone deserves optimal support in fulfilling their goals toward social change.

Trevor Theunissen - Trevor Theunissen currently serves as Senior Manager of Public Policy and Communications at Uber Technologies, establishing and building Uber's brand and profile, and working to ensure that regulatory frameworks support Uber’s products. Previously, he worked for the Louisiana Recovery Authority, the state entity set up to lead Louisiana's rebuilding efforts after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Zoe Gabbard - Zoe is an investment associate at UTIMCO, the investment management company responsible for overseeing assets supporting The University of Texas and Texas A&M Systems.  Zoe has participated on the grants committees of the Women’s Fund of Central Texas and Impact Austin, and she continues to seek out opportunities to apply her business experience to support social impact organizations.

For Millennials, Prop A is About How We Want to Stay

If you are twentysomething transplant living in Austin, within the last year, one of your best friends probably moved away. Even if it wasn’t your best friend, you’ve almost-certainly attended going away parties for others who landed another job or were accepted to graduate school. Whether we get too cool, get sick of it, or get priced out, people tend to come and go in this town. 


These farewell gatherings are heavy-laden with nostalgia. We sip Lone Star on a porch and opine “the Old Austin;” that mythological place known by few, but claimed by most everyone,

What does it mean to belong to a place? In these settings, it often manifests in turf war style conversations where tenure is measured by how many dive bars you’ve seen shuttered. Maybe it’s something even more obscure, like how “what-used-to-be ____” ditched its dart board in a recent remodel. None of us ever played, to be sure, and yet, it’s absence has a presence. The more dart boards you remember, the longer you’ve been in Austin.

Our social calendars are dotted with these goodbyes, but, in seemingly equal proportion, we also gain the chance to revive friendships with old pals, recently-transplanted here. For every going-away soiree, an e-mail (subject line: “Hello Again!/ Neighborhood Tips Plz”) appears in your Inbox, awaiting a helpful reply. 

This city continues to attract as many millennials as it hemorrhages because, turns out, Austinites can’t keep quiet. The secret is long-spoiled. Our economy is good. Winter is gentle. Tacos are delicious. 

Underneath our “Don’t Move Here” shirts, we fundamentally remain welcoming to these newcomers. We share recommendations; our favorite “spots” (parking included); ghost stories about dart boards; because, at one point, we were newcomers. For once-transplants that now call this place home, something about Austin compels us to stay, and we want to share what we love about this place. We stay put because of jobs (or maybe, in spite of jobs), but, moreso because this place becomes home. Though I moved here with the flimsiest pretenses (and also left and came back), my life is now deeply interwoven with others whose story matches mine. The revolving door keeps whirring, but we are building community nonetheless. 

Yet, as the city changes rapidly, I have realized that my ideas of what “community” means must shift as well. I find myself asking who can afford to stay here. Or whether Austin ten years down the road is one we still want to inhabit, still worthy of our Lone Star soaked nostalgia. More practically, I wonder if it’s one I can afford. 

Though our city’s economic growth is laudable, it is increasingly important to consider who shares in that growth, and who will be able to remain in this city long-term. For Austin to retain its cherished weirdness, we also need to maintain levels of affordability that support a diversity of people, energies, professions, and backgrounds.

This November, we have a chance to support that vision by making a historic investment in our city’s housing stock. Following a nationally notable grassroots campaign, voters can approve $250 million towards affordable housing in the City of Austin. This funding will build homes attainable for low and middle-income earners, and simultaneously support long-term residents most at-risk for displacement. 40% of the bond will buy land to build permanently affordable housing via a community land trust model, while additional funding will support new rental properties, supportive housing for homeless individuals, low-income homeownership, and income-qualified home repair programs. 

If, like so many of us, you’ve only lived here a short while, $250 million far exceeds any previous allocation for housing in Austin. A quick history lesson reveals that our last housing bond in 2013 approved $65 million (or, about a quarter of this November’s request), while a similar 2012 housing proposition failed altogether. 

Study after study says we need this bond, offering evidence of how costs escalate relentlessly while wage growth remains only modest. This graph, pulled from the City of Austin’s 2017 Strategic Housing blueprint, illustrates that relationship all-too-clearly.


In other words, housing costs are skyrocketing, but our earnings are not. We want to stay, but can we afford it? While many of us treat this city like a playground during our twenties, our expectations shift dramatically as we consider whether to settle in or jump ship. 

Anxiety around these realities manifests differently. Young professionals question whether this is a good place to grow a career, or if the home they can afford is the one they want. Meanwhile, as our supply of low-cost rentals dwindles, service industry workers and artists (i.e. those most responsible for “keeping it weird”) already bear the worst brunt, relegated to housing further from the city’s core. Neighborhoods once claimed by communities of color are in the foreground of these discussion; we now designate these areas “Cultural Heritage Districts.”

Demographic trends show that many of us will leave Austin entirely. Whether for Louisville or Lockhart, millennials are choosing to ditch the hustle in exchange for more time and space to support families, passion projects, and creative capacity. We moved here because we were attracted to the city’s affordability, creativity, and easygoing nature, but these qualities are now threatened. Fast-forward and it’s unclear whether the Austin of 2030 or 2040 has those qualities at all. 

Even at present, the physical form of our city is changing. In areas with the most drastic infill development, like East Austin’s Govalle or Holly neighborhoods, contractor-built pop-up boxes appear seemingly overnight. Suburban growth in our surrounding communities casts an even more dramatic shadow, with Hays County clocking in as the nation’s 4th fastest growing county in 2018. 

Against this backdrop, more subtle shifts in our socioeconomic and demographic make-up are underway too. For example, from 2011 to 2015, U.S. Census data shows that Austin households making 60% of Area Median Income (AMI) or less ($86,000 for a family of 4) decreased by 4,411, even as we gained a net 34,893 households citywide. This AMI measure is a common threshold for affordable housing eligibility, but also for much of our workforce, period. For example, Austin teachers make over $50K each year on average. 

Clearly, this election comes at a critical tipping point in our city’s history. For many households, this bond is urgently-needed and the stakes are incredibly high. But for all of Austin, across all income brackets, we are currently fighting a battle for, as Mayor Adler puts it, “the soul of our city.” 

As millennials, we are the chief inheritors of what these bonds will build and how it will impact our region. We are choosing what kind of city will keep us here, or what kind of city will allow us to stay.

Calling out our generation’s apathy is longtime low-hanging fruit, but it’s also no longer true. Recent Pew Institute research reveals that we outvoted Baby Boomers in 2016 and will soon be the largest voting bloc in America. In fewer words, we’ve got the power. While local candidates or referendums are rarely as energizing as Beto or Barack, that power can matter most in state and local elections, where margins are slim, and voter turnout is abysmal.

In a time when it’s never been more hip to be woke, let’s apply that awareness to our own backyard. As it stands, the loudest advocates in our local government aim to preserve a version of Austin they won’t be around to inhabit. Highly-organized resistance to our land development code rewrite (the-process-formerly-known-as-CodeNEXT) has already stymied progress around how much and where we can build more housing. It’s time we get loud too and create the community where we want to live. 

Prop A is one way to make sure Austin remains the place we believed in that brought us here. It allows us to build a progressive, caring city, welcoming people of all income levels and aspirations. Prop A will support some of our neediest residents, yes, but also our teachers, artists, friends, and all those folks who actually used the dart boards before we all moved here in the first place. Voting for Prop A trades the transience of our endless going-away parties with a more progressive future vision for our city. 

I voted.jpg

This funding will not house everyone in need; our most recent citywide housing plan calls for 135,000 new units to be built over the next decade. Still, it’s not too little, and it’s never too late. If the underbelly of our economic success is gentrification and displacement, this bond funding enables what few tools we have to abate those forces.

Voting for Prop A is a chance to reaffirm our belief in the Austin that first brought us here. If we are concerned for the “soul of our city,” this bond is a foundational fight in that battle, setting a historic precedent for the Austin we want to preserve and become. By choosing to vote in its favor, we not only support that vision, but also the right to stay and take part in its ongoing creation. 

2018 Notley Fellow

Ellen Ray is an urban planner, committed to creating a more equitable built environment. Her work at Cambridge Systematics provides municipal, state, and federal transportation planning and policy solutions. She recently completed a master’s in City and Regional Planning at the Georgia Institute of Technology. While pursuing graduate studies, she worked at the Urban Land Institute, Federal Reserve Bank, and Jamestown L.P. and also served as president of her planning program’s student organization.  
Originally from Tulsa, Oklahoma, Ellen received a BA in American Studies from Yale in 2012. Following graduation, she fled the Northeast to work as an Americorps VISTA in Mayor Leffingwell’s office in Austin, then coordinated community involvement initiatives for Capital Metro.
She bikes everywhere and is currently learning to play country-western bass.

Notley Fellows Spotlight Series: Elisa Sepulveda


Elisa has spent her career galvanizing communities in the technology industry, particularly for entrepreneurs and technologists. Elisa attended Cornell for her MBA and a Masters in Organizational Psychology before moving to Texas, where she worked for IBM. She participated in their acclaimed management rotational program, holding positions in HR, marketing, and finance, before building Watson’s initial R&D and sales and marketing teams. Austin’s entrepreneurial scene took hold and she moved on to help build two artificial intelligence companies before joining Galvanize as the evangelist for Austin. At Galvanize, she unites the technology community through events, partnerships, and marketing.

In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her Miniature Schnauzer, Lola, riding and showing her horse Watson, traveling, and cooking international food. Elisa is a member of the inaugural class of Notley Fellows.

We sat down with Elisa to discuss what causes are close to her heart, the areas of social impact she wants to change, and the organizations she is passionate about  participating in.

What specific issues are close to your heart and why?

I am very passionate about helping women and underrepresented minorities succeed in technology. I was always the only women in my math and science classes as I advanced in education and it was lonely. I got support from my family, but I think that I would have gone further in math and science had I been supported by a community of women studying the same thing and advancing in technology roles. Today there are more women and underrepresented minorities in tech, but it isn't representative of the population. I want to help more young women and minorities see and pursue careers in technology.

What organizations or causes are you currently involved with? How are you involved?

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I am very involved in a lot of organizations around women and underrepresented minorities in tech. Right now, I'm focused on helping Female Founders ATX formalize their organization and plan for expansion across the state. I'm also working on a few initiatives in tech to bring skills to Veterans in software engineering and entrepreneurship. The more we can arm these groups with the tools and network they need to be successful, the more of these people will ascend to high levels of success.

What do you think local businesses can do to support nonprofit organizations?

More local businesses, particularly in the technology space, should be lending more of their expertise to enable nonprofits to become more sustainable. We have a lot of business acumen and can help create more sustainable business models for nonprofits, but often, businesses don't know where to start. Just by reaching out and offering to help, we can do a lot to impact nonprofits.


What for-profit companies (local or national) are currently doing an exemplary job of being socially responsible, in your opinion? How?

Social responsibility should be at the core of a business, like TOMS or The North Face. I think that the companies that build social responsibility into their business models, like TOMS, are the most impactful.

How can we make it easier for everyone to have a social impact?

We need to stop talking about social impact as something that is new and different. Social impact is making a difference, whether it's on a small scale as one person, or on a large scale for thousands of people. By lowering the barrier to entry and teaching others that making small changes have a big impact, people will see how easy it is to positively impact their communities.

Sometimes, social impact seems exclusive to large, wealthy organizations. How can we make impact accessible for everyone?

Social impact starts with an individual, just like doing good starts with individuals. We make choices every day to help others and give back to our community. The more frequently that we choose to do good, whether we are doing business or having fun, we make social impact more accessible.

Creating A Reflective Democracy Through Women

Fellows Dinner with Wendy Davis of Deeds Not Words

Today’s government is anything but reflective with many of the individuals with the most refusing to take the time to think deeply about their actions and their consequences.

What if we had a more reflective democracy? That is the question former state senator and candidate for governor as well as the founder of Deeds Not Words, Wendy Davis, posed to the Notley Fellows yesterday


During a conversation with the Fellows led by Notley cofounder, Dan Graham, Wendy expressed the need for our each of us to be more reflective in our political participation, starting with creating life-long voters and educating future generations on the legislative process.

This is the mission of Deeds Not Words. Through advocacy training with high school age women, Deeds Not Words is educating young women on the legislative process and how to insert their voice to be more effective, persuasive changemakers.

And it’s working. During the 2017 legislative session, Deeds Not Words worked with a group of young women on 10 different bills, each drafted from scratch to curb sex trafficking and assault. Of those 10 bills, a total of 7 were passed. This singular act helped these young women understand their power to take policy into their own hands.


The goal of Deeds Not Words is to not only create lifelong voters, but help young women see themselves on future committees and instill in them the dream and accessibility of running for public office. Deeds Not Words works alongside other organizations like Annie’s List, Jolt Texas, and Emerge America to effect change as these young women move on from high school and into careers in politics and policy.

“When we don’t have women in positions of political power, it creates a rush to defend bad behavior and over simplifies the “boys will be boys” mentality so common in today’s political world” said Wendy Davis.

When asked what the Fellows can do to drive change in Texas, Wendy said to pay attention to your local races and help build a bench of political leaders you respect. By doing this, you’re investing in voter infrastructure and showing lawmakers that Texas has the ability to turn out the votes.

Thank you to Clayton and Carly Christopher for welcoming us into their beautiful home for last night’s dinner. To learn more about the Notley Fellowship, visit

Notley Fellows Spotlight Series: Pervez Soomar


Pervez loves technology, personal finance, career development, and anything that physically and mentally challenges him. His passion lies somewhere between helping startups grow through sales and helping (hopefully inspiring) people to meet their personal and professional potent

When he's not working with his awesome team at Andela, coaching someone through an interview for a job they want, talking to a company about revamping their sales strategy, reading through a resume, or speaking to a younger audience about personal finance or career growth, you can find him strolling the streets of NYC & Austin with his dog daughter Bella. Pervez is a member of the inaugural class of Notley Fellows.

We sat down with Pervez to discuss what causes are close to his heart, the areas of social impact he wants to change, and the organizations he is passionate about and participating in.

What specific issues are close to your heart and why?

Two specific issues keep me up at night. The first being equality in education and opportunity. Unfortunately, where you are born and raised too often determines the level of access you have to a proper education. Going a step further, sometimes an education isn't enough if there isn't an opportunity to provide value with the skills one has. I consider myself beyond lucky for my parents fleeing poverty in Pakistan and coming to the states -- because of this, my siblings and I were able to go to school, get jobs, start businesses, and make an amazing living. The second issue that is near and dear to my heart is financial literacy in schools and especially low-income schools. Habits around finances highly determine a person’s quality of life and ability to live. The student debt crisis has a lot to do with a lack of education that the millennial generation received while growing up and it has blocked so many from being able to do the things they want in life. My time in finance showed me the power of money regardless of your income and has since become a huge part of my DNA.

What do you think local businesses can do to support nonprofit organizations?

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I think local businesses can support nonprofits by making social impact as important as any other initiative or businesses strategy. I actually think of it in a similar sense for an individual. Many businesses and people think that they need a lot or "can wait" to show support but I don't think that’s true. There's value in businesses being involved early and besides having a direct impact, it spreads a culture of giving and I am a big believer that it comes back tenfold.

What for-profit companies (local or national) are currently doing an exemplary job of being socially responsible, in your opinion? How?

This is an easy one for me. Andela. Andela helps companies scale their engineering output by providing distributed tech talent with a focus on growing that talent across Africa. Andela is as mission driven as a for-profit business gets with a saying that brilliance is evenly distributed throughout the world If you haven't already guessed, I work at Andela :). I also love the team at Ellevest. Ellevest is providing an investment platform for women with a mission to close the gender investing gap. It is specialized to women's income and life cycles which is incredible.

How can we make it easier for everyone to have a social impact?

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Generally, I think people want to be involved more and want to have a bigger impact on things they care about. Many of my friends want to get involved and just don't know how. I felt and still feel the pain while being new to Austin. My advice for nonprofits and other organizations that are looking for assistance is to go "on the road." The WeWork my office is currently in has hundreds of small companies that don't have as easy of an outlet to get involved as someone at a bigger company. Why not come do a 15 minute presentation where you're guaranteed a large audience that will likely convert to a donor/volunteer?

About Andela

Andela scales high performing distributed engineering teams with Africa’s most talented software developers. Andela is focused on bridging technological skills gaps across the globe by building an inclusive, international ecosystem.

About Ellevest

Ellevest is an investment platform built by and for women with the mission of closing the investment gender gap. Ellevest helps women invest by building portfolios that invest in companies that benefit women, and formulating algorithms personalized for womens’ investment needs.