A City of Innovation w/ Santiago Garces + Brian Donoghue – Full Transcript
Jacob Titus: The first guests who have done business in the studio. Welcome to Pod.SB season two. This is Episode 10 of this season. The season is South Bend on Purpose. We're talking to people who are in South Bend on purpose. That includes people who have been here for a long time and continue to make the decision to be here. It's people who were here, left, and then came back, and it is people who were never here and happen to move here. These two guys that we have with us fit the last category, correct?
Dustin Mix: They're a combo.
Brian Donoghue: Combo.
Santi Garces: Correct.
Jacob Titus: Correct. So we have a we have a combo. We have Donny and Santi with us. Donny and Santi both work for the City of South Bend in the Department of Innovation and Technology. Correct? That's the right name? Oh, boy. All right. So Santi is the Chief Innovation Officer. And Donnie is the Director of Innovation, again, correct, right?
Brian Donoghue: Civic innovation.
Jacob Titus: Director of Civic Innovation.
Dustin Mix: And for all those confused, his name is actually Brian Donaghue. But doing business as Donny.
Jacob Titus: And his name is actually Santiago Garces.
Santi Garces: Yes.
Jacob Titus: So this is actually a unique episode because typically we record our episodes like two weeks before we put them out. This one we are recording – it is 9:38pm on Tuesday evening and if you're listening to this then it's probably Friday morning. And so this is coming out just a few days after and we usually record in the morning but this is the evening. We just came over from Code School. Tonight was the Hello World Pitch Competition where Code School kids pitched business ideas to Cyan Bannister, a venture capitalist at Founders Fund. We were all there, finished that up. And now we are over here.
Dustin Mix: This is also our first duo.
Jacob Titus: All right, well Santi, you have the mic right now. So why don't you kick us off with – How'd you end up here in South Bend?
Santi Garces: So I figured when I was in high school that I wanted to study abroad, I didn't want to study at University in Colombia, where I'm from, and that I wanted to go to either the U.S. or the UK. At one point the Provost of Admissions for Notre Dame was traveling through South America doing some travel, he had some work with the State Department, he was going to be in Bogotá for a night. And then my college counselor, my high school college counselor told me that this guy was going to be in Bogotá for one night. And that if I wanted to meet him, I had to email him and arrange something, but he is only going to be available one evening. So I went from basketball practice, and my school was part of a league of international schools. So I think that we were playing the French school. And I was only put in the games when we were losing by a lot or winning by a lot. This time, we were losing by a lot. So I got a lot of play time. So I get to dancers seen his hotel room sweating, disgusting, I see that he has the Count of Monte Cristo in the coffee table. And then we started to talk about the Count of Monte Cristo and how it was one of my favorite stories, because it's a story about redemption, it's a story about finding yourself. After our conversation, he said, You know, you should really apply to Notre Dame because I think that you'd fit in. So I had no idea what Notre Dame was, or Indiana was or anything. And I had two friends, my two other best friends were applying to go to school in the U.S. So I applied and I got in and I got a scholarship and I was like, all right, time to book the tickets. And I figured, you know, this will be close, I'll be able to visit my friend who's going to study in Princeton, other friend who's going to study at Brown.
When I booked the tickets, I realized that the Midwest was not the East Coast and that this was not going to be a five hour train ride away from New York. Got into Notre Dame, studied electrical engineering and political science there in undergrad doing the dual degree size, I did that for five years.
Brian Donoghue: So I am born in Youngstown, Ohio, between Cleveland and Pittsburgh, a place very similar in South Bend with a lot of the same problems. My aspiration growing up was to go to Notre Dame. I actually didn't know what Ivy League schools were when I was growing up. I was one of those kids that – I don't know if any of your other listeners are Irish Catholic – but they stick the beanie on you and that's kind of the, if you can do it, then that's your aspiration. So came here, 2004? 2005? Stayed till 2009. So that's the end of the first time that I came here.
Jacob Titus: Okay. And you grew up wanting to go to Notre Dame? Interesting.
Brian Donoghue: My highest aspiration was to go to Notre Dame, which was, again, kind of an interesting way to start your freshman year. It's like, oh, I've achieved the thing that I aspired to do for ever. So what do I do now?
Santi Garces: Right. Which is funny because a lot of the people that I went to high school with still think that I'm in France somewhere.
Jacob Titus: at Notre Dame?
Santi Garces: Yes.
Jacob Titus: Yeah, it feels like a scene out of Rudy, like the Irish Catholic, you're going to Notre Dame!
Brian Donoghue: There was definitely some of that vibe to it, I would say. When my offer letter came my parents framed it and then gave it to me at a dinner.
Jacob Titus: Donny, you're from Youngstown.
Brian Donoghue: Yes.
Jacob Titus: So something I don't know that we've talked about on the pod is that I'm also from the area.
Brian Donoghue: Yes, you're from Akron, right?
Jacob Titus: Yeah, so one, my dad's side of the family is Akron and my mom's is Youngstown. Yeah, I don't know if we've talked about that on the pod. I moved here when I was seven just so that we're –
Brian Donoghue: Your formative years were still definitely here.
Jacob Titus: Yeah I need to keep the street cred alive here.
Brian Donoghue: But you lived in Youngstown when you were a little kid? No.
Jacob Titus: No, outside of Akron. Yeah. I'm curious, what was it like growing up in Youngstown?
Brian Donoghue: Well that's a very fun question. So Youngstown is a place that I have grown to appreciate over time. When I was growing up there, it still had a lot of the problems that I imagine the people who lived in South Bend saw during that time – endemic political corruption, difficult to get things actually done or to let the city to help you work. That was basically one of the issues that was really kind of blocking everyone. The Youngstown Bradley company equivalent is someone that has like 100 federal indictments at this point or maybe they've cleared themselves up at this point. But just to give – that's a nice piece of the – so again, the comparative that you think of, you see the Bradley signs all around town. Those people in Youngstown are, you know, maybe they're not all caught up, and they're kind of pre, old mafia stuff that was going on. But again, the mayor – actually, this is a nice, clean example – It's that the acting Mayor pled out to two families that he'd committed as county commissioner, and then announced his reelection campaign The next day, and said, What I did as county commissioner doesn't really have any impact on the job that I'm doing as mayor for the city. So that's just, for me, it's a little nice tidbit of what's going on there. And again, it's similar to South Bend. There are a lot of working people trying to get by and trying to get stuff done. I think they're just waiting for somebody to come along and try to help break that up a little bit. Which, again, hopefully will come out of our generation. I haven't seen it come out of anybody – I'm 32? 31? 32? Can we clip that?
Santi Garces: You're 31.
Brian Donoghue: So I'm 31. And up until this point, that person hasn't come along. There hasn't been someone to come in and kind of disrupt the existing ecosystem.
Jacob Titus: Santi is pointing at Donnie right now.
Brian Donoghue: Yeah, which is silly.
Santi Garces: Yeah.
Brian Donoghue: But again, I say that with all of my heart for some of the people that are actually back there, you know, doing good work. So it's a place that, again, I I do see there's a lot of hope, but at the same time, I think that they need a couple of the the catalytic changes that South Bend had before they can really step up into their own again.
Jacob Titus: Yeah, you come to Notre Dame. And then what happens?
Brian Donoghue: I ended up studying business, chose finance because that was one of the harder versions of business, which is what everyone kept telling me, that accounting and finance were the harder versions. But it's funny because I was graduating in 2009. So imagine that you've been convinced to take a finance degree, and you're graduating in the summer of 2009. So that didn't exactly work out very well. I ended up taking – cajoling my way into – an internship at IBM which I then worked my ass off at, kind of almost killed myself working at, because I was the only person in a group of like five who had – like this was my only chance. So I win that job, go there in January after getting a second degree at Notre Dame and stay there for about five years before I got disillusioned and was lured back by Santi and Mayor Pete.
Dustin Mix: This feels like a good a good segue into how you two know each other.
Brian Donoghue: I have that story. So Santi – I had had a lot of, there was a lot of lore around Santi after my friend had lived with him for a whole year in Dublin, one of my best friends. So we, at that point, hadn't met each other, but had a mutual best friend or, you know, one of best friends, and he's talked this guy up a lot. I was very – you know, Connor is a good judge of character. And I was excited to meet Santi and he's like, Yeah, he's Colombian, he's super like, is he's this really cool dude. And I met him and he had an Irish accent. And I was just like, What the F? Like, what? What is this? I don't really – like how and why? And I guess that you could probably explain why you had an Irish accent at that point?
Santi Garces: I lived in Ireland for a year, including the summer. When I came to the U.S. I think that I had a pretty good grasp of writing and reading English, but I think that especially like my colloquial English, I had only spoken in English with my English teachers in high school. So I had a really hard time when I first came to the U.S. so I didn't really talk to a lot of people, especially American people. So most of my formative English experience at that point was in Ireland, I would say things like, Ah does grand crack – crack is fun in Irish
Dustin Mix: You need to do the full-on accent now, we need to hear it.
Santi Garces: I will sing sad songs at the end. Donny's already doing a good job of making me cry. He's so sweet.
Jacob Titus: Donny mentioned that there was a lot of lore around you, when he started to be lured back to South Bend. How did you end up in this position? Walk us through that path.
Santi Garces: So after – really fast forward after coming from Columbia, I started electrical engineering and political science and I figured it's a practical compromise to studying philosophy and physics. Going down the middle in terms of practicality. And to explain the lore – when I first met Connor, who's our mutual friend, Connor McCarthy. I just moved to Ireland to study abroad and the first two years that I had at Notre Dame were really rough. It was – I guess I thought, just because I watched MTV and I ate McDonald's that I was fluent in American culture. And that was not the case. So the first two years at Notre Dame, I felt very isolated. And it was hard. I thought about transferring out or leaving. But then, when I went to Ireland, I felt connected because it was the first time in my life that I felt that I was celebrated because I was an expert at being abroad. Like I was an expert at being an idiot, and then asking questions, and then knowing how to get around because I had been an idiot for the past two years. So all the Americans still felt pretty proud. And I was just like, that's not what we're gonna do. I became really good friends with with Connor, part of what was interesting was then coming back to the US and then feeling that all of a sudden being in Ireland had also allowed me to master my cultural competency of being American. So I understood for the first time, like, how to be cool in the U.S. Maybe I just thought that I knew, that's a good point.
I was convinced, throughout the five years in college, that I was going to go get a PhD, probably in electrical engineering. I'd spent the last two years of college, my fourth year and my fifth year, doing a lot of research in a lab at Notre Dame in the nano fabrication lab. So by the time that I was about to start submitting my applications, I just had like a crisis. And I was like, I cannot be – like, I cannot be inside of an orange room, wearing a vest, not talking to any human being and instead putting silicon within like boiling tubs of acid for the rest of the next six years, or I'll lose my mind. I was like, I want to stay in the U.S. So I applied to two programs, I applied to the ESTEEM program and then I applied to ACE, which is the Alliance for Catholic Education to become a math teacher. ACE would not take me even though they struggle finding Spanish-speaking, male engineers.
So I figured I'd try to become an entrepreneur. No I'm just kidding. I figured like, again, thinking, I just need to revisit my decision about what I would want to do a PhD and the skills of an entrepreneur are skills that would be valuable if I became a PI in a lab and was learning how to manage things, and then have like a innovation and ideation vision. And I just became kind of enamored in ESTEEM with the idea that you could do things that would have an impact right there, as opposed to coming up with an idea that would take like five years to demonstrate in a lab, that then would take 20 years – especially nano electronics, like it takes so long because the processes and all these things are so expensive – to take 20 years to develop anything that was meaningful. Maybe none of the things that I did worked. So, did ESTEEM. And then – have you guys interviewed yet anyone from enFocus?
Dustin Mix: You're the first.
Santi Garces: So here's the lore of how enFocus got started. So we are on our class trip to North Carolina, went to the Research Triangle Park, and then we're walking around Durham. We see the American Tobacco, the baseball stadium, and then we see all these spaces that had been vacant and had been decimated because there's no longer tobacco or textile industry in North Carolina. Two of the people from the program were from South Bend, Andrew, Wiand and then Khoa Huynh. We were like, We have to do this in South Bend. I remember talking with David Murphy, who's the Director of the ESTEEM program, saying, We've got to do this in Colombia. Like we've just got to figure out how to do interesting things in Columbia. And I was finishing my dissertation and I had a one way ticket to go back to Colombia. On the 3rd, no the 9th, of May of 2012, I had a one way ticket to go back to Colombia. I finished my studies – finito caput – and instead, when I was finished, when I was writing my thesis, I heard Andrew and Khoa, and then increasingly more people coming in and starting to talk about like how we're gonna – like there's this new mayor and we're gonna fix South Bend.
Man, I remember like it was pretty strange. And I wrote in one of my notebooks, which I still have that page which said, it's kind of crazy, you know it's something like, Help South Bend. Help ND. Save the world. Take it to Latin America. And I decided to stay and then in 2012 we started enFocus not knowing what the hell we were doing. Mayor Pete was commencement speaker at our graduation so he sat with my family and with who would become my brother-in-law's family – so Dan Lewis who studied in ESTEEM with me married my sister, they met I guess that day at the table with Mayor Pete. My mom turned around to me and said, Oh that guy has really good Spanish. Just very impressed with the mayor's Spanish. And then we started thinking that we're going to save the city. We didn't know what that meant.
Probably we needed a little bit more saving than the city needed. Yeah, we showed up to Union Station – Kevin Smith's office – a week, no a day after graduating – what do you do? What are we supposed to do? We had these like super lofty goals and and whatnot. So soon after the mentors Gary Gilot, and then Mike Bieganski, and Shane Fimbel, and Kevin Smith and all these people started lining up meetings. And then the first meeting that we had was with the city.
Jacob Titus: And this is enFocus?
Santi Garces: This is enFocus, the founding of enFocus. So the second week of enFocus, we go to the streets department, that's when I first meet Mark Neal, the controller, and Kathryn Roos, the Chief of Staff at the time. And the city was trying to implement a smart city solution. And I'd been teaching myself how to do web development and whatnot. I'd just built my first web app. The the first project that they're implementing is a Smart Cities project. And I was the only one who knew how databases and how modern computers and digital services and all this stuff worked, started asking questions. And then eventually, after that meeting, they're like, All right, you're the point person for the city projects. And I was like, I don't want to be the point person for the city projects like, I don't want to do anything with city government.
Can we not like talk? Maybe I'll do the hospitals or I'll do something else. So they were like, No, no, this involves databases. You're the only one who understands databases. So I became the point person for the city. We've done two really interesting projects with the fire department with the central services group and we figured out ways that we could save the city $3 million. We made a commercial, my second What Do We Fight For commercial because my first What Do We Fight For commercial had been about my ESTEEM thesis.
Jacob Titus: So to give context to people enFocus is a group that – I mean Santi's talking about the beginning of enFocus and still in function is similar today – is a group that gets young people who are coming out of college to come and work on interesting projects around South Bend. So they get partner organizations to sponsor projects, data projects with the city a lot of the time, they kind of troll around the city doing interesting things with different organizations.
Santi Garces: I mean, it's interesting because there's such a disconnect. enFocus is a fascinating organization because when we first started enFocus, I guess the message that we had for ourselves and with the mentors was always like, it's about purpose, it's about like, We have to figure this out. And every one of the people, we had two Irish people, we had me, Colombian, we had a guy from California, Dan was from New Jersey, and then two people from South Bend and there's this sense of – for me, and for the rest of the people – this sense of urgency of like, we need to figure out the city but I think we need to figure out ourselves. Because we all had technical backgrounds, none of us knew what we wanted to do. But we knew that we wanted to matter. It just ended up in a room with some interesting mentors that had the same, I think, interesting symmetry where the mentors were all these, the former Director of Public Works, the former CEO of Bosh, Kevin Smith, who owns Union Station and now Studebaker, Kevin got us in the idea – like we met Kevin at the ESTEEM program saying that he was gonna remodel Studebaker in 2013.
And we're like, Yeah, we're gonna remodel! So where are we getting our offices in Studebaker? So Donny and I had met, I'm like trying to figure out this whole thing. I thought that I was going to leave back to Colombia. Donny had actually come to visit Columbia at some point with a couple of that group of friends. Then I'm doing this thing in South Bend and it's like this rogue operation because after I'm done with enFocus, I started as a contractor. I think that Gary Gilot and Scott Ford probably convinced Pete and they're like –
Jacob Titus: You started as a contractor with the city?
Santi Garces: Yes. So they're like, I would imagine that the conversation when something along the lines of, This guy's crazy and he's smart, and you should keep him. I don't know what you should have him do. But you should keep him. So the mayor was – one of the premises for the campaign was doing performance management – so he was like, You should start the performance management program. It's like, Sure. studied performance management. My dad had been the CEO of a company in Colombia. So I grew up doing Lean and Six Sigma at home. Started as a single, one-person operation and then we start doing projects and the mayor basically started giving me the things that were not working. Vacant and abandoned and code enforcement and then solid waste. Whatever tool and craft that I could figure out what to make it better. And then as things started to get better, I was like, well, I need more people. So the first person that I got to join – young Scott Matthew Coats. This is kind of interesting on the theme because he was a student at Notre Dame who thought that he had done a really bad job at his project management class for helping with code enforcement. And he was supposed to –
Brian Donoghue: He did an applied project.
Santi Garces: Yeah he did an apply project through a class in code enforcement. And I had to help co supervise it. And he felt so guilty, he was like, I didn't help the city, you need to hire me so I can redeem myself with the city. Which if you know Matt Coats is just like, how incredible and also kind of strange he is. So he's the first believer, and I'm like, alright. And then René Casiano who had graduated from Aerospace Engineering at Notre Dame and then ESTEEM and had been working in Chicago and he's like dejected with Chicago and he's like, Hey, I'm gonna marry my fiance, and she's finishing school at Notre Dame. Help me figure out what to do in South Bend for like, a month and a half, and then we're getting married. And then this is like, Summer of 2014, May of 2014. I'll be here for a month and a half, and then I'll leave. And he's been with the city for four years.
Ryan around the time, he's transitioning from IBM, and then we're talking, and then I'm like, Whoa, you know, you're interesting. I forget what cajoling I used but on the mayor and on Mark, Neil, I was like, basically, like, we have a unique opportunity, we have this guy who was at IBM. Yeah, like, if you like this, we're going to need more people.
Jacob Titus: This being the beginning of the Innovation and Technology department?
Santi Garces: Yeah. By the end of 2014, we had gone through a first cycle. And now we're starting to go by the Office of Innovation. So I convinced Donny, or he convinced – somehow Donny's here. He had – for years, he was like, I'm on a one month, like, I'm here for three months, I'm going to help you with the stuff that you need to do. And then I'm out. Like, I don't want to experience the winter in the Midwest anymore. Along that same time, so I had to leave the U.S. because I needed to go and find a job that would sponsor a visa for me to stay. I'm like, I need to leave the city. And then Mark was like, What if like, would you be our Chief Innovation Officer? Like this is what we were talking – we had been drawing in a napkin, we'd been talking about doing this stuff. And there's actually another – just like there's my notebook – I have a picture of the napkin where we drew the office, initially would would become the Office of Innovation, what would then become afterwards the department. So I was like, Alright, I'll stay. So at that point, I'd been like, I'll say, for another year, I'll say for another year, and then it's like, you're making a job for me and then going in front of the council. I'll stay for three years.
Brian Donoghue: Like Santi said, I came out here on a three month contract and said, Hey, it's super interesting what you're doing. I'd love to help you, like, help take some of the stuff that I learned IBM and help you set up some of the infrastructure for what you're doing and it ended up being something completely different that we ended up doing.
Jacob Titus: Is that how you guys think about what you're doing in the city? it's like a start up within the government?
Brian Donoghue: I think that – well I'll just speak for myself – it definitely was before and that's how you can frame a number of the different initiatives that we're able to pursue. I think that some of the stuff that Santi ended up being in charge of is more, you know, solid, it's the kind of stuff you couldn't survive without, like the connectivity or, you know, the network, and those kind of things.
Santi Garces: I don't know. Like, I think there's some elements of the willingness to take risk and the thought about like, scaling and the thought about – I think there's some elements about how you think abou – again, like my training through ESTEEM in a weird way ended up being about learning about startups. But in retrospect, I think that it's a lot about consolidating. South Bend and the South Bend city government always had a deep entrepreneurial spirit and it was just like, not institutionalized. Like Gary Gilot is a genius and an amazing human being. Some of the great things were always like the side project. My job at the city – for the internal facing thing – is to make sure that we're building platforms that make it less expensive and more reliable for us to build solutions for each department so that they can do a better job of delivering services to the residents. On the other end, we need to use the fact that this is such a cool city government. Like you don't have a lot of city governments like this. What was there before me is like, you need – this needs to be the engine that you use to help drive – like South Bend needs a theory of change, a theory of existence, because it bothered me, like whenever we talked about anything I was like, so what? What's this place on 50 years? Is this place still going to be viable as a community? Or is it just going to be this vestige that shrivels next to Notre Dame? That's not that's not good enough. I guess in that sense, it's entrepreneurial, it's like thinking how can you create structure that favors great things happening in the community because you're willing to rethink how government operates and kind of be like a strategic advantage.
Dustin Mix: So you both used the word purpose in like, why you decided to take on the challenge. Santi, yours was kind of a little bit more gradual, but when when did it start to flip from just general purpose of, I want to do something important, like I want do something that matters, to really taking on the identity of South Bend? Because I think if you didn't have such a strong Irish-Colombian accent Santi, some people might think you're from South Bend. And you too, Donny, in terms of just how you've adopted the identity. So when did that start to flip where it's not just like I'm doing something important, but the place also matters?
Santi Garces: I don't think that I thought that I was doing something important. I felt that it was important because I felt that the types of skills that have developed here were relevant for anywhere else in the world. But when I started, South Bend was not any word that was necessarily on the map of anyone. Again, I cannot emphasize enough how much, how little at the time – I might have been just being an entitled bastard – but I was like, being at City CIO, like, No, thank you. Because I remember Mike Bieganski, being in enFocus, like, I'm going to make all of you into the CIOs of all these organizations, of the city, and the schools, and all this stuff where it's going to be great, because you're going to call upon each other and then do great things. I was like, listen, sir.
Especially the first couple of years were miserable, like you confront it with an organization, we weren't particularly relevant. I was a super outsider, like, I'm a foreigner in the middle of a bureaucracy where no one believes – you know, like, you don't have any street cred. I'm a Notre Dame grad. And I would work until like two in the morning and then slam my head and just everything was so freaking hard to do. And I would yell, I would yell at South Bend, I would walk around the streets – people probably thought that I was like losing it – but I was just like yelling and cursing at the city, and be like, What the fuck is going on? And I'm like, Fuck you. This is – fuck you, South Bend. Fuck you.
And then I felt so lonely. And then I'd be crying, and then I'd be cursing, and then you're like, is this like a love relationship? But then the more that I poured myself into it, and the better that it got, the more proud that I felt. And it was this sense of love. Like, I remember there's – somewhat like how you fall in love – at some point, I was like, I fell in love with South Bend, and you're like, Damn. This was so miserable but the misery, like walking on the Colfax bridge, and then the loneliness, and the cold. And I was like, This is so different from everything that I've seen. And it matters because there's people that live here for whom they have no voice. No one – it's not about the sexy political aspirations – nothing, like nothing matters. These people just are fucked. They've been fucked for a long time and then I get to do something about it. And I was like the great grandiose – I don't even know if it's the right thing – but I get to try to do something about it. And then it just like, it was more about me then it became more about them. And then we started being more successful. And then all of a sudden, it's like, Oh, this is cool. And then there's a lure and there's a machine. Again, because the whole point was systematizing this. This is like now there's like, we're winning the Bloomberg grant and we're being invited by the OECD and all these things, but is was just like, that was not the objective. I didn't think that that was possible.
Brian Donoghue: So I'm not sure exactly when I adapted to the South Bend mindset. But I do remember specifically saying that one of the traumatic things that happened to me while I was still at IBM was that my boss's son was actually one of the Newtown victims. And so I watched in this haphazard way, I watched gun control legislation become a thing and then swiftly get kind of bounced under the rug. And also again, that seemed to me like one of those moments where it's like, oh, my God, I don't know – I think that I was able to at least pull myself out of the situation – I was like, Oh my god, this is one of those times where,it's a bunch of kids, and holy shit I can't believe this happened and I think that we will probably get something passed. And then watching that go just die in the Senate. I think there was – one of the, I remember watching, specifically being like, Oh, shit. So we're not like, – I guess this isn't. Again, and maybe that's just my quick disillusionment with – I thought that was a place at the national level that like – again maybe I throw my hat into the ring and say, I'd like to go and, you know, work for one of these, the Brady foundation.
And I looked at those and I was like, those seemed like opportunities. But for me, there was the – part of the attraction to South Bend was the narrative that the mayor always brings, which is that like, this is a city where it's big enough that they have a taste of every single big city problem. Again, you'll see we're currently doing with the homelessness situation. Workforce development is one of our issues. We deal with transportation. And this is a place that is small enough that – and I was sold on this idea – that one person or a team of people can actually make a difference on that. There's a bunch of awesome people here, we're all going to just try our hardest and we're actually going to be able to move the needle. Whether it's a single blip on the needle, or two or three notches or something like that. That was what attracted me to South Bend. And I never really saw – there might have been one or two little pitfalls – but I haven't found anything to dissuade me of that. But I haven't really seen that narrative countermanded in any fashion.
And so it kind of keeps me in – and again, when you guys talk about the best pieces of South Bend and I think that that is one of the best pieces is that people can step up and say, hey, I want to develop a program, hey, I want to do this and at 100,000 people, you can actually make an impact right? Like there are people like Kintae, who, you know, he's one guy who's making a huge impact. But in a city like New York, there might be two or three people that are doing something along those lines. And here in South Bend, you're seeing him make a huge impact on the community. So for me, that's the piece of it, the South Bend vision that I understand and relate to the most.
Santi Garces: Well then seeing Donny too, I think like you have someone who's the ultimate weaver of things. You never see Donny, you always see the manifestation of the friendships that he's weaved behind the scenes. You are someone who has the ultimate trust in what can happen when other people come together. And you remove yourself – you orchestrate things and then you remove yourself. And I think that in some ways, for me, that's part of this South Bend ethos. It's like this humbleness and this silence – like for Christ's sake, you have a directional name like it's the south bend of the river. I guess not. It was never about that protagonism, it's just about, like, weaving the the possibilities. And the Pokagon name for South Bend was called Ribbon City, it's the city of weaving. And for me, like, it's just awesome, having impact and just being able to see how you're so intentional about doing that. But you get lost in the weeds. Like you fell in love with the people that you met, and the people that you brought on around them, then you got wrapped into it.
Dustin Mix: That's the wild thing to me is, I think, especially from your end, Santi, is like you spent so much time early on focusing inward on the city, like you were saying, building the platform part of this so they could start to build the solutions. But along the way, you guys do so much. It's weird for me in a city to have the narrative of actually one of the most innovative organizations in the city is the City and it plows the way for a lot of things to come behind it and be innovative and support it and let Donny weave his fabric in his wake. Like that is such an odd narrative for a city, especially for a city in the Rust Belt first, especially for a city of 100,000 people. That's not the typical thing. But if you look at what we've done, like a lot of the things that have come behind in timeline – like you guys plowed a lot of different paths for us to be able to go down and still do today – it's just very interesting to me that that is something about our city that seems unique.
Jacob Titus: Yeah, you think about a couple months ago. We were all sitting in the room with Pete's U.S. Conference of Mayors task force that was here in South Bend. You have this lineup of me, Dustin, Maria, Alex and Alex, Andrew from enFocus, and we all end up, as we go down the line, pointing to the two of you and the city government as like a linchpin in what we do and being very important in that. And yeah, I just – I have a hard time believing that that's happening in any other cities.
Santi Garces: Interesting. Because throughout this time, we've been able to connect and meet a lot of people that are unbelievable working for other city governments. There's this transformation in the U.S. where cities were forgotten for decades, because you had this auto-centric – like cities were a place to hide away and then maybe, doing a little homage to my friend Donny over here because he really likes the Beastie Boys, is thinking about, like the Beastie Boys could have only started in a place like New York because he had like three Jewish kids walking down the street and listening to the world's music and to hip hop and African American tunes. And then all these things that just kind of came together. Nah I'm not gonna say it. Maybe we're the Beastie Boys.
Brian Donoghue: I'm not backing that.
Santi Garces: I got carried away, but ultimately it's Pete enabling and allowing these things to happen. And the people that Pete brought along and then going in and saying, Yeah, I believe this 25 year old who says that he thinks he can do this thing. And there's no element – besides the fact that he seems very convincing and he shakes his hands with great vigor – that they they can pull it up. But they're like, well, this is what we're gonna do. We're going to put a bet on people and this is gonna work and I think that there's then this network of passing that along and then – maybe like the Beastie Boys, I have to stop with that analogy –you know like, you just pass it along. And you're like, all right, what are you gonna do? Again, whether you've been here for a long time, or for a short time, or whatever. So what are you going to do?
Dustin Mix: We're not here to sell you guys anything, if you want to get on board with what we're doing – awesome. We're doing the thing anyway. But it's that same like that action is what's respected, that's what you get judged on.
Brian Donoghue: The no-planning piece of that, and the 'we're going to do what we're gonna do, regardless of who backs us' is a funny piece of it. Because one of the pieces that, when I came after about six months, we sat down and it was like, so what should we do? Like, what should my part of my job be? And what kind of things can we aspire to? And two of the big things that I remember writing down were we weren't in any of the national networks that are the places that you go to get the kind of assistance that enables us to take that to the next level. Again, we had subscribed to the idea that we're going to bootstrap this shit like we are going to get it done. And we're going to do it our way and really achieve what we're going for.
Dustin Mix: Can we just be clear, so everybody understands. When you guys say bootstrap the IT department, you mean Santi found ways to save money internally, you save that money and reinvest it in more people, more resources to find more ways to say like – talk us through that.
Jacob Titus: Yeah, to make it clear that as this department has grown, the city has steadily spent less in budget every year, right?
Santi Garces: We never added any people, the only person that we've – the only position that we added was Donny, but we insource to basically upset it by reducing the professional services amount, which is instead of like having one big, like – let's be more innovative, right. Here's the strategy for being more innovative. Here's $2 million that we have received from fund directs. So our department grew, but our department grew by consolidating and moving pieces around that already existed within the city, and then doubling down and then making, engineering them and turning them into gears that interlocked and kind of propelled each other and then a gentle weaver in the corner. I am doing gentle weaving hand motions as I say this.
Dustin Mix: Sorry, I cut you off in the middle.
Brian Donoghue: No, no, no, it was –
Dustin Mix: Two things on the paper – national network?
Brian Donoghue: National networks where we could get technical assistance to do the stuff that we were, again, doing already at a higher clip, at a better level. The other one was, it seems as though everyone here is fighting over the same pie, which is, again, this is just me and Santi talking back and forth. It seems as though the best thing that we could possibly do is to expand the size of the pie. And that was the piece where we started to pursue national philanthropic initiatives that would – again, you know, we're very happy to have great things going on in South Bend. From our perspective, it seemed as though at that point there was a lot of, you know, question as to like, oh, how do we best spend this piece of money, and again, people in Santi's division had opinions, people in other positions had different opinions. For me, it was a piece of, you know, I don't want to be in that hard piece of the puzzle as to like, how do we spend, you know, how do we optimize the tax dollar spent for X, Y, and Z. and should, you know, are police officers walking around or sidewalks more important? Those are discussions that have to be had at the policy level, but it was something that, again, we looked at and said, What if we as a department, as a division, started to pursue the non-traditional sources of funding or C initiatives which again lead to, as Santi is describing, us pursuing an initiative with the Drucker Institute of Lifelong Learning, us pursuing the Mayor's challenge.
Santi Garces: Donny is getting the resources and then we are killing ourselves trying to do the best that we can with the money because we know that it's a long shot. Places like South Bend didn't used to get the money. You go back to the philanthropies and like, I don't think that I can say who and what, but you're in a meeting with the top dogs of the top dogs, and you have people that are the top dogs going in and saying things like, Well, you know, we know that cities like Boston and Chicago and South Bend are doing this, but why aren't the other communities doing this? And on my inside I'm like, that's so awesome. Because that's true. And that didn't used to be exactly true. But I'm gonna just like be like, oh cool. Pretend like I'm cool because no one likes someone who's losing their minds being like ahhh!
Dustin Mix: One of the first things when we're recruiting for INVANTI that we talk about is how cool the city is. And it's like, cool to be proud of the city. Even in a non-political way, our city operates. There's a lot of things about our city that operate really well. And like in a different interesting way that they figured out. And it's an odd thing, I think, for people to be that proud of like, actual city government, not just South Bend. But our South Bend city government is a cool thing. I enjoy being proud of it.
Jacob Titus: Often, I don't even quite understand all of it or kind of have it on the top of my head of what you guys – the different things that the city is doing. But I tell people, I'm like, I just know for a fact that a lot of it is happening at a very small number of cities. And we're one of them, and it's not happening at the other ones, even if I can't tell you what it is right now.
Santi Garces: Yeah, I mean, ultimately, the fundamental part is we're trying to figure out what – the role that cities should be doing and solving the really, really, really difficult problems. And again, these are really tough problems. So I'm not going to say that there's success, but we're scratching the surface deeper than most other cities because there's a willingness to admit that we don't have the answers and that we're going to, again, break our necks just, like work so hard – and not only the people in our department, but in the other departments – are just going to work so hard to try to figure it out. That doesn't happen.
And the part that's interesting to me too, is like, I remember we used to be like, at first, when I first moved here, there's a lot of conversation about like, what's the analogy? Like, are we the Beijing of the Midwest? Are we like the Paris of Northern Indiana? Yeah, like, what's the identity that we have? I think that increasingly, it goes back maybe to something that Kevin Smith once said to me. He was like, we're gonna be the South Bend that South Bend was. It's this place of awesome ideas that have a VC taking like two hours for her life to judge 14 year olds talk about how they're going to change the world. It's like, this is where it's happening. And the other cities pay attention. And we're scrappy, and no one gave – it wasn't flashy. It's easy, saying, Oh, well, you know, like these people – and I don't know if they ever say this but I imagine that someone says this – you know, like these outsiders come here and they're just doing this for the fame and doing this for – and I started, like, there's no fame to be gained in any of this. Like, it's a long shot. I turned down offers to be in Chicago and in DC, and other places, and people are like, You're insane. Like, this is not a good move. And you're like, wow, this will be cool. Figure it out. And now it's like, really cool, like, to the point that we have people like the CIO of New York City saying that he wants to come to South Bend. I'm like, that's – again, you're like, oh, Samir, of course, we will entertain you. I would prefer for you to come in this way. Samir's a really awesome guy, he used to be the CIO of Atlanta, but you're like what the – Holy macaroni!
And that's the part of the piece that we see that I wish that we had a better ability of sharing with other people because it's not about like, I wish like the little kid that's growing up here was like, that gives me hope that I can do something and this is not screwed up for me even though I'm Hispanic or I'm African American and I'm poor and whatnot. It's like, this is a cool place where you can do cool things.
Dustin Mix: So the final question and both of you have to answer. And I've learned over nine episodes, half of the people answer this very specifically and those are the best answers. Some people answer it more generally, which I'm not gonna let you get away with. So the question is – what are your favorite stories to tell about South Bend? Either when you travel or when you bring new people here? I want to know like the deep cuts, like the weird stuff, the stuff that maybe hasn't seen the light of day yet.
Santi Garces: There's some really good stories about council meetings because people really care and sometimes those people, things are very interesting. Like the time that we were accused of having mutant raccoon breeding program to spread the zika virus. I share that and people are very intrigued by that story.
Jacob Titus: This is the story you're traveling around the world telling?
Santi Garces: Just as maybe fun, fun, fun.
Jacob Titus: As you're talking about igniting a passion in the poor Latino kid who doesn't know how he's gonna get out of South Bend, you're saying you're going around saying but at a city council meeting we had a rabid raccoon?
Santi Garces: There's other stories. I'm just saying there's – I remember this gentleman who is saying this and mostly it stuck with me because the trust in the ability of government of coordinating advanced DNA setup – oh and that's because that was how he was explaining us not mowing the grass. And I was like, we don't mow the grass because it grows quickly or sometimes we don't know where the lawn side that they haven't been mowed. There's operational issues, but this one –
Jacob Titus: He didn't know, you just have to tweet 311.
Santi Garces: I know but I was like this is amazing. Like this is the ability – so that, i think that that was really good. And people, there's people from Kansas, there's people from other cities that have tweeted out anonymously, about mutant records.
Dustin Mix: What about the kids who coded up the Falcon Cam?
Santi Garces: Oh that was pretty sweet too. Yeah we shared the FalCam, also has one fourth of the city's website traffic goes to the Falcon Cam. So if you haven't been there, it's like falcam.southbendin.gov. So this is a fact that if you can't – like if the system that allows you to pay your water bill goes down, we probably will hear about it one or two hours into the outage. We've started monitoring it. So now we know before people get upset. But before we did that, it'd take like two hours for someone to be upset. The Falcon Cam goes out and within like, 30 minutes, you get 10 really angry people telling us like, why is the Falcon Cam not working? When Dan O'Connor, the current Chief Technology Officer first joined the city – and we're talking about like, all the things that we needed to do and like, we were gonna migrate all this stuff to the cloud and we're like, you know, fixing a lot of infrastructure and doing a lot, like all the bootstrapping. It was a lot of bootstrapping. And then all of a sudden, we start getting calls, like, when are you going to get the Falcon Cam up, or whatever. And then we're going to get the falcon camera up. And I looked at Dan and I was like, Listen, man, this needs to go up because in some ways, our success will not be judged by like, whether we've migrated all of these servers to the cloud or whether all these things are secure but whether thousand people a month are gonna be watching these falcons go.
Dustin Mix: But it's like, in a weird way indicative right? Like, it's like people can't see a lot of the stuff that you guys do on the back end. But you can go – if you go to falcon.southbendin.gov, you can see that we have a falcon cam that shows –
Santi Garces: But Dan struggled, you know, he had a hard time not being like, you gotta be joking that we're going to do this. Like, he's like, we're not going to do this, this is not – And I was like, and I remember being like, Dan, this is – we're government. This is different from the private sector. Because sometimes there's some things that don't seem to make any sense. But they're the right thing to do. Now, those kids can say that they have the most popular website on the city. They've built something that has like 10,000 views a month.
Jacob Titus: And one of those students is now one of the people who has started the Bloomington South Bend Code School.
Santi Garces: Camisa?
Jacob Titus: Yeah. One of two instructors in Bloomington.
Santi Garces: That's incredible.
Dustin Mix: Donny, I just want to know. I want to know, when you go to New York to visit your friends that are there, like what do you tell people about South Bend?
Brian Donoghue: I talk about all the crazy shit.
Dustin Mix: Alright. Hit me.
Brian Donoghue: So as it happens a lot, I get asked – well, Santa gets asked directly and then he passed it to me. I'm the person who when a student at Notre Dame, or someone who's interested, faculty, wants to learn about what we're doing in the city, I'm the person who we usually send. So I sit down to have a coffee with this nice lady. We start talking about what we do as a city. This is about a week before graduation from Notre Dame. So we get through about halfway through the conversation. And I quickly realized that this lady's interviewing for a position that I actually don't have. We don't have bonus slots. There's no practical way that this lady can become a full-time city employee. Like again, she's a Chinese national.
I leave that meeting and these unsolicited – like four or five, I think six was the final count – these recommendations just start flowing into my inbox. And it's like the Dean of Economics, like a person who was running part of the political science faculty all the way up to, you know, the higher ups at Notre Dame and the letters are reading like, Oh, my God, like, this person's amazing, this is the smartest person I've ever met. Like, not shitting you at all. And one person says, she'll probably end up running the Communist Party one day, was one of the recommendations. And at that point, I realize that, similar to how Santi was talking about, the phrase that I love from Gary Gilot is that when there's someone of a certain level of quality, you make a spot for that person. Like as a city – again, this is Gary who's been the public works director of Elkhart, public works director of South Bend, you know, 40, 50 plus years at this point. And I looked at this lady and she was again leaving, like that week to go back to China on a one way ticket, and eventually end up you know, how can we make this work? How can we, you know, figure this stuff out
So, we started her off on an internship – there was a summer internship. So she was able to come back into the country. She ends up staying with us for that period of time. She's the person, so she ends up being the person who writes the grant to Bloomberg that sets off this track of us getting the hundred thousand and then eventually getting a million dollars and also helped to set up our new division of economic empowerment. So you just look at those kind of opportunities where it's like this person came and said, I think that something cool is going on in South Bend. I could literally – like she was holding in her hand offers for the UN and the question mark City of South Bend slash enFocus internship program that we were trying to set her on that path to. And that's something that I don't think that we would have been able to say, you know, a handful years ago.
Jacob Titus: Thank you.
Santi Garces: You've laughed, you've cried. And now we end up with a sad Irish tune.