Exploring how we might use technology to improve the experience of New Yorkers applying for public benefits.
Mirtha’s commitment to homelessness prevention stems from her belief that no child should sleep in a homeless shelter.  She is a program designer, an experienced manager, and an advocate. 

As the Chief Program Officer at Riseboro Community Partnership, she led the Empowerment, Education, Seniors, Food Justice divisions.  This initiative built infrastructure around operations, compliance and finance, but most importantly, the work evolved into a culture of innovation, friendship, accountability, ambition and equity.  Her commitment to intentional growth and a client centered approach led to the success of this division which is now a recognized a homelessness prevention power house.  For the past three years, she has partnered with IDEO.org to design economic mobility programs. She is currently a Co-Lead and Design Coach for IDEO's Health Equity Collective, a national coalition of healthcare providers changing the narrative and building a more equitable health care system for people of color across America with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

In 2020, Mirtha was selected as an Aspen Institute Healthy Communities Fellow for her expertise in community based strategies that address housing-insecurity, hunger and access to education.

Mirtha is a Dominican immigrant and mother of three who lives in Queens, NY.

She expects that her research’s findings could be used for advocacy and can inspire change.

Project Description

Using a human centered approach, Mirtha will research how technology can improve the experience of those applying for public benefits. She will draw on her 25+ years of experience–through her personal and professional life–interacting with the NYC public benefits systems. People in underserved communities tend to be cautious and suspicious of those working for academic institutions. The fear is that a university’s main motivation is academic curiosity rather than practical application and support. She is motivated to quell this suspicion by maintaining the integrity of academic research without losing the impact greatly needed in the community. Her intention is to build a bridge of mutual respect and collaboration between the university and the communities being studied and served. As a fellow, she will continue to ask, listen and leverage the great minds within the fellowship to accelerate and magnify the Tech Hub’s impact.

The structures governing the welfare system in this country and city are built on a foundation that tends to dehumanize and under-appreciate the users of the system. As a result, more research and recommendations on how to improve the user experience is always going to be necessary and important. Rebooting NYC (published by Rohit Aggarwala during his time at the Urban Hub) provided a great insight on the issues around applying for public benefits and she believes that it is worth continuing. Mirtha realizes that we still need a better understanding of the implications, including issues around privacy, of such technology. These questions still stand:
  • Can existing technology support the current needs?
  • How can we ensure usability and privacy at the same time?
  • How can the city decrease the administrative burden imposed on current users?
  • How can we be more inclusive of the communities in the co-design process?
  • How can this technology be rolled out without causing harm to marginalized people including Limited English Speakers, those experiencing homelessness, older adults, and those with disabilities?

She expects that her research’s findings could be used for advocacy and can inspire change.