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Obama’s Top Latina Cecilia Muñoz Takes On New Job: Transforming Tech for Public Good

WASHINGTON — The highest ranking Latina in the Obama administration as well as a young Latina who spearheaded major White House technology changes have taken on a new job — aiming to transform the way non-profits use tech.

An innovative program will work to pair technological best practices with the work of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), particularly those serving vulnerable communities.

The new Public Interest Technology Initiative at New America — a Washington think tank seeking to bridge the gap between technology and public policy — will be helmed by Cecilia Muñoz, New America’s VP of Policy & Technology, and Vivian Graubard, the group’s Director of Strategy.

Muñoz was most recently the top Latina at the Obama White House, serving as Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council and as Director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs.

Image: Cecilia Mu?oz
Cecilia Munoz was Pres. Obama's Domestic Policy Advisor and the Director of the Domestic Policy Council. Andre Chung / for NBC News

In an interview with NBC Latino, Muñoz explained why this is the right time for such an initiative.

“Too frequently organizations think of technology as the system which allows them to do the work, and this goes well beyond that. The way NGOs are going to be doing their work in the future is about data and technology," said Muñoz.

RELATED: Cecilia Muñoz, White House's Top Latina: Obama's Work Will Endure

“The world that I come from needs this capacity; public interest technology does for the technology world what public interest law did for lawyers," she said. "It creates career paths and institutions and ways for technologists to engage in public service.”

Graubard, 27, was a founding member of the U.S. Digital Service in the Obama White House, an agency that was informally known as the “Geek Squad.” The Miami Latina was named last year as one of Time Magazine “30 Under 30 World Changers” and featured in NBC Latino.

Image: Young Latinos of the Obama White House . Vivian Graubard
A photo of Vivian Graubard at the White House, May 19, 2016. John Makely / NBC News

In the White House, Graubard developed a technological system to catalog and answer letters to the president written in other languages after noticing they were going unanswered because they were not in English. President Obama became known as the first president to respond to letters written in languages other than English. Graubard also helped update the White House comments line.

RELATED: Young Latinos of the Obama White House: Meet Vivian Graubard

The Public Interest Technology Initiative launched this week with its first class of Public Interest Technology Fellows. Fifteen were selected from 100 applications to work on a variety of public interest technological projects, including big data and civil rights, immigration, clinical care and community services for Medicaid and Medicare beneficiaries, among others.

It’s those types of innovations that Muñoz says are essential for community organizations to succeed in the future, including the many groups serving Latinos and other communities of color. That makes her and Graubard's work particularly significant, she said.

“I think it matters that the two people running this new program are Latinas," said Muñoz. The point is to make sure that community organizations which have been the backbone of the civil rights movement and the movement to eradicate poverty and inequality and to provide healthcare and a whole range of important things are using the latest technology, she explained.

"We count on these organizations to address inequalities in our society and that is more important now than ever before because we live in this time of extraordinary transformational change,” she said.

"We’re going to have to make sure that we’re putting these technological tools in the hands of the institutions that we count on to make sure that we are just society and that we are promoting equality. And right now those organizations are using tools in the 20th century to make the challenges of the 21st, and that’s something we’ve got to change.”

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