Inspire Speakers Series

Inspire-Speaker-Logo-2014-15The Inspire Speakers Series is a lecture circuit featuring nationally renowned experts in various fields of sustainability, as well as local specialists who can share experiences of promoting environmental quality, social equity, and economic vitality in Western Pennsylvania.

The theme for our 2014-2015 Inspire Speakers Series is: Creating the Most Livable Places for AllThis means healthy and regenerative buildings, schools, neighborhoods, and cities; thriving communities and economies; socially just places to live; and so much more.

Each lecture is hosted from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. at the Elsie H. Hillman Auditorium at Hill House’s Kaufmann Center. Networking, food, and drinks begin at 5:00 p.m. and the lectures begin promptly at 6:00 p.m.

Here’s a look at our past speakers that inspired us to create the Most Livable Places for All…

Charles Montgomery

Charles Montgomery is an author, community organizer, and social experimenter who blends urban design and psychology to explore how changes to city planning can improve the well-being of people in high-density living while decreasing the effects of human activity on the environment. Montgomery’s latest book, Happy City, takes a look at happy people around the work who transformed grim urban settings into cheerful spaces. Join us at this lecture and gain some insight into how our region can be happier, healthier, and more livable for everyone.


Chris Koch

Chris Koch is CEO of the Design Center, an organization dedicated to design, urban planning and public policy resulting in more livable, equitable and sustainable communities in the Pittsburgh region. Koch, who also co-founded the social enterprise GTECH Strategies in 2006, has provided expertise on urban blight reduction strategies and social entrepreneurship to organizations such as the Brookings Institute, Princeton University, and has been honored at the White House as an emerging leader in the field of social innovation.


Michael Slaby helped lead President Barack Obama through successful election campaigns in both 2008 and 2012 by leveraging the Internet and social media to reach, engage, and mobilize citizens in ways that had never been seen before. His talent for deepening engagement via technology to help solve the world’s greatest challenges can be seen through his work with the United Nations and U.S. State Department, and buzz-worthy campaigns such as F*ck Cancer, Bright Pink, I Am That Girl, Livestrong, Citizen Effect, and Jumo.


Debra LamAs chief innovation and performance officer for the City of Pittsburgh, Debra Lam oversees all technology, sustainability, performance, and innovation functions of city government. A Pittsburgh native who has lived and worked in New York, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the United Kingdom, Debra has returned to her hometown and is excited to help transform Pittsburgh into an innovative, world-class city.


As co-founder and CEO of GTECH StrategiesAndrew Butcher is recognized both locally and nationally as a leader in the field of social innovation. Since founding GTECH in 2007, he has presented at the Brookings Institute, National Vacant Properties Conference, and Conference on World Affairs, and has been honored at the White House.


Will Allen

A pro-basketball player turned farmer, Will Allen founded Growing Power in 1993 to teach Milwaukee city-dwellers about healthy food production while in turn providing what was then a neighborhood food desert with fresh produce. Today, Allen’s vision to teach and farm creatively has spread to numerous farms in and around Milwaukee, inspiring partners from diverse backgrounds to provide local communities with affordable food through closed-loop farming practices. Allen is an international leader in the Good Food Movement and his work has been featured on PBS, The Huffington Post, and more. He was also named one of Time Magazine’s Most Influential People in 2010.



Stephen Ritz’s infectious enthusiasm for good, healthy food makes him the perfect person to emcee this lecture. Ritz is an Inspire Speakers Series alum, and we’re delighted to welcome him back to Pittsburgh for this event. As an educator in the South Bronx, Stephen Ritz has led his students to grow healthy food in their own community (30,000 pounds of vegetables in fact) while creating jobs and increasing school attendance. Ritz’s work has been featured in Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, NPR, and more.


Jen Flanagan

Jennifer Flanagan  is a local champion for increased access to fresh and healthy foods. She co-founded Pittsburgh Community Kitchen, a nonprofit food service company with a fully- integrated culinary-based workforce development program for adults with barriers to employment. Through her work, Jennifer’s main focus is to serve at risk or low-income individuals, and to ensure that children and families have access to nutritious, freshly prepared food, regardless of their economic situation.



 Missed Will Allen, Stephen Ritz and Jennifer Flanagan? Check out the highlight video below.

Photo: Jeff Lipsky


Dr. Nichols (or “J”) is a lover of water.  His theory of “neuroconservation”  is the belief that environmental activism would be most effective if people could draw connections between two great forces: the ocean and the human mind.  His recent book, Blue Mind, shows that being in, near, or under water can make you happier, healthier, more connected, and better at what you do.  This research – which combines environmental activism with neuroscience – has made him a pioneer in the world of sustainability.


Schroeder bio photoLisa Millspaugh Schroeder is President and Chief Executive Officer of Riverlife: a non-profit organization with the mission to reclaim, restore, and promote Pittsburgh’s riverfronts.  Schroeder is a lifelong advocate and spokesperson for the power of sustainable waterfront development to transform cities.  She was awarded the AIA Gold Medal in 2012 and was recognized as an Outstanding Woman in Business by the Pittsburgh Business Times (2011).  While earning a Masters of Science from Columbia University, Schroeder received a William Kinne Fellows fellowship for her work teaching children about architecture and historic preservation.  Growing up in Baltimore, Lisa developed a deep love for cities and has worked throughout her career to improve the quality of life through urban planning, preservation, and environmental conservation.

Antwi Akom

Dr. Akom sees “shareable cities” as the cities of the future and wonders what our communities would look like if we designed for everyone in mind.  As associate professor of urban sociology at San Francisco State University and co-founder of the Institute for Sustainable Economic, Educational, and Environmental Design (I-SEEED), Dr. Akom seeks to connect environmental health with societal well-being, equal opportunity education with economic equity.  His work includes developing tools, ideas, and models that would change the way social services are delivered to low-income communities and people of color. 


Grant ErvinGrant Ervin is the Sustainability Manager for the City of Pittsburgh. He works to improve sustainability performance through city operations and policies. Grant has been working for the City of Pittsburgh since 2014. He is a member of the Urban Sustainability Directors Network (USDN) and a board member of Sustainable Pittsburgh. Prior to joining Mayor William Peduto’s team, Grant served as regional director for sustainable development advocates 10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania where he specialized in transportation, infrastructure and land use policy. Grant began his career in community development with the Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group were he led the organization’s public policy advocacy efforts related to vacant land reclamation, technology applications and neighborhood reinvestment.

Take a look at some of the speakers from the 2012-2014 lecture seasons

We’d like to thank our Inspire Speakers Series Co-Presenting Partners:


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Thanks also to our Inspire Speakers Series Media Partners:










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