Shari Davis is a TED speaker, a participatory budgeting facilitator, and as she defines it, a recovering local government employee. She joined the Participatory Budgeting Project (PBP) after nearly 15 years of service and leadership in local government. As director of youth engagement and employment for the City of Boston, she launched Youth Lead the Change, the first youth participatory budgeting process in the US, which won the US Conference of Mayor's City Livability Award.


We spoke at the end of February, and I was very excited to talk to Shari because of her work on participatory budgeting, which seems to be one of the most promising new ways for everyday citizens, from all walks of life, to supervise and have a say in how public funds are being spent. Participatory budgeting has the potential for having an enormous impact on corruption, on efficient use of funds, on creating better, more efficient and more impactful programs, and also a huge effect on how people feel about their government. And all of this is already happening around the world, so I was very excited to hear about this from someone who's really leading this movement.


It was really fun to chat with Shari. She clearly has a lot of practice at connecting with, and including many different kinds of people. And so she puts you right at ease and she uses humor effectively. But it was the topic of the conversation that was really amazing to hear about.


( * Please note: this episode was originally recorded under they/she pronouns. )



In this conversation we talk about:

  • How her early involvement in martial arts as a kid really shaped her attitudes towards practice, responsibility, and community.
  • How she initially got involved in the city government in Boston, eventually leading the youth department and bringing together resources and services for the youth of the city into one place.
  • How she was asked to lead Youth Lead the Change.
  • How the city earmarked $1M to be spent however the youth decided it should be spent, using the power of participation to make better decisions, and how that whole process unfolded.
  • The US democracy's fatal flaw and how a lot of decisions happen in non-transparent, closed-door ways, ways that deepen inequality and division.
  • How to run and lead a successful inclusive participatory budgeting project, whether you're a local government, a school, a non-profit or a national government, and why that makes such a huge difference.


What stayed with me is this idea that by bringing people together and putting them in the right kind of process, and then paying attention and designing the process itself, how much better decisions are. Talking to Shari was really energizing and hopeful, and this is one of our goals with every conversation we bring you including several conversations we already have lined up for you with thinkers, designers, makers, authors, entrepreneurs, and activists who are working to change our world for the better. So if you're interested in these types of hopeful conversations, follow this podcast on your favorite podcast app, or head over to to subscribe. 


And now let's jump right in with Shari Davis.




[4:48] Life During Covid

[9:26] Early Childhood Guiding Forces

[16:22] A Journey From Martial Arts to Government

[22:29] Democracy's Fatal Flaw

[26:51] Youth Lead the Change

[34:56] Participatory Budgeting Project

[43:04] Inclusive Design

[45:16] Traveling Into the Future

[49:54] Where Hope Lives

[53:02] A Short Sermon on Change