Delve Talks is a podcast that digs into the challenges around design, product development, leadership and innovation. Our third season continues to explore how leaders help create a culture that supports innovation, especially with the stressors and new opportunities that businesses face during the pandemic.
Written by Stefanie Norvaisas, Vice President of Strategy & Digital
Dave Franchino and I had the opportunity to talk with Winnie Karanja, Founder and Executive Director of Maydm, a Madison-based organization which provides girls and youth of color in grades six to 12 skill- based training in the technology sector. We were interested in talking with her about the need for diversity in tech and how her organization is breaking down barriers.
Winnie shared some great insights on the social structures that hold far too many kids back and how concerned whites can play a role in moving the cause of racial justice forward. Below are a few highlights:
Don’t let others talk you out of doing the tough stuff that matters to you.
As a high school student, Winnie had a passion for both math and the social sciences. Her teachers pushed her into the “easier” path of social sciences rather than encourage her interest in STEM subjects. During her undergraduate years, she learned how to code as part of a job she had with an NGO and it ignited her passion for combining both interests into a career and later, a vocation to teach kids from under-represented communities how to code.
Be willing to take a hard look at what works and what doesn’t and adjust.
Maydm originally held classes for kids from third to 12thgrade and the younger kids loved what they called “STEM Club.” But Winnie realized that to make the impact on the technology industry that she was seeking and gain funding from businesses (who were looking for a hiring pipeline), she needed to focus on skills-based training for older kids.
Paint the picture
People can only picture what they’ve been exposed to, so help them see what’s possible.
There’s a need to create environments where children can see that STEM fields are for them, no matter their race or sex. They need people in the industry to show them how they work and the potential careers available. They need to see people like them succeeding in those fields. They need mentors and educators who encourage them to pursue the harder subjects and more ambitious careers.
Winnie said she’s asked why there aren’t more people of color in STEM fields and it’s a cultural and systemic problem. There’s a culture and norms around STEM that traditionally have been overwhelmingly white and male. It’s difficult to navigate for people outside that group. Changing the approach to teaching STEM classes and creating a more inclusive tech environment are part of what’s needed. Waiting to make those changes at the college-level is too late.
Start with yourself, listen, and then partner
When asked how white people can help support social justice, Winnie suggested that people continue to work on themselves, understand their biases, and to listen when interacting with communities of color rather than coming in with a preordained solution. From there, it’s about partnering with other organizations to pilot new ideas and help them do the work they’re already doing.
Dave Franchino: Welcome and hello, everybody, once again, this is Dave Franchino. And I’m joined by my co-host, Stefanie Norvaisas, Delve’s vice president of strategy and my business partner. As all of you know, my background is in engineering and Stef brings a background in the social sciences and cultural anthropology. So, we’re going to tag team this discussion today and hopefully approach this with questions from different perspectives.
And we are really excited and honored to welcome Winnie Karanja, the Founder and Executive Director of Maydmand that’s a Madison-based organization which provides girls and youth of color in grades six to 12 skill- based training in the technology sector. So, the goal is to give individuals the tools to engage and revolutionize the tech industries where traditionally women and people of color have been underrepresented. Winnie, you’ll tell us more about Maydm in a bit. She founded it in 2015 and she was its first teacher. And beyond that, she has a really fascinating background. A Master’s degree in developmental economics and international development from the London School of Economics and Political Science and a bachelor’s degree in childhood education. She’s been recognized as one of Forbes 30 under 30 and one of Wisconsin’s most influential black leaders.
So just as a reminder, the objective for this podcast is to explore how organizations can foster a culture of innovation. And as part of that, we’re having discussions with a wide range of people trying to glean insights into their experiences and what they have learned that might be applied to any field or make any corporate culture better. As an aside, in the midst of the pandemic, there are many challenges that are facing a lot of organizations that are trying to maintain a culture of creativity and so we’ll try to explore a little bit about that with Winnie as well.
So welcome, Winnie. It’s real pleasure to have you as part of the conversation. Maybe as a start for listeners, you’ve got such a fascinating background. I know I gave a really brief overview, but would you mind diving in a little bit deeper and sharing kind of a bit about your personal journey for our listeners?
Winnie Karanja: Most definitely. Well, thank you so much for having me on the podcast. I’m really excited to be able to have this conversation with you both and with all the listeners. Well, my family moved to the United States when I was eight years old in 1999, and we moved straight to Madison, Wisconsin, and we moved in the summertime. That was great. Like we weren’t immersed into the wintery life yet. And my family lived in Madison for a number of years and moved out a little bit into Dane County. And just from that experience we moved from a neighborhood that was very diverse to a dominantly white neighborhood. And while I was in high school in McFarland, Wisconsin, I had the opportunity to take a trip to England and France. So, I actually self-fundraised to go to England and France. And I just have a deep appreciation of culture and history and architecture. And I decided from that experience that I wanted to go to do my higher education in the United Kingdom. I didn’t even know that that was a thing, that I decided to do that. And throughout my sort of high school experience, I’d been, you know, passionate about social sciences. But I really was great at math. But I continued to have these experiences where teachers and educators would push me strongly towards the social sciences. And so, when I went to my undergrad degree, I studied education and then focused on international politics with that focus on emerging economies, primarily sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia. And during that time, you know, I started to learn how to code and worked for an international NGO, Save the Children UK, doing some stuff around data and data architecture for them, for their programs in South Wales. Because I did my undergrad in Wales, UK. And then, from there I just got really … it made that connection for me between my passions and technology. And so, I ended up doing a lot of work in the social entrepreneurship space and in the social space around collecting data and international development work and humanitarian crisis response work.
And so after that, I came back to Madison. I deferred my offer to graduate school at the London School of Economics. I worked here, in Madison in Workforce Development for a year. And then I returned to LSC, studied development economics and then it was just really during that time where there was a lot of conversation in the UK Department of Education and the US Department of Education really talking about the importance of STEM. And so I knew, especially from the field that I was studying, that for countries not to have to play another round of catch-up it’s so important that like STEM education and rigorous sort of critical thinking, logical thinking skills are really embedded into the education system.
And after my graduate degree, I again moved back to Madison. So, I have this pattern of returning back to Madison. And so, after I returned back to Madison, I was in a conversation with a former elementary school principal at Fulton Elementary. And in that conversation, we were talking about the importance of STEM in Nigeria and Kenya. And she mentioned to me in passing that she reached out to a national nonprofit to teach her students how to code and she had never heard back. I was just, I mean, I was astonished by that answer. I was heartbroken. I was perplexed. You know, my question was, what do you mean you didn’t hear back? I don’t understand this. And so, I immediately said, “Well, I can teach your students how to code.” And then I say, “OK, let me take a couple steps back. Let me see if there’s an organization locally that’s doing this work.” And when I started looking, the only sort of most comparative-like program that I could connect students with would not address the barriers that the students that she was working with — primarily students of color, low-Income students — would be sort of encountering and facing entering into the STEM field. And so, that’s really how I started working with her, putting together some small workshops here and there. And that’s where, you know, Maydm came to be.
Dave Franchino: Fantastic. So, tell us a little bit more about kind of the vision, values behind Maydm. I know that we understand kind of the genesis behind it. And you’ve been at that for now — a little more than five years. — is that right?
Winnie Karanja: Yes. So, I started Maydm back in 2015, and we’re just hitting our fifth year this November, which is wild that it’s been five years now. And sort of the vision of Maydm is really to equip and engage girls and students of color with opportunities in the technology field. You know, our values focus on inclusivity. They focus on making sure that we’re checking our privilege, really respect and thus very much honoring the brilliance that lies in our community. Those are the things in which Maydm is very much rooted within.
Dave Franchino: So one thing I think that I am really curious about is the process of kind of evolving Maydm. I suspect many of our listeners who might be entrepreneurial are going to be able to relate to sort of your initial vision. I’m kind of curious what parts of the initial vision do you look back and say, “Boy, I really knew right on where we were going to end up” and what parts have kind of pivoted and evolved as you’ve progressed through the journey?
Winnie Karanja: Yes. So, I would say, well, so the name Maydm, I should explain that a little bit. So Maydm is a play on sound around the phrase “made by them.” So, for me, I really wanted to see more technology that was built by women, by people of color. And so, that’s where the name of the organization comes from. And so, when I started the organization five years ago, we were actually working with rising third through 12th grade students. So quite a big age span. And it was during that time, I would say, we noticed that all of our young kids, you know, in that third to fifth graders, I mean, they were just soaking up the information. And we worked with a lot of middle schoolers and sort of three years in I started to realize that, you know, for me to be able to better communicate the work that we’re doing to make an impact sooner than later in terms of having students, you know, get access to jobs that are living wage jobs, I really needed to switch and pivot that mission to really focusing on skills training towards career and or college. And so, two years ago, we switched that mission to be rising sixth to 12th-grade students.
Dave Franchino: Interesting. How hard was it to come to that recognition and to make that pivot? Was it self-evident that period of time or did it take some soul searching?
Winnie Karanja: It definitely took some soul searching. I would say there was. I mean, it was hard for me to let go of the students that we’d been working with in that third to fifth just because they were so excited.
So we worked with, it was probably about 70 percent girls, girls of color. And they would just soak in the activities that we’re doing. They were so excited to come to what we called, because we did it after school, and the girls would call it STEM Club. And so, they were very excited to come to the STEM Club and program their robots and just see, again, that same cohort of students sign up for a program the next summer. But what I actually found, which was a little bit unfortunate, is that it was hard to get funding for that program because employers were really looking to be able to fund programs that are closer to their talent pipeline and closer to folks who can be working in their corporation. So, it was more of a like a business decision, I would say, rather than a desire to sort of kind of pivot from that group of students.
Dave Franchino: I think that’s really fascinating. You touched on something that I’m really interested in hearing more about, which is I’m going to ask the question in this way, how do students become involved? Because I’m thinking about this pipeline, if you will, that you just mentioned. About understanding who leans this way, who has natural interest in these kinds of topics, and then nurturing that interest. So how do kids find their way to Maydm?
Winnie Karanja: So, we work with a lot of schools, getting them information about our programs. We work with a lot of community centers and we’re really trying to like get on the ground and meet families where they’re at. So really connecting with counselors, minority student coordinators at the school district, working with the libraries to just provide information to the families. That’s something that’s just core to what we do.
Stefanie Norvaisas: Yeah. I remember an experience I had where I was walking through an after- school club and there was a young boy who was doodling like these amazing drawings. And I asked him, “Did you know you could do that for a living?” And it was like I blew his mind like, no one had even mentioned that to him before. So, I think it must be interesting to try to get kids who don’t even know what tech is.
Winnie Karanja: Yeah, and I would say so many of the students that we work with, I mean, have never programmed before, right? Like they write their first lines of code with us. And it’s that wonderful moment where they’re like, “Oh my word, Miss Winnie, it worked.” You know, and you’ve been doing a lot of stuff with Microsoft’s Microbit. And so, we actually had a session two days ago at a little community center. And when the students got their Microbits to blink, they were like, “Oh, my word, I actually did it. Like this isn’t that hard!”
And it’s those kinds of experiences where, you know, you don’t know what you don’t know. But again, to connect this and to make it accessible, right? To make STEM accessible is something that’s so important. And then to also show like it’s a lot of just like addressing problems in a different way. Right? Like, we’re just really, like, amazing problem solvers, right? And so, it’s a lot of just reframing the conversation around STEM and who’s in STEM that, you know, we prioritize ourselves in doing in Maydm programs.
Stefanie Norvaisas: And how much are you finding you need to educate the people who are funding you, those corporate partners, on what it is you’re trying to do, why it’s important?
Winnie Karanja: Yeah, I would say it depends on the corporate partner. I think there’s some that have a stronger tech focus. And so, they understand the need to build a diverse talent pipeline and they need to start at a younger age group. I think there are others who need more of that support and need to better understand the ways in which jobs in the STEM sector actually kind of help level the playing field for so many. And so, it’s a bit of that balance. But also, there’s a lot of education around to surround everything that’s happening in the community, you know, what students are facing, the importance of programs like Maydm, because a lot of the students that we work with, like I mentioned, have never written a line of code. Most students don’t get that experience until they get into high school.
And there’s a huge drop off, first of all, of like girls in math and science going into middle school. And so, by the time you get to high school, you’ve already lost a good portion of students. Students have already like, you know, just kind of talked themselves out of this area. And so, we really have to talk to corporations about, like, this is why you want to start investing early. This is why you want to start, you know, helping students have these positive experiences in STEM. Because what I say is, you know, if a student learns how to code as they build their website, that’s an experience that like no one can take from them.
It’s like “I built this.” That does not change. I built this product. Right? I built this tool. And so we really want to make sure that students are having those kinds of experiences and then sharing with corporations, with donors the power of that kind of experience in terms of setting students up for opportunities that are honestly outside of certain zip codes and that they’re opportunities that really are changing the trajectory of families and generations.
Dave Franchino: That’s really inspiring. What do you think are some of Maydm’s biggest successes or greatest successes and then what big challenges or opportunities remain?
Winnie Karanja: I would say, like one of our biggest successes have been our growth. We have grown as an organization quite significantly in the past five years. Our budget has changed each year, you know, we were talking about that. But it’s also been the number of students who we’ve been able to reach. I think, at this point, we’ve worked with probably close to 1,400 students. And it was always my goal in the fifth year that we would launch a program in Milwaukee. And it always happens that within the goals that I have for Maydm, they tend to like to happen in an accelerated manner. So, that actually happened three years ago when we launched our first program in Milwaukee. And so, we’ve done programing there for the past two years. We didn’t do anything this year because of COVID, but I would say just those have been some pretty big successes. We have an amazing board.
And so being able to just get some great people at the table, some of the amazing sponsors that we have, and I would say the successes have really been at this point, having students who worked with us, you know, back in 2016 to now see them in college and pursuing computer science. One of the first-ever high school students we worked with in 2016, it’s this very it’s just this fun story. It’s a back in 2016 for Forward Fest, Maydm held hackathon called Code Madison Forward. So, it was high schoolers and teams of three. And they built a website with support of a developer and the community voted on their sort of top website. And so, you know, back then it was I was only person working at Maydm. I had an intern and so, you know, boots on the ground. So here I was at the Fitchburg public library, just putting up fliers, and these three sisters walk in and I just, you know, give them a flier. And then, you know, a couple days later, they sign up the event. They had never coded before, and they actually won first place. And so, and actually the team as well that won third place was a brother and sister. And a few weeks ago, Scarlet, who was the oldest sister in that group, she reached out and she said, “Winnie, I just wanted to let you know … I don’t know if you remember me … I wanted to let you know that my experiences at Maydm set me on the course toward STEM and computer science. It took me a long time to, you know, believe that I could do it. But I wanted to let you know that I’m at Williams College and I’m pursuing a bachelor’s in computer science. I’m a prospective computer science major there.” And so just to see, like, you know, her story, right? And just the power of that and the power of that interaction that we had.
And then, you know, even some of our other students, one of my youngest students who started with us in third grade, she did two programs with us. And after she did two programs with us — she’s Latina — her brother because she was always talking about the website that she built, her brother then signed up for our program. He did two programs with us. And now her older sister, who is in high school, is doing a program with us this summer. So, this summer, we have like all three. And so, just seeing again how the ripple effect of our programs, and what are now families enrolling and students just continue to be like, you know … I think for me the biggest success is students saying, “I can’t wait for the next Maydm program.” And that just like fills my heart. And so, to see that, to see students really identified that this is a place where I belong, and this is a field in which I will thrive. I’d say it’s some of our biggest successes in terms of opportunities, because I know you asked me about that day. I would say, like, we’ve barely started scratching the surface.
Like there was so much that we can do in order to, like, create environments where students can start to see that the STEM field is for them. You know, for us at Maydm something that I continue, something that I fight towards is really painting the picture. That brilliance and success and pursuit of the field of STEM is not relegated to one racial group. And I think we have so much work to do as a community, as a society, as a corporate world, as folks who are leaders in the STEM field to say the same thing right into practice, the same thing, and to echo this, and to invest in this and we are going to have such a high return, right?
There is an insurmountable amount of brilliance in our community just right here in Madison, in Dane County. And we don’t do a great job of pointing and directing kids towards a field in which, like there is such strong job stability. And so, I think, again, there’s so much opportunity. There are opportunities to get students into paid internships. There are opportunities to really build that talent pipeline. There are opportunities to make room for what is innovation that we haven’t even thought about.
Dave Franchino: All of that is just really thought provoking and inspiring. It reminds me, I just want to share briefly, some time ago a woman stopped me in the street and shared with me, a neighbor, and said that her daughter had just graduated from Purdue and she’s said that she traced her love of engineering back to a presentation I gave to her in elementary school when she was like eight years old. And that was really impactful because for me it was, you know, an hour I spent, you know, talking about what I did and why I did it. But then I remembered how when we’re very young, how impressionable we are and how easy it is to, you know, make impressions at that point of time, how impactful that can be. So, you deserve to be very proud of those successes. Along those lines, what is something that STEM professionals don’t understand or don’t appreciate about the challenges that underserved populations face when trying to get into the technology or the STEM fields? What’s something that we just don’t understand?
Winnie Karanja: Yeah. I think one of the big things is just how hard it is for people of color to get into the field, right? That there is sort of this culture around STEM. There are just these norms, these behaviors that already exist, and people of color if you’re not part of that, you have to navigate that environment. And that’s a difficult thing to do. What I tend to run into is the fact that folks who they’re wondering like, “Well, why aren’t there so many people of color? Why aren’t there blacks and Latinos in the tech field?” Like, you know, and that the problem is on those communities of color rather than the structures of systems, the ways in which we’ve always taught STEM, and the kinds of environment that has been laid out. And I would say those are things that are important to consider and that problem doesn’t start in college, it starts a lot earlier.
Dave Franchino: So let me ask you about that. I guess, in one aspect, could you say that Maydm’s success actually represents some bit of a failure in the traditional educational system or maybe better phrased how of the traditional education systems failed in promoting STEM for underserved groups? And how could they improve?
Winnie Karanja: Yeah, so I would say Maydm is a response to the lack of STEM education in, and I’d say specifically, you know, technology education in the traditional schooling system in terms of ways in which traditional school can improve. I mean, the thing is that there’s so much happening within the traditional schooling environment that I think personally we need to rethink school. So, not in the way that schooling and education sort of happens, but within that context, there’s been so many times where and even myself, you know, I was pushed away from the hard sciences. I struggled in chemistry and I got very little support and so that meant that I couldn’t go on and take physics. And the reason I’m actually not an engineer today is because of that, right? But so many students will come up to me and it will be like. “Miss Winnie, I tried to sign up for AP calculus and my counselor told me that, you know, she asked me ‘Are you sure you want to take that?'” You have, you know, educators who don’t necessarily believe in the brilliance of students. And so, they’re going to push them towards things that they believe, “Oh, you can do this, and this is easier.” And that’s a problem. Like not being able to challenge students to grow and develop to their best and also not being there to support them.
And to understand that students have different learning styles and also to even share examples of people of color and pioneers in the STEM field who look like them and who reflect them. Like in our programs and Maydm especially, we just finished one of our programs and, you know, the students, the girls are building, they built a website around a woman in STEM who inspires them. And so, they had to research that. And as they were doing their presentations, because all of our summer programs this year are virtual so, you know, the students are on Zoom and, you know, they were presenting on like Katherine Johnson and, you know, talking about the things that she’s been able to, you know, that she accomplished. By talking about Mae Jemison. And so, I think we relegate sort of like pioneers, people of color to like Black History Month or, you know, Hispanic Heritage Month. And we need to really integrate that. We need to show that this is a field in which you belong, in which you thrive. We need to support students in math and in science and in reading and connect them to these fields.
I think in addition to that, you know, tech is continuously changing and it’s hard to keep up with that. And within that scope, educators might not necessarily know these are the jobs that are in the tech fields. And you can, you know, just like you’re saying, Stefanie, right? Stopping and talking to that young student saying, like, “Did you know that this is a job you could have?” I think part of it is that there isn’t necessarily that expertise. And so, you do need programs that have that very laser-eyed focus to support students. And you also need educators and counselors who are going to do the work themselves and really kind of like tackle their own, you know, their own sort of prejudice and stereotypes, all of those things, all those biases, and be able to better support students.
Dave Franchino: So when you provocatively implied a second ago that, you know, there’s ways that you think education fundamentally needs to change. And having spent not just your career, but your education studying the educational system, I’m not going to let you off that easily. If you were king of the world, how would you fundamentally reengineer, if I can use that phrase, redesign, our educational system to better address this issue?
Winnie Karanja: Dave, you did not let me off with that one. And I would say if I was queen of the world, I would make smaller class sizes. I would make it experiential. I would have a strong focus on being student-led in certain ways. I think Finland has done a really great job in that. Students don’t start kind of in school until they’re seven years old and they have some of the, you know, sort of best outcomes in terms of education. And so, I think there are things like that that we can do. I would say wraparound support systems, right? The initiatives right now that schools are doing around becoming community schools and really involving parents in that and helping support, you know, families with, you know, food, and just different sorts of assistance. Those are critical because if you go home and let’s say you’re in an unstable housing situation or just different things like that, it’s hard to learn. And so, I would say these very curated experiences in which educators know the families, know the challenges. It means that they’re better able to support the students and they’re better able to support the families. So, that’s what I would say. I mean, it would be a huge undertaking, but …
Dave Franchino: Yeah, but a really prescriptive list, I think, and some very actionable things, which I think is really valuable for all of us to hear, you know, that that there are perhaps better ways to systemically look at things that we accept as being given and to say, you know, there’s different ways to reinvent that. And I think that’s some of things Maydm can do. That was a very philosophical question. Let me pull you out of the clouds then and back down to earth. And the reality is that the pandemic has presented lots of challenges for everybody. Educational programs are right in the cusp of that. I know you’ve had to move your offerings online and kind of react to that. What challenges has that presented? How have you responded to the challenges of pursuing your mission and your vision in the midst of this terrible pandemic?
Winnie Karanja: Yes, I would say so much has happened the past couple months for us in terms of supporting our students and families. So, one of the big things when the pandemic hit and we were in March, right before the Safer at Home order here in Madison, is we had planned to do a spring break program in person and we quickly realized that was not going to happen. And so, we actually immediately canceled it. And then we just took a step back and said, “Well, let’s see if students are interested in still doing this in a virtual environment.” And they said yes. And so, in about two weeks, we took what is an all-day, Monday through Friday, spring break course and placed it virtually. And, you know, that was really, really successful. We learned a couple of things from that program. One of the things I would say that I’m very proud of my team has just been the ways in which we have been focused and intentional to build community among students in that virtual platform, because a couple of the students knew each other but most of them didn’t. And so really just helping them build relationships and bond and come into community right away was something that was very important.
Getting ready for our summer programs, again, we knew that we couldn’t not provide programing because we know that there’s already an achievement gap and that, you know, COVID 19 is going to widen the achievement gap. And honestly, like students are the collateral damage of, you know, of this pandemic. Not being able to have access to the resources, the support, et cetera. And so, for eight weeks, we put out virtual activities for families and for students to do. And we had a great turnout. I think we’ve had over 400 students engaged in those activities that we released out online. And they were free.
And coming into summer programs, which is our biggest time of programing, you know, we knew that everybody was running into Zoom fatigue. We knew that students, you know, all of this is impacting them in so many different ways. And so, we wanted to create an environment where they weren’t just on the computer learning, but that they had activities to do that were sort of unplugged, really building upon and cementing some of the fundamentals that they were learning.
And so, what we decided to do there was just get some resources together, package up kits for the families to pick up safely before the program alongside laptops. We actually issued out a good number of our laptops right at the beginning of a pandemic. So, students who worked with us actually end up having laptops before the school district got them out. And then, every one of our summer students has a laptop that we issued out. And so, being able to support the students in that way was something that was very important to us. The challenge was honestly taking a program that’s, you know, a combination of technical skills, mentorship, and exposure., right, like these site visits that we do in-person to companies, we’re now really thinking about how do we get students exposure to different companies while they’re not there in person because we can’t go in. How do we do that in a virtual platform? How do we also do mentorship? Well, in a virtual platform. And so those are things that we’ve kind of been doing, you know, breakout rooms or to mentor students. We’ve reached out to companies who have done virtual site visits and having folks come and speak and interact with students.
And so, again, I think there is a number of challenges. One that we sort of offered resources to and I would love to be able to do more is around 70 percent of our students who were in our summer program received free or reduced lunch. And so, we wanted to figure out. And then during our summer program, students with us all day for three weeks, five weeks or eight weeks. And so, we provide them with the food, as well. And so, those are things that we really had to think through.
And we also did things to the fact that, like everybody’s home environment, again, is so different. And so, you know, you have some families where there’s multiple kids and you’re all in a smaller space. And so, again, just really creating an environment where learning can happen and having extended grace for like our students and our families around a number of those things. And that’s meant that, like, you know, sometimes we’re on calls where, you know, programing in the class and there is little sibling like sitting with other sibling. And it is what it is. And, you know, sometimes there’s you can hear people in the background and, you know, but like, those aren’t things that are deterring students, right? Students are going up and they’re saying, “OK, I’ll be there at 1:00 right after lunch,” because we do morning sessions and afternoon sessions. And so, just to see that determination of students to continue to do the program has been something that’s exciting. But it’s been a big challenge.
Dave Franchino: That’s great work. And, you know, none of us planned on any of this, but it’s tested all of us as leaders. And those of you in the field of education, probably even more so. So, my admiration, respect not only for keeping the mission going, but keeping it going during these very uncertain times. Winnie, as you know, this is a podcast that’s focused on creating a culture of innovation. And how do you articulate why creating increased opportunities for girls and children of color is so critical to innovation?
Winnie Karanja: Yeah, well, in 2018, there’s a report that came out, a study by the Quality of Opportunity Project that showed that children at the top of their third grade math class are more likely to become innovators and inventors, but only if they come from high-income families, because these are the students who have the necessary exposure to inventors and inventions. And what the article put together essentially in the data that they collected, because they looked at a significant amount of years of U.S. patents that were filed. And essentially it came to the conclusion that becoming an inventor in the U.S. Is reliant on two things — being excellent in math and science and coming from a wealthy family. And what it showed was that if women and people of color and children from low-income families invented at the same rate as high-income white men, the innovation rate in America would quadruple. And this article, I love the way it’s called “The Lost Einsteins.”
It is absolutely breathtaking. And I think about, you know, the types of innovations we’re missing out on, right? The types of problems we just were not able to solve because students just don’t have that exposure to inventors and inventions. And that, to me, is why, again, why program like Maydm, you know, matters. But also just like from an economical perspective, like there’s just there’s so much that we collectively lose out when people of color, when folks are low income, don’t have access and don’t have access in this regard to inventors and to innovations. And so that’s why I think it’s so important.
Dave Franchino: Excellent. That’s a great way to phrase it and a really compelling study. Winnie, for our country the last couple of months have been hard. Aside from the pandemic, we’ve seen some pretty deep pain and anguish on the areas of social justice. At the same time, I suspect that’s contributed to some increased awareness. And I’m just curious what keeps you up at night and what makes you feel optimistic?
Winnie Karanja: So, what keeps me up at night is, I guess, I continued to reflect and I wonder is when these conversations no longer remain the front of headlines will they still be relevant to the minds of decision makers? That what definitely keeps me up at night. And one of the things that does make me optimistic about this time is that people are having conversations and people are taking time to learn. They’re taking time to ask questions and to reflect. And my hope is that that’s, you know, in certain ways, I think that’s driving towards change. And we’ve seen a number of things change, you know, within the police and, you know, police officers and schooling, things like that. And so, I’m optimistic that there’s that there is a little bit of change, but I’m cautiously optimistic, right? So, yeah.
Dave Franchino: I’m positive that there are people listening to this podcast that are inspired and like-minded individuals who are looking to make a difference in opportunities for underserved communities but don’t know where to start. What advice would you have for people as an entrepreneur in this area, as somebody who’s been successful and made a difference? What advice would you have for other like- minded individuals who really want to make a difference in opportunities for underserved individuals?
Winnie Karanja: Yeah, I would say for folks who want to make a difference. So, are we talking about white people who want to make a difference or people of color who want to make a difference?
Dave Franchino: Am I allowed to say both, please?
Winnie Karanja : OK. Yes. You can say both. And so, I think one of the biggest things for me, when I started Maydm, I wasn’t looking to start anything. It was because there was a gap and there wasn’t anything like where I can even try and say, “Let’s pilot this under your arm.” Right? And I would say at this time, I’m not sure we need to create new organizations, new entities. I always tell individuals like, “Who is working with that same group of people and then how do you come, and you partner alongside them?” How do you come? And you support them with your time, your finances, your expertise, and your resources? So that’s what I would say. I would say the other thing is I would encourage people to read and to learn and to hold others accountable. There’s so much that you can learn around why things are the way that they are in your community. And historically, what has led to that? You can also learn, just like nationally, why things are the way that they are. And so, I would say one thing I really want people to do is to like to do the self-learning, right? To work on themselves. To realize that this is a long, hard work. And then when they show up in communities of color to come in as a listener and to say, “OK, so this is what you need. How do I come alongside you rather than this is a solution that I’m here to bring and impose,” right? But what are the things that you’re seeing you need?
And then how do I help make that a reality? The folks who are coming and helping amplify the voices of black leaders, helping amplify the voices and the work that’s being done by people of color at grassroots, at a national level. That is such for me … I wouldn’t underestimate that. So those are the things that I would say. But really, just a lot of partnerships, to be honest. Again, I’d like to reiterate, there is not anything that’s really new under the sun, right? So, come alongside, folks. Partner with them. Help them continue to do the work that they’re doing. Whatever that looks like. And even pilot the new initiatives with their sort of groups and the communities.
Dave Franchino: That’s fantastic. Stefanie, last questions for Winnie?
Stefanie Norvaisas: Every question that I had cued up you answered or Winnie answered, I was really curious about, you know, there’s just so many people out there who have been had their awareness raised to some degree and who want to do something and don’t know how or what. And I think just knowing that Maydm exists and partnering with groups that already exist in our local communities is great advice. And being a listener, somebody in another podcast said we need to learn how to be listeners with the intention of learning. Yeah, rather than listening with the intention of responding. So, I agree, yeah, I really appreciate the advice. Thank you.
Dave Franchino: Along those lines for our listeners, there’ll be information below this podcast on how to support and get involved in Maydm. And Winnie, it’s been a real pleasure and honor. Once again, our guest today was Winnie Karanja, Founder and Executive Director of Maydm, a Madison-based organization that provides girls and youth of color in grades six through twelve with skill-based training in the technology-centric sector. And the goal is to give those people tools to engage and revolutionize the tech industry where women and people of color have traditionally been underrepresented. Winnie, thank you so very much for your time. You should be very proud of your success and the areas in which you’re focusing and l Iook forward to continued collaboration with you in the future.
Winnie Karanja: Thank you so much, Dave and Stefanie. This has been wonderful to be on the podcast and really enjoying working with you guys and your team.
Original post at: https://www.delve.com/insights/delve-talks-winnie-karanja-maydm