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Social Entrepreneur

290 EpisodesProduced by Tony Loyd: Business executive and mentor to social entrepreneursWebsite

Social Entrepreneur exists at the intersection of profit and purpose. We tell positive stories from underrepresented voices, focused on solutions.


Social Entrepreneur Live, Part 4 with Caroline Karanja, 26 Letters

26 Letters helps organizations put data and action behind their equity initiatives.

A recruiter for a Fortune 500 company once told me, “Minnesota is one of the hardest places to recruit people to. It’s also one of the hardest places to recruit people from.” Once people experience Minnesota, it’s hard to leave. And no wonder. Nineteen Fortune 500 companies call Minnesota home. The startup scene is strong. The annual Twin Cities Startup Week attracts thousands of people.

Look at almost any ranking of states and cities, and you’ll find Minnesota near the top. The Trust for Public Land ranked Minneapolis first in large city park systems. And in second place, just across the river is St. Paul. Minneapolis was ranked by Redfin as the best city for cycling.

US News & World Report has created a cottage industry of ranking lists. They rank Minnesota second overall among the 50 states. Minnesota is #2 in quality of life, #3 in opportunity, #6 in infrastructure, and #7 in Healthcare. Minnesota ranks #13 in education. 58 of America's best high schools are in Minnesota.

And yet, women and people of color can have a much different experience in Minnesota. For example, the website 24/7 Wall Street produces an annual report on racial disparities. This year’s report ranked Minneapolis-St. Paul as the fourth worst metropolitan area for black people. According to the report:

While the 6.0% white poverty rate in Minneapolis is far lower than the comparable 10.6% national figure, the 32.0% black poverty rate is above the 26.2% national figure. Additionally, the typical black household in the area earns $31,653 a year, just 41.5% of the white median household income of $76,208. Disparity in homeownership is even more stark. The 24.6% black homeownership rate in the Twin Cities metro area is less than a third of the 75.8% white homeownership rate.

Closing the Equity Gap in Organizations

Most Minnesota business leaders I meet seem to be aware of this problem and want to do something about it. They realize the importance of creating an equitable, inclusive, engaging, and productive workplace. But that requires three things:

  1. Measurement of the current status of equity in the organization.
  2. A set of goals.
  3. A plan to get there.

That is where 26 Letters comes in. 26 Letters is a data insights and analytics startup that helps organizations recruit, retain, and grow top talent in today's workforce. They provide education and training with a data-driven approach.

26 Letters Co-Founder Caroline Karanja explains, “A lot of times, we have these great panels and discussions. What are we going to do to narrow the education gap? What are we going to do to retain more professionals of color and women? What we do is come in and help you figure out what that means for your organization. What we want to do is help organizations put data and action behind their equity initiatives.”

“When we look at what our cities are going to look like in the next two years, and then the next twenty years, we’re talking about more people of color, more immigrant communities. More and more of those folks are walking into our workforce and our classrooms.”

To help organizations understand their current state of equity, 26 Letters provides an assessment. This helps organizations to find the key areas for improvement. 26 Letters provides Software as a Service with consulting.

26 Letters is part of the inaugural cohort of Lunar Startups.

Social Entrepreneur Live!

This interview is one of four conducted on the evening of October 10, 2018. The event was called Social Entrepreneur Live! It was hosted by Acara, a program of the Institute on the Environment and the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. The event was part of the Twin Cities Startup Week. Special thanks to our guests, Acara, the University of Minnesota, and those who came out to see us live.

Social Entrepreneurship Quotes from Caroline Karanja:

“What we want to do is help organizations put data and action behind their equity initiatives.” @Caroline_Karanj @26LettersCo

“At an organization level, we’re able to help put together initiatives to address the systematic challenges.” @Caroline_Karanj @26LettersCo

“I have the weirdest journey.” @Caroline_Karanj @26LettersCo

“I ended up teaching myself to code to help destress.” @Caroline_Karanj @26LettersCo

“I’ve always been interested in technology.” @Caroline_Karanj @26LettersCo

“I wanted to work in the social justice space.” @Caroline_Karanj @26LettersCo

“I got my first consulting gig working around Girls in STEM.” @Caroline_Karanj @26LettersCo

“I started getting more coffee dates talking about employee inclusion, hiring, and diversity.” @Caroline_Karanj @26LettersCo

“I ran Geekettes for a while.” @Caroline_Karanj @26LettersCo

“I did Hack the Gap.” @Caroline_Karanj @26LettersCo

“I had one person who had a three-page job description in ten-point font.” @Caroline_Karanj @26LettersCo

“One side of the plan is to help folks expand their network.” @Caroline_Karanj @26LettersCo

“The data will always tell you where you’re at.” @Caroline_Karanj @26LettersCo

“Those numbers don’t say anything positive, but then that gives you the opportunity to address it.” @Caroline_Karanj @26LettersCo

“Technology makes things scalable.” @Caroline_Karanj @26LettersCo

“I put myself in opportunities where I found myself trying new things and learning new things.” @Caroline_Karanj @26LettersCo

“If you start something, then you’re running it, and you have to figure out how to run it.” @Caroline_Karanj @26LettersCo

“It is 100% bootstrapped.” @Caroline_Karanj @26LettersCo

Social Entrepreneurship Resources:


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