“Incremental Change Matters” with Kari Keefe, KC Social Innovation Center

In this episode Kari Keefe, Co-Founder and CEO of the KC Social Innovation Center, shares her background and inspiration for seeking out avenues, collaborators, investors and opportunities to create long-term impactful education changes in Kansas City.

Kari is rather unique in that she is not an educator by profession. Her formal education and experience relates to marketing and consulting for retail marketing. Over time she became bored helping others “with marketing widgets that didn’t have a lot of purpose or value.”

After becoming a mother she realized the deficiencies and non-existent availability of next generation schooling paths and diverse education opportunities within the urban environment. Despite living in an urban middle class neighborhood, the only opportunities for innovative education were in surrounding suburban communities. Kari was able to place her children in private schools but knew this was not an avenue available for all.

This prompted her to dive deeper and educate herself on next generation educational paths and try to understand why it wasn’t happening in her neighborhood. She dug in and for the first time became exposed to true magnitude of the educational deficiencies facing marginalized communities and underprivileged youth of the urban core of Kansas City.

She wanted to bring project-based learning and next-generation thinking into the urban core and tapped into her marketing skills. Being a natural “questioner”, she peered under a lot of rocks and knocked on a lot of doors in order to understand why there wasn’t a better solution for kids living in the main core of her city. While an easier solution would have been to move her family to Kansas, (as an option in the bi-State city) she and her husband ultimately decided to make other “lifestyle” choices in order to afford the quality education for her own kids. However, that answer just isn’t good enough. Many people can’t make that kind of choice.

She started solo and picked up people and experience along the way, including the Mozilla Foundation and, later, the LRNG initiative. Early on she experienced a paradigm shift to her approach and reframed the problem to present it with an economic narrative. The Mozilla Foundation has a key interest in keeping the web free and available to everyone. KCSIC became the managing organization for the launch of the BETA program, LRNG via Collective Shift (Chicago) which has special interest in deploying a digital tool that can connect learning experiences in the community.

LRNG KC was a way for the Social Innovation Center to centralize all of the good work that is being done by so many amazing organizations, libraries, museums and businesses that are creating programs to enhance learning experiences for young people. It has become a tool that provides broader access to programs for all youth, no matter where they live.

Most recently, the Social Innovation Center initiated a campaign around “Future Force” and human capital development, which directly aims to meet the demand for supply of good workers to support industry in the region.

This is a huge opportunity to incorporate and combine commercial and industry partners, corporate supporters, philanthropy community, investment community, the tech sector, healthcare, and advanced manufacturing and places where there are high demands for hiring.

She touches on the importance of connecting youth with opportunities to develop soft skills, especially adaptability and interpersonal skills. They are just as important to learn as hard skills such as Coding.

This is a great quote: “They hire because of an individuals hard skills and level of experience, and they fire them for their soft skills.” So, basically, Kari has found that all industries are hungry to hire young adults that are socially and emotionally sound. The ability to communicate and self-direct their day and their work plans is crucial to success in the workforce today.

It is imperative to create pragmatic high-touch experiences for youth. Project-based learning, internships, apprenticeships, and even hack-a thons create immersive experiences with exposure for kids. Climbing the ladder and making incremental change and feeling secure with each step, is one way you achieve long-term goals and long-term impact.

Incremental change matters!

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