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Text reading "Omar Shanti" with a headshot

Meet Omar Shanti, an award-winning innovator

  • 30 September 2021
  • Inside Kin + Carta

Our name is intentional. “Kin” refers to family and “Carta” refers to maps. When together, we’re Kin + Carta — a group of connected makers, builders and creators, who come together everyday to help our clients build experiences and plot a clear path forward in today’s digital world. Carta is what we do, Kin is who we are.

Kin+ is a series that uncovers the experiences, stories and lives of the people who make our collective “Kin” exceptional.

Building a world that works better for everyone is not an easy task — it takes creatives, strategists, engineers, builders, makers, doers. Simply put, it takes innovators.

That’s why we were so proud to have seen Kin + Carta land as #23 on Fast Company’s “Best Workplace for Innovators” list, placing first in the category of consulting.

In the same week, Omar Shanti, Senior Technical Consultant and Labs Lead, was titled a “Tech Innovator” by Built In. A Tech Innovator is defined as someone who is at the forefront of the technology industry, someone who breaks barriers and transforms ideas into value. 

A little about Omar:

Omar is an accomplished thought leader and an institution-builder with specializations in Blockchain, full-stack engineering and data science. He is a true cross-functional consultant who is as comfortable elbows deep in the code as he is leading an innovation team or presenting to Fortune 500 executives.

We can’t wait for you to meet Omar, Kin + Carta’s Tech Innovator, and to learn more about his ability to hack culture, influence clients, and multiply impact through the relationships he builds.

Text reading "Omar Shanti" with a headshot

Defining innovation

It is a myth that innovation is a purely technological process.

By its own definition, the term innovation encompasses both a direction and a drive. The direction must be set by a novel and progressive vision, while the drive is the engine that actualizes this ambition. In this equation, creativity and inspiration play as crucial a role as analytical rigor and technical mastery. Without either, innovation simply cannot occur. 

This inclusive definition of innovation has been a guiding light throughout my career because, simply put, it means that anyone can innovate - whether they’re a new hire fresh out of college or a seasoned employee who believes things can be made better. 

It has been my commitment to this definition of innovation that has emboldened me not just to identify and mobilize around problems or curiosities, but also to help build an institution that democratizes this process altogether: Labs. At Kin + Carta, our innovation is united around one shared vision - to build a world that works better for everyone.

The Kinnect Challenge

Kin + Carta, like all companies, was rocked when the pandemic hit. So much of our nature as a consultancy had to be transformed to fit into the new socially-distant way of interacting. The way we worked, maintained our culture, and connected with each other had to evolve, and that had to happen fast.

To tackle this opportunity, I led the Labs team in launching the Kinnect Challenge: a prolonged hackathon revolving around forming meaningful connections in a remote world. 

Our goal was to leverage the technologies that we use to drive business value for our clients and turn them inwards to drive cultural value within our firm. This was actually something that Henry Oyuela, our VP of Connective Services, posed as a challenge for me and my new hire cohort on our first day at Kin + Carta. It's stuck with me ever since!

To bring this vision to life, we had to democratize innovation, empowering all Kin to partake. We planned a roadmap, spun up an intake process for ideas, and designed an incubation playbook specifically around removing any barriers to innovation.

As ideas flowed in, we worked tirelessly to socialize them on all outlets, attracting innovators across functions, levels, and office locations to form robust teams. As a team, we made sure to recognize all those who had joined whenever we made announcements, with the intent to encourage others to participate. To ensure participation and celebration was inclusive across our locations, I regularly presented multiple times per week, in both English and Spanish, to audiences of hundreds of Kin.

Over the Hackathon’s five month duration, I and the Labs team operated as incubators - helping ideators structure their ideas, attract and form cross-functional teams with like-minded innovators, and design roadmaps to releases.

At the Hackathon’s end, we celebrated the fantastic work made by three projects that drastically reimagined, if not reshaped, the way employees at Kin + Carta interact with each other:

  • "Fancy Mtg U Here" frictionlessly enables random, short, unscheduled encounters.
  • "Office World" is like Animal Crossing, but for Kin. It allows Kin to interact with one another in real-time within a shared, virtual world, which is modelled to the pixel after our Chicago office. 
  • "The Kinnect App" combines the swipe-interface of modern dating apps, endearing Buzzfeed quizzes, and state of the art ML with the goal of creating real friendships in the workplace.

Charting my path with innovation

My journey with innovation at Kin + Carta far precedes the Kinnect Challenge. In fact, innovation, itself, has been the central theme of my story here.

Picture of Omar walking at his college graduation
Omar at his college graduation from Northwestern University

I joined the company fresh out of Northwestern University, where I completed a dual-degree program, earning an Engineering degree in Computer Science and an Arts degree in Economics. The thought was to pair the quantitative, objective side of Engineering with the qualitative, normative aspects of Liberal Arts. In the context of innovation, the former would give the drive; the latter would give the direction.

Entering the company, I knew I wanted to focus on innovation. With early mentorship from Chris Weiland and Henry Oyuela, I was able to do just that. 

Two months after joining, I pitched and formed a team around the idea of KinCoin: a Blockchain-based peer-to-peer recognition platform. Despite being a fresh graduate, I led the team as architect and tech lead through a successful release, courtesy of servant leadership and the mentorship of others. The app has since captured 30,000 moments of recognition between 11,000 unique pairs of Kin.

After KinCoin's release, I led the development of FWDCoin before partnering with Chris Weiland to reinvent & relaunch Labs as a grass-roots, year-round innovation incubator. I have served as the Labs lead ever since.

Four employees sitting on a panel, with one employee (Omar) speaking into a microphone
Omar on a panel with Kin, presenting KinCoin at an after-hours meet up in our Chicago office

Innovating beyond tech

In line with my definition of innovation, I continue to dedicate myself to cultivating a vision through studying the liberal arts and social sciences. I commit a lot of my time outside of technology to learning about history, political economy, and cultural anthropology.

Omar at award event, accepting a certificate from a group of people
Omar in Brussels, accepting the European Union's Medreset Young Writers Prize award

I picked up a passion while at Northwestern, where I found a home in the cross-disciplinary Middle Eastern Studies department. A paper I wrote during my time in that program earned me the European Union’s Medreset Young Writers Prize award. The paper analyzed how clandestine migration is portrayed in Maghrebi fiction, and I was given the opportunity to travel to Brussels to present it at a conference of diplomats and ambassadors. One conference attendee included the then High Representative for Foreign Affairs of the EU, Madame Federica Mogherini. It was a great experience returning to work at Kin + Carta after receiving this honor – I was welcomed back with such excitement and celebration from my team. I have since published two academic audio essays that have been incorporated in Graduate School curriculums (#1#2) in the fields of Anthropology and Middle Eastern Studies.

As a Palestinian, I am also acutely aware of and deeply committed to social justice. I am proud to be involved in Kin + Carta’s robust Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Awareness (IDEA) initiative with its clear commitment to dismantling systemic racism and combatting all forms of discrimination. Along with Ahmad Hasan, I have launched and continue to lead the firm’s Arab Affinity Group, providing a forum for Arab Kin to make connections and support one another. This focus on social justice informs my efforts on institution building. Any genuine attempt to democratize innovation must confront the structural inequalities that pose barriers for marginalized populations.

Creating institutions

My time thus far at Kin + Carta has been a story of vision and of drive around a goal — not just to simply innovate for the sake of doing so, but to create innovative institutions that make the world work better for everyone. From launching KinCoin, to delivering on key client proof-of-concepts, to dedicating myself to researching and studying social sciences, to now leading Labs, I’ve been able to craft my journey around what matters most to me.

I ground myself in knowing that this is not my story alone. I stand on the shoulders of giants and have deep gratitude for the mentorship, friendship and inspiration I’ve drawn off of them.

Want to work alongside Omar and join our network of award-winning innovators?

Apply now