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Leanne Shupe

A Day in the Kin + Carta Life: Leanne Shupe in Nairobi, Kenya

  • 23 July 2019 / By Leanne Shupe
  • Agriculture

I decided to join Kin + Carta before ever setting foot in Chicago, let alone a Kin + Carta office. 

For me, a visit wasn’t necessary because I’d already fallen in love with the Kin + Carta culture from afar. Through both my phone and video interviews, what stood out to me was how genuine and consistent each Kin + Carta person described the leadership, culture, and community.

Community and teamwork are big at Kin + Carta. There is a community for everything — cooking, board games, golf, philanthropy, bees (long story), and everything in between. The community I became the most involved in is our Impact Program, specifically the work we’re doing in Nairobi, Kenya.

The Impact Program provides employees an annual opportunity to deliver on inspiring projects outside our usual client work. Each year, Kin + Carta selects two Nairobi-based companies that:

a) Believe digital is imperative to their business outcomes.

b) Are making a positive social impact in their community.

Once aligned on a problem to solve we form two agile teams and commit to remote work with the companies selected, as well as two weeks on the ground. 

While the program has evolved year over year (and will continue to do so), our days on the ground have been a consistent and chaotic blend of teaching, discovering, and bonding. Check out a typical day for me in Nairobi:

 

I head downstairs to order breakfast for my roommate and myself you get to know your team and roommates pretty quickly on these trips, including their coffee orders and omelette preferences. As a team, we eat breakfast and review the day’s agenda. When finished, we all grab coffee to-go and head to meet our drivers (John and Sammy) in the lobby.

We leave early to beat the traffic and either commute downtown to the offices or out of the city center for ethnographic research field trips. Over the years these trips have taken us to some of the most beautiful parts of Kenya including schoolhouses, banana farms, and flower factories. Even if we get caught in traffic, the sights make it hard to complain about the wait.

Nairobi traffic jams

I work as a Client Principal, supporting new business projects. My team sits across two continents and four cities — Buenos Aires, London, New York, and Chicago. At this point our London office (my home base) is waking up. I like to check in on Slack to make sure the day starts smoothly and there are no blockers. In true agile fashion, our entire team syncs in stand-up each day.

Nairobi has earned the title of the ‘Silicon Savannah’ — with so many incredible companies and entrepreneurs, it’s easy to understand why. We’re always trying to grow our network and understanding of this market. We have been lucky to partner with GrowthAfrica on several occasions to join and/or host networking and education events, at which I’ve met some of the most creative leaders

Today’s lunch and learn is focused on Agile Methodology but another memorable one was on the importance of culture for business growth.

Lunch

After months of remote meetings, it’s nice to finally be at the same place and in the same timezone. Afternoons are spent working out of our partner offices and maximizing our on-the-ground time. Stakeholder interviews, brainstorming and collaboration sessions, and trainings are the emphasis.

The last of my team’s timezones is now awake, so this is a good opportunity for the entire team to hop on Zoom and align. Half the team is sharing what they’ve accomplished for the day and the other half is addressing what their focus will be. Connecting daily keeps me plugged into my team at home while I’m focused on the projects in Nairobi.

Meals are a sacred and technology-free chance for project teams to come together and catch up on the day. We have a dinner tradition called “high-low-ha” as a way to reflect on the day and share with the group. Each person goes around the table and shares one high from the day, one low, and one ha (funny moment) from the day. Normally we’re laughing with you and not at you (or sometimes both).

Over the years we’ve made a lot of friends in Nairobi so we like to invite a guest to dinner to give the team a chance to learn from the locals and understand what the city’s business culture is like. These guests have been everyone from safari guides to start-up founders, each contributing to the evolution of the program.

This is when I typically say “lala salama” (goodnight) to the group and head back to the hotel room to finish up some work or check in with my family in Canada. Over the years I’ve been collecting vintage postcards from Nairobi and sending them home. 

As you can gather from the above, our workweek is pretty focused with a jam-packed agenda. The mornings are early and the nights are often late. It’s become a tradition for the group to plan an end of project wrap up — on safari. This gives the team a chance to see more of the country and interact with the wildlife.

Weekend getaways

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