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Meet Hellen Orwa, continuously-questioning multipotentialite

Design that reads "Kin+ Hellen Orwa" with a headshot of Hellen

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.

At a Lunch & Learn for Black History Month in the United States, all Black + Kin affinity group leaders were asked what their experience was like getting into technology. Hellen Orwa is one such affinity group leader who shared an answer, and what she said made us eager to learn more.

Hellen’s career has been filled with work that directly improves people’s lives, and it was the opportunity to work across industries and to embed sustainability into our client’s work that inspired her to join Kin + Carta. Currently a Principal Delivery Lead based out of our Denver office, Hellen has a history of asking great questions, seeing the potential and owning a generalist mindset. We cannot wait for you to meet Hellen and the incredibly thoughtful multipotential she commits her life to.

Design that reads "Kin+ Hellen Orwa" with a headshot of Hellen

I’ve always been extremely curious. Throughout primary and secondary school I did it all — everything from science, to biology, to chemistry, to agriculture, to computer science. I would see something and immediately think: “I can do that!” or “What is it that they are doing that I cannot do?” 

This continuously-questioning multipotentialite mindset has been core to who I am since a young age and it’s something I learned from my dad. He’s always encouraged me to be curious by constantly telling me: “Hellen, do your best in everything that you do. It doesn’t matter if you have a title or if you identify yourself as one particular person in your life. You don’t have to choose who you are. Simply do something once, and do it right.” This has continued to remain at the forefront of my life.

Admittedly, though, my curiosity would cause issues throughout my schooling. My teachers never knew what I was good at, as I would keep quiet and, depending on how I was feeling that semester, I would decide to either pass or fail. My parents often heard: “She is just all over the place. We don’t know if she’s good at math, or biology, or chemistry. And, she’s pretty quiet. She doesn’t talk.” No one could tell if I was excelling or bored or struggling to keep up with the content we were learning. For me, I was simply spreading myself across unique experiences, taking in everything around me, and learning everything I could. 

In high school I began to learn about biochemistry because my parents are science-oriented, and later I’d go on to complete an undergraduate degree in the specialism. After college, however, I knew that I didn’t want to be confined within a literal lab every day, so I simply started looking around and asking: “What can I do?” From this, I ended up working at a telecommunication company where I was exposed to IT. I learned about so many things like VPNs, IPLCs, MPLS, and how to renovate vintage data centers.

I got hooked on tech, yet found myself feeling a little unsettled and not wanting to specialize within such a specific niche. So, I made the choice to step into my first role in consulting, which gave me the opportunity to work with large, global clients and to travel to Kericho where I was exposed to tea farmers. I learned how they use IT to better their lives, how they grow tea, and how they alternate to produce greater yields. My client at the time was extremely ingrained in the tea farmers’ lives — exchanging tea and money for the build of technology infrastructure and digitizing money exchange. It was incredible to introduce tech into this community, as it brought opportunity for the people and their livelihood. I was a part of bringing the innovation of a balance sheet and access to a bank account via their mobile phones into a part of the world that truly needed it. In Kericho I could see the tangible impact of how my role as a consultant was improving people’s lives. 

Design that reads "Kin+ Hellen Orwa" with a headshot of Hellen
A field in Kericho — a beautiful reminder of home for Hellen

I reached a point where I felt like I could make a larger impact by myself, so my friend and I began a company where we were doing CNC manufacturing. We would deliver architectural artifacts and designs, while providing employment and experience opportunities to the youth in Kenya. In one year we made it into the local newspaper as an upcoming start up, which was amazing to me. The lives that we improved and the youth who we were able to skill-up within business is something that makes me very proud. 

After eight years of incredible work, I moved from Kenya to the United States to be closer to my parents. It was in New York City where I worked at a non-governmental organization (NGO) where I was focused on evaluating the educational credentials from other countries to be accepted across the United States and Canada. This was something that I could empathize with, as my undergraduate degree is from Kenya. Being able to take my own experience and implement improvements on how global education systems are reviewed by the United States was just incredible. I felt like I was making a big, tangible impact. 

And when the pandemic hit, I moved to Colorado and after one year in the health industry I found my way back into consulting with a role at Kin + Carta. It was the firm’s focus on sustainability that made me eager to apply. I was inspired to get involved with embedding this into everything across a firm for some of the world’s biggest brands. Tech and sustainability rarely go together, and the stance Kin + Carta was taking, to me, was intriguing. Since joining, it’s been just amazing to work at a place that is striving to make the world a better place.

I have been lucky enough, throughout my career, to work with companies that make it their mission to give back. 

Tech and sustainability rarely go together, and the stance Kin + Carta was taking, to me, was intriguing.

With over ten years of experience in product management and project delivery what I’ve learned about myself is that I thrive when I’m able to talk to people, listen to them, and truly work to understand their needs. I like being able to learn across industries and to implement similar solutions from one project into something totally new. No matter what industry you’re in, what background you have, or even what knowledge you bring, you can always find a way to put two and two together. If something worked in one industry, it often just needs a little tweaking in order to make a tangible impact in a completely different space. 

In this way, my background in biochemistry has made my mind logical. I see my projects in a very clear way. If you tell me that we are supposed to do XYZ, I will ask: “Why?” For me, understanding the full, point-A-to-point-B picture satisfies my thinking and motivates me. And, it allows me to absorb so many things. A chemical formula can have many and different chemical components coming in that stimulate and change the outcomes. Just like in my background, my diverse experiences have made me more ready to take on the next challenge.

Through all of these years I’ve had many people call me a ‘generalist’ because I have not specialized in one particular thing. I cannot describe myself with one single word. Instead, I know that I do A, B, C, and D, all at different levels. 

I am proud to be a curious, always-questioning, multipotentialite. It’s core to who I am. And, the experience of raising my first son has helped me to fully realize this. When I first saw him I knew that he didn’t have to become a marketer, a data scientist, or even a doctor. I’ve never wanted for him to close himself off within one defined box. From this, I have realized that this openness to the world is what my dad gave to me. He never limited me to be one thing, rather he encouraged me to do it all. When I would come to my dad with wild ideas of what I wanted to do next, he would always ask me “Are you sure? How is that going to benefit you?” I would give him a spiel of how the learning could be applied to better my life. My dad’s response? “As long as you finish it, then yes, go for it.” 

I am proud to be a curious, always-questioning, multipotentialite. It’s core to who I am.

The world so easily boxes us in and I encourage myself and those around me, every day, to see the multitude of potential around us. So my ask to you: “What would your life be like if you gave yourself permission to be everything you wanted to be?” It’s as simple as that, just give yourself permission and imagine what your life would be like. And for women, especially, we have already given ourselves permission, but I know that we can give ourselves more. We can be mothers, we can be wives, we can be marketers, doctors, teachers. But at the end of the day, by just being a woman, we are already more than all of that. We just have to give ourselves permission to do and be more. To keep on questioning, be curious, and see the multipotential.

Surround yourself with Kin, like Hellen, who are always striving to see the potential.

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