Winnie Karanja, Maydm

IB’s Professional of the Week is the premier way to meet Dane County’s professionals. This week features Winnie Karanja, founder and executive director, Maydm.
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What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of your job and why?

At Maydm, we have a small, tight-knit team that has the honor of serving hundreds of students each year. The most rewarding part of my job is when I get to see students have an aha! moment, when they finally get their code to work and realize that they are able to code and it isn’t as complex and daunting as it’s made out to be. It is also extremely rewarding seeing students who participated in programs we ran at the beginning of Maydm, in 2016 and 2017, go off to higher education or take more advanced technology classes because they were given the opportunity to realize their interest in a field through a Maydm program.

The most challenging aspect of this work is the natural limitations of a small team. We currently have a full time staff of four people who are extremely dedicated to our students and upholding our high standard of excellence. There is a lot to be done, though, and so much more that we want to explore as we continue to grow.

Who do you look up to or admire in business and why?

I admire Mellody Hobson, president of Ariel Investments. She is arguably one of the most successful African American financial services executives in the U.S. Her ability to grow Ariel, the team, and their international business with leadership, vision, and strategy are all skill sets that I admire and hope to actualize in my professional life. She takes strong, well informed calculated risks that have propelled her team and Ariel Investments to being, and continuing to be, the successful company it is.

What has been the high point of your career so far?

The high point of my career has been being named a Forbes 30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneur. It was amazing to receive national recognition for the work I have been doing and to know that others around the country are ready to stand by this important mission.

Another super rewarding part of my career has been seeing students go off to college and fulfill their goals. It is incredible witnessing Maydm’s mission being actualized.

Thinking back on your career, what advice would you give your 21-year-old self?

I would spend a lot of time telling my 21-year-old self to trust her path and encourage her profusely. I would tell her to not be afraid to do the hard things and don’t let anyone hold you back from your dreams. Things may not go how you planned and that’s OK, so instead of focusing on others’ negativity, put that energy into personal strength, growth, and learning.

What would you say are the best things about living and working in Dane County?

The thing that I like most about living and working in Dane County is the access to outdoor activities. I value getting outside and engaging with nature, and I find that Madison is the best of both worlds, in terms of living in a great, urban city, but also being about to see nature and greenery in the park and lakes.

Do you have any secret talents or abilities that people would be surprised to discover?

I am an excellent hula hooper. If I ever competed in a competition, I could go for hours and blow everyone away.

What are your guilty pleasures?

If I had a guilty pleasure, it would probably be watching HGTV, Kim’s Convenience, or Schitt’s Creek while eating peaches and berries. However, I’m not a believer that you should feel guilty for the things you indulge in — all things in moderation, and hey, it’s been a hard year, so give yourself some extra grace!

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