Meet Kathleen McGinn, New CFK Board Member September 15, 2014  by      

By: Sophia Wilhelm, Communications Intern

Dr. Kathleen McGinn, a professor at Harvard University’s prestigious business school, first met Rye Barcott while he was a graduate student pursuing his MBA.  Their conversations led her to learn much more about Carolina for Kibera (CFK), culminating in a multimedia Harvard Business School case on CFK’s early years. The case conveyed how CFK flourished from its humble beginnings and transformed into a robust organization. Now several years later, it’s fitting that Kathleen has once more become part of CFK’s journey by joining the Board of Directors.

Since her first exposure to CFK in 2009, Kathleen has thought of CFK as an “interesting organizational case.” Many of its features make it unlike most organizations—operating in an informal community in Kenya; community-based mission; inspiring co-leaders sharing responsibility; and unique parallel governance structures in the US and Kenya. But CFK also faces organizational challenges that arise in nearly all growing organizations—succession planning; uneven growth; internal tensions; and complicated partnerships with other organizations. This combination of the unusual with the common makes CFK a compelling case for teaching and learning about organizations, especially value-based organizations.

Kathleen met Rye at a dinner for students interested in social enterprise.  He described the major transitions the organization was going through at the time. From then on, Kathleen found herself intrigued by CFK and its mission, and the more she learned, the more she was drawn in. When Leann Bankoski, CFK’s Executive Director, asked her to join the board last November, Kathleen knew it was the right thing to do. “I have deep respect for universal talent,” Kathleen explains. “Working with two different worlds simultaneously is a tough balance, but CFK manages to do that well and they respect what both sides have to offer to the endeavor.” Kathleen values what CFK does and notes that the staff members “treat people with a different type of respect that’s just remarkable.”

CFK is very fortunate to work with someone dedicated to studying and improving women’s role in business and society at large. Kathleen has studied and conducted research on gender perceptions and non-traditional gender roles as they pertain to employment across 20 countries (including Kenya), thus giving her an in-depth knowledge of the gender gap in business. Her research on women’s employment, attitude, education, and lifestyle helps advise social justice leaders working to improve rights and opportunities for women globally.

Kathleen first decided that she wanted to contribute her expertise in women’s employment to CFK after learning about the Daughters United (Binti Pamoja) program. In her first visit to Kibera in 2009, the Binti girls were her guides to the community. This year, CFK plans to build a brand new center for girls in Kibera. The Daughters United Training Center will serve as both a resource and community center for the young women of Kibera, where they can take classes, discuss critical issues in their lives, and build friendships in a physically and psychologically safe environment.

As a researcher, Kathleen takes a trip to Kenya once a year to study women’s work in different settings. Kathleen mentions that Kibera is her favorite place to go when she visits. “Being such a big place, it’s incredibly alive and vibrant.” In addition to working with the Daughters United program, one of her fondest memories of Kibera includes being there during the construction of the Tabitha Medical Clinic. “Seeing the clinic grow to serve the full community was impressive to watch.” While in Kenya, Kathleen also enjoys attending soccer games, because matches bring more than an enthusiastic crowd for the game. They also function as community events, giving people opportunities to get tested for HIV, sign up to volunteer, and watch the members of CFK’s Daughters United program come together.

Being new to the board, Kathleen admits, “I have to allow myself to learn, because as much as I feel like I have already learned about CFK, there’s so much I don’t know. And the organization is constantly evolving and changing.” She hopes that CFK will grow to be a model for other organizations and desires to help that goal come to fruition. Having a new addition to the Board like Kathleen is extremely beneficial for CFK and strengthens the organization’s commitment to community members—especially girls—of Kibera.

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