Tell me a little bit about yourself. Who is Kari Keefe?
“I’m a 20-year marketing vet with a startup and entrepreneurial spirit. Twice an entrepreneur and always a small biz advocate, I spent the last five years leading my own consulting firm before joining Mozilla in January. I am passionate about small business, innovation and education. Marketing has always been a creative field for me, and a way to solve problems that direct company outcomes — whether in sales, visibility, thought leadership or expansion. I use marketing to organize community initiatives I care about: youth innovation and workforce development in the urban core, K–12 STEM programs, mentoring programs and tapping the startup culture in education.”
What does the Mozilla Foundation do, and what is your role in the organization?
“The Mozilla Foundation is a nonprofit organization that promotes openness, innovation and participation on the Internet. We promote the values of an open Internet to the broader world. Mozilla is best known for the Firefox browser, but we advance our mission through other software projects, grants like the Gigabit Community Fund and engagement and education efforts such as Mozilla Webmaker. Mozilla is all about building a new generation of digital creators and webmakers, giving people the tools and skills they need to move from using the web to actively making the web.
“My role as the Community Catalyst in Kansas City is that of a node — I’m the chief communication point leading the Gigabit Community Fund project, connecting educators to technologists, and civic leaders to nonprofits as a way to accelerate gig-enhanced applications designed for education, learning and workforce development. I connect, advise and coordinate proposals for the grant process — we have $150,000 to invest in gig applications in KC this year, and we aim to show the world just how KC leads the gig economy and the public benefit that comes from it. I will be working alongside the funded cohorts to ensure a successful 12-week minimum viable pilot is achieved and is in play with real users, classrooms and living labs. We expect this project to have great success, and we expect the Gigabit Fund to seed a Hive Learning Network model in Kansas City.”
What brought you to work in this field?
“I love the startup culture and attended a Startup Weekend two years ago. It was there that I met a group of high school students from Blue Valley’s CAPS program (Center for Advanced Professional Studies). I went into that event with no idea or expectation of what I’d get out of it, and I left with an indelible mark that changed the course of my career in the most rewarding way. I’d always been active in my kids’ educations and schools, but I jumped in with both feet after Startup Weekend and starting building youth innovation programs in the urban core. I found there was a huge audience and appetite for these programs, but our metro area school system is fragmented and challenging, so I just kept pushing and poking and drafting. I became a community catalyst at that point, for education, for social justice and for youth interest-driven programs and digital literacy. That’s where my path crossed with Mozilla’s.”
What is the biggest obstacle that you see within technology today?
“I think the biggest obstacle with technology today is the disparity of access and digital literacy. There’s no question that digital natives are consuming and making the web we know today, but it’s paramount to our economy to ensure social equity across the digital divide and poverty line. There is simply so much opportunity for personal economic sustainability if and when people have the skills and understanding of technology.”
What is the most exciting part of your work?
“I am inspired by people’s willingness to give of themselves, of their time and talent, for the global good of teaching. Everyone has the ability to teach, and I’ve found that most people have an innate desire to share what they know — and when they can do this and affect kids or their community, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts. We have developers and coders teaching kids and teachers, we have teachers and educators teaching students and one another, we corporate leaders and government staffers sharing widely their knowledge and experience to fuel public good. This is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done, and I’m just getting started.”
What do you think the future has in store for the local entrepreneur community?
“I’ve been an active participator in KC’s startup scene for several years, and what strikes me today is the youth-driven movement that has powered KC’s rise in startup stardom. There’s still a solid population of small and micro-business — retail, service, mom and pops — in KC, but the social justice component of tech-driven startups has been a new source of energy for the community. There’s a purpose and sense of community that is wholly inspiring. I think more and more traditional small businesses who have observed this trend will continue to be influenced by the entrepreneurial zeal and appeal of organizations like Startup Village and Local Ruckus, and we’ll see them step up to further shape our community with a more robust ecosystem able to support an evolving landscape of startups and entrepreneurs of all types, doing good things for KC mankind.”