Caroline Karanja, co-founder of Minneapolis-based 26 Letters, is working to help organizations incorporate diversity and inclusion through the company’s software-as-a-service e-learning platform.
“We work with clients who are passionate about diversity, inclusion and equity but are looking for a way to make sure the work that they’re doing is scalable and measurable,” Karanja said.
Customers include a small nonprofit, a company that employs thousands, and government agencies, Karanja said.
26 Letters launched in its present form last year, said Karanja, who began working on the application more than two years ago.
Karanja was in her early teens when her family moved to Madison from Kenya. She taught herself to code while completing a degree in American studies and English literature at Macalester College.
Karanja is leveraging digital product and e-commerce experience gained at Best Buy and other companies to develop 26 Letters’ platform. The self-funded venture, based in the WeWork co-working space in Capella Tower, has two employees with plans to expand next year.
26 Letters assesses how employees feel about an organization’s growth opportunities, inclusiveness and community involvement. That includes, Karanja said, “a sense of community within the workplace because that’s a key when it comes to retention.”
The company then offers insights and strategies for making improvements and later evaluates progress, Karanja said. 26 Letters also is developing an individual assessment.
Karanja is publishing a book — “From Ada to Zuckerberg: A Cultural History of Tech” — based on her presentation tracing technology from 19th-century mathematician Ada Lovelace through Facebook’s co-founder.
Q: What’s the meaning behind the name 26 Letters?
A: I’m multilingual and understand the power of language. We have 26 letters in this particular alphabet and how we arrange and rearrange them can make or break someone. The thought behind it is to be really cognizant of the words that we use.
Q: Who are you competing with?
A: There are so many people and organizations that are passionate about this. I would love for us to get to a point where 26 Letters isn’t necessarily a relevant company, to address the challenges organizations are facing to a point where, “OK, we’re good.” A lot of people that we partner with feel the same way.
Q: What do organizations need to do to address inclusion?
A: I think there needs to be an opportunity for people to talk about the challenges they’re facing. Bringing in a confidential third party and having employees have access to that will help. There needs to be a lot of trust between the third party and the employees. But until we get there you can’t even know what’s happening in your company.