Toronto-based tech journalist, and entrepreneur Takara Small had been working in the tech industry for a while when she started to notice that the same two conversations were consistently being brought up. The first highlighted the lack of diversity within the tech community, and the second focused on the struggles that tech companies were facing when trying to find talent. These repeated conversations showed a clear disconnect, inspiring Takara to launch VentureKids, a nonprofit organization that provides free coding, design, and entrepreneurship training and mentorship to youth in underserved communities.
While courses were hosted in-person pre-COVID, VentureKids was able to arrange free meals for the youth taking part in the program. To ensure that VentureKids participants continued to support the nutritional needs of these families, they partnered with various Canadian farmers to get boxes of fresh produce delivered to their homes throughout the pandemic. However, this presented another problem for some.
They needed to modify their delivery process to accommodate for the differing family schedules. And that modification was simple; they utilized their Workhaus membership by getting the produce delivered to a Workhaus location, easily accessible for pickup by the families unable to receive them at their home address.
Another costly program expense is laptops. Without the financial means to purchase multiple laptops, many families resort to sharing. Most parents (and I mean all) can empathize with the struggles faced when working from home while their children are also learning from home. Imagine that you only have one laptop to share. To assist families in this situation, Venture Kids accepts laptop donations and distributes them to the youth in their program. No matter how banged up you might think that old laptop of yours from college is, you can donate to Venture Kids and they will fix it up for the families to use.
Now, it’s all about perspective. The challenges some communities face to access tech training and mentorship might be hard for someone to envision. As Takara notes, “The tech ecosystem tends to be siloed because it typically pays well, so someone from the tech industry is surrounded in their personal life by their colleagues and friends who also have a good paying job. It’s hard for them to imagine a different reality.”
Diversity and inclusion is still a central topic in the tech industry today and the subject cannot be boiled down to a hashtag. For change to truly occur, an investment in communities that currently do not have the same opportunities to learn how to code and develop entrepreneurship skills is needed. An ongoing investment infrastructure is what’s really required because change doesn’t happen overnight.
The power of perspective is tried and true when it comes to developing better products, increasing revenue/funding, and enduring success. After all, as Takara reminds us, “Remember your customer is GLOBAL. Diversity at all levels of the company is needed. Otherwise, how can you meet customer needs if your team doesn’t reflect the customer. All companies want to stand the test of time, to do that you need a team that reflects the world.”
Takara has had to face her own obstacles in an industry with little representation of Black women. “In a sector where I’m rare and there’s racism, the obstacles I have to overcome just to do my job doesn’t exist for others. There’s a pressure that the way I do things will be used to paint other Black female tech professionals with the same brush”. Despite the challenges she has had to overcome, she has many notable accomplishments in her career, including recently being named in the top 100 of Canada’s Most Powerful Women by WXN, producing Apple Canada’s #1 2018 tech podcast “I’ll Go Now”, and interviewing Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. Yet, she still spends her free time moving the dial for others.
Whether Takara is aware of it or not, her efforts are changing lives and producing a positive impact on generations to come. If you would like to get involved by mentoring, donating computers or funds, or even sharing the word, please check out VentureKids website.
Takara Small is a Toronto-based technology journalist and entrepreneur. She is one of Canada’s 100 Most Powerful Women, one of AdWeek magazine’s Brand Star Leaders in Toronto and named one of the Young Young Leaders of America in 2021 under a program launched by the Obama administration.
She is also the technology columnist for Metro Morning (Toronto’s top-rated morning radio show), contributor to CBC’s national news show Canada Tonight and host and producer of the Globe and Mail startup podcast ‘I’ll Go First’ as well as on-air tech expert for BBC and CTV.
Her journalism work has been featured in news outlets around the world, which include the BBC, Toronto Star, Refinery29, Flare magazine, Mic and Fortune magazine. Meanwhile as a sought-after public speaker, she’s often invited to share her insights about entrepreneurship and innovation with international audiences at festivals, like Deloitte’s DisruptionByDesign summit, Collision conference, Elevate, CIX and Social Media Week.