Bay Area tech executive, non-profit board member, and a top multicultural leader, Kiwoba Allaire chats about her entrepreneurial journey in STEM.
Why did you start Girl STEM Stars?
I have worked in the tech industry for over 15 years, where pay, perks, and benefits (at successful companies) are the norm. But I rarely see anyone that looks like me sharing in Tech’s success. Despite my guilt of not sharing the “tech experience” with other Black and Brown people, and protestations to numerous hiring managers to expand their diversity programs—little changed.
Then came a significant turn of events in my life. I had a near-death experience that left me in a coma for nearly three weeks! I was in the ICU for a month; the doctors said I was five minutes from death three times! While in recovery, my Aunt told me that God sent his Warring and Ministering Angels to fight for my life. That’s when I realized that God had saved me for a higher purpose. And, at that moment, I decided to “Be The Change I Wanted To See.” So, while in my recovery bed I called Legal Zoom and told them I wanted to start a nonprofit that would help advance girls of color from underrepresented communities in the STEM (Science, Technology Engineering, and Math) fields.
Tell me about your stars?
The girls aged 8-18 are from underrepresented communities, such as East Palo Alto, Bay View, Vallejo, Oakland, and East San Jose. When on a field trip to NASA, I asked the girls what/who they wanted to be when they grew up, responses included Beyonce, a dancer—and others a veterinarian, so that they could play with puppies. After touring NASA and doing hands-on experiments with black female rocket scientists, the girls now wanted to be engineers. This is the power of exposing girls to Tech/STEM environments and mentors.
You’ve had a successful career in corporate America, what was the most significant challenge in starting a company?
As the founder of the Give Back Program and Executive Director of Corporate Giving, I wrote many checks and donated a lot of money. The tables are turned starting a nonprofit and having to “ask” for donations from corporate companies. It’s a very humbling experience. But when you’re passionate about your cause, mine being girls STEM education, you get over it and get the job done boldly.
How can the broader technology community help push STEM to the next generation of innovators?
Invite children into their offices, weekly. Start a STEM program with the local schools and after-school programs in their community and teach them. Demystify STEM by having the engineering, accounting, marketing, and finance departments teach a class.
As a native San Franciscan, what are the three non-business things a start-up entrepreneur should know/visit in the City? And why?
- Visit Twin Peaks on a clear day. Seeing San Francisco in all its vastness from this vantage point will help you visualize the “bigger picture.”
- Go crabbing at Fort Point. The view of the Bay and Golden Gate bridge is beautiful, but crabbing with the people on the pier allows you to see how diverse the city is, and gain a firsthand understanding of San Francisco’s communities.
- Do Tai Chi and picnic in Washington Square Park: Tai Chi offers inner peace, and picnicking allows one to take it all in.
All entrepreneurs end up in the penalty box be-it by their antsy investors, demanding partners, or go-faster employees, how do climb out and manage your team to success?
Stop trying to do everything myself. When I stop hoarding all the work and start sharing tasks with my team, everything runs more smoothly. Teamwork makes the Dreamwork!
Favorite book, movie, or place to visit?
Book: War Room
Movies: To Sir With Love and Black Panther,
What is the best advice you received from an educator?
I went to an all-girls Christian school. I remember being upset that I wasn’t doing well in Algebra. A Nun told me, ” You can do all things through Christ who is within you.” I wound up getting an A!