#HumansofImpactHub Janelle Wahutu
BY ROSS FORMLEY
“My sister was diagnosed with brain cancer a year and a half ago. I had a plan to move to Kenya and really start my career in international development. I was interviewing with organizations there and then I stopped everything. I stopped my job, I stopped my job hunt. I was unemployed for eight months taking care of my sister. And then she was finally in a place where she could live alone and take care of herself. I had this eight-month gap in my resume. I’ve never had anything like that before. And the down payment on a house went to all the Florida bills. I thought, well this sucks—but this is life.”
Janelle wears turquoise glasses, a turquoise shirt. Her cell phone case is turquoise. It has a sticker on the back: a sketch of an elephant, also turquoise. Even her laptop case: turquoise. “If you notice any color theme going on here,” she says, “I always try to match.” Turquoise was her favorite color anyway, but now there’s a purpose behind it: Tembo Consulting.
Tembo means elephant in Swahili. And, she mentions, they don’t get cancer. Indeed, it was in this post-cancer period of Janelle’s life when, after encouragement from a former professor, she committed to the idea of starting up the Tembo team. In practice, Janelle helps socially-oriented ventures with fund sourcing, grant writing, program design, and strategic development. “Really our guiding light, our compass, leads to social, economic, environmental, and racial justice,” she says.
Janelle speaks four languages, has visited thirty countries, studied abroad in Jordan and Costa Rica. Her father’s a pilot for Delta: free flights. She’s spent three summers in Kenya. Her partner is Kenyan. She has two masters’ degrees from the Humphreys School of Public Affairs, one in international development practice, the other in international human rights law. She’s interned with The Advocates for Human Rights, volunteers as their Spanish interpreter and translator. She wears a necklace with the outline of Minnesota. A small turquoise gem sits in the place of Minneapolis.
She speaks of the lightbulb burst of energy it took to commit to Tembo at a networking event at St. Thomas University and how she has been riding that wave ever since. She excitedly talks with her hands, they swirl in motion (30 countries, 4 languages, 3 summers abroad, etc.). For someone who could have been working in Kenya, she is thriving here—in Minneapolis, at Impact Hub MSP. Unfocus your eyes and she is a blur of turquoise, a real force of good in this world.