Faculty Speaker Series - Winter 2014

Habari gani? ("What's happening?") 

Support for a diverse workforce through communities of practice


Speaker Debra Jenkins

In Swahili, the phrase "Habari gani?" means "What's happening?" It was a question asked by village elders to younger members of the community as a way to gauge how they were doing. The habari gani menta (literally, "the person who asks, 'What's happening?'" but often translated as "mentor") was charged with providing mentees with support to keep them from feeling disconnected.

In her Faculty Speaker Series presentation, Professor Debi Jenkins describes how many employees from historically disadvantaged communities feel disconnected from their workplaces, leading to challenges in employee retention–and how we each can become a habari gani menta to our coworkers to help overcome those feelings of disconnection, thereby fostering a workplace environment that truly honors and supports diversity.

Using current research and her own scholarship, Professor Jenkins creates a framework for supporting workplace diversity based on the Seven Principles of Kwanzaa: Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity), Imani (Faith).

"My research focuses on higher education, but really these are practices that could be incorporated into any workplace interested in fostering diversity," says Jenkins. "I want people to ask themselves, 'What is their role as an individual to support a diverse workforce?'"