T-Mobile Executive Janice Kapner Is a Changemaker & You Can Be One Too

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Janice Kapner has always been a changemaker. From a young age, her father instilled in her that she could be anything she wanted to be, and her three older sisters showed her an example of what a strong woman should be. Starting her career doing marketing and PR work in Silicon Valley, she blazed her way through the world of start-ups and IPOs, and then onto a worldwide icon: Microsoft. Today, Kapner is the Executive Vice President of Communications and Community Engagement at T-Mobile, where she oversees a team of over 100 communicators who work to continuously reach new audiences through their creative engagement strategies. Kapner’s team and the entire company seek to not only disrupt the wireless industry for the better, but the world as well.

T-Mobile has always believed that it has a responsibility to give back to the communities it serves, and it does that across numerous programs. This year, they were on the ground at the world’s biggest Pride event, created a nationwide campaign to plant over 300,000 trees for Earth Day and continue to partner with organizations to help veterans make the challenging transition from service to the civilian workforce—just to name a few. One of the most recent initiatives is T-Mobile’s Changemaker Challenge, which is built to support trailblazing young adults like YOU who have big ideas to make your communities—and the world—a more connected, sustainable and inclusive place. Ultimately, the Changemaker Challenge helps get some of those groundbreaking and monumental ideas (like yours) heard.

Tell me about your role with T-Mobile. What do you do for the brand, and how did you get started there?

I love talking about my job! I’m fortunate to lead an award-winning team of incredibly talented professionals.They are a relentless and passionate group that is constantly finding new ways to tell the T-Mobile story to new audiences—I could brag about them all day!  

But one of the most important parts of our job—and for me, personally, one of the most fulfilling—is creating impactful corporate social programs to focus on supporting the communities we serve across the country, including one of my favorites, the T-Mobile Changemaker Challenge.

Oh—and to answer your primary question…life before T-Mobile? I started my career in Silicon Valley, primarily at start-ups. I knew I enjoyed a high-energy environment right off the bat, going through an IPO with one company and a major acquisition with another. Before I joined the Un-carrier in 2013, I was at Microsoft where my last job was Worldwide Communications for Microsoft Office. It was a great ride! I spent 10 amazing years at Microsoft before deciding I was ready for my next career step, and after meeting with T-Mobile CEO John Legere and his Senior Leadership Team, there was no question about it: I wanted to be part of Team Magenta! They were all about creativity, challenging the status quo and having a lot of fun while getting the job done. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

How would you explain the Changemaker Challenge to someone who has never heard of it before?

The Changemaker Challenge is a nationwide contest that gives trailblazing young adults a stage to share their ideas for creating more connected, sustainable and inclusive communities—and the tools to make those ideas a reality. We launched the program last year and received more than 300 submissions! This year, we’re hoping to blow that out of the water. So get your submissions in now—the deadline is Sept. 26! This year, the Changemaker Challenge is taking ideas within three categories: technology, environment and education.

The most exciting part: We pick the top 30 teams to receive seed funding and a trip to T-Mobile’s HQ for a three-day immersive lab experience where teams receive mentorship on how to bring their ideas to life. But there’s more—we always love more! For those top 30 winning teams who come join us at HQ, three teams will get additional seed funding and the chance to pitch their ideas to T-Mobile senior executives. The single grand-prize winning team will get up to $10,000 in seed funding and a second trip to meet with people at T-Mobile that will help make their idea happen.

T-Mobile invests a lot into youth through programs like Changemaker Challenge – why are you inspired to do that, and what is it about the Challenge that makes you most excited?

I believe companies that are experiencing momentum have an incredible opportunity to leverage that momentum and give back to the community in meaningful ways. I understand that not every business can do this, but if you’re a company on the rise, you should be looking at ways you can put that success to good use—by giving back to the communities you serve. Our communities and our employees count on us to do this in a big way. It’s who we are as the Un-carrier.

What’s most exciting for me about the Changemaker Challenge is that it supports our next generation of leaders. They come to us with spectacular ideas (some are pretty jaw-dropping!) and it’s important that we use our resources as a company to help those ideas get heard. More importantly, driving and forcing change is part of who we are at T-Mobile. We believe in challenging the status quo, and the Changemaker Challenge is exactly that. We are challenging young people across the country to tell us how the country and their communities can do things better.

Participants can submit projects in technology, environment and education. Why did you decide to focus on these three categories?

These three categories are not only critical for creating a better world—but they also represent focus areas where we feel T-Mobile can make the biggest difference... it’s a win-win all the way around! Our goal is to find the best ideas and then help fast-track those ideas using our technology, network and people resources—it seemed natural to focus on areas where we have people who are passionate, knowledgeable and experienced. It means our team can help these teams make their ideas into reality!

What were you most surprised/delighted about from last year’s Changemaker Challenge?

The whole thing was a surprise, and it was incredibly inspiring. These young people were poised, professional, thoughtful, smart and ambitious. Even more than I had expected. It was great! They also confirmed what I’ve long suspected… the talent of these teams represents a generation that will do great things for this country. We are in great hands moving forward!

Did you have a favorite idea from last year?

I know this is going to sound like a cop out, but it’s true: I loved all six of our finalists’ ideas. They each brought something different and valuable to the table, which makes it really tough to choose just one favorite.

I’ll tell you this: A team that struck a chord with me personally was the Yellow Tulip Project. It was started by a young woman in high school who lost two of her best friends to suicide in one year. She wanted to do something about it, so she launched a peer-led organization that is all about opening the dialogue on mental health and eliminating stigma. It’s an amazing example of putting empathy into action. I think the sheer tenacity alone is amazing.

Growing up, was there a changemaker you looked up to? OR have you ever had your own changemaker moment (as a youth or an adult)?

Growing up, my father always told me I could be anything I wanted to be—and I truly believed it. It wasn’t that he lectured me about it; he just lived that way. Go to college, decide what you want to do. No dissuading me from dreams and ideas. Just a very matter of fact attitude that said: You go work for it…and make the effort. The future is yours to shape. That basic tone and tenor had me focused forward with determination and not really considering my limitations. 

Now, of course I’ve had my hurdles and moments of doubt. Just like everyone else. But from a very young age, I’ve always felt like I could be the exception to any rule—if that was what I wanted. That’s thanks to my father and of course my older sisters… I already had so many good examples of strong women around me, and I got to watch them all closely and pick out the strengths I wanted to mirror, as well as define my own. This definitely helped get me to where I am today, and it’s one of the main reasons I am so proud of T-Mobile’s Changemaker Challenge because it celebrates young people who are cultivating the same changemaker mentality: “I can do anything I set my mind to!” We want to build a world where everyone is a changemaker and help them put that attitude to use for the good of their communities—and the country!

If you have a game-changing idea that will make your community (or the world) a better place and want to be a changemaker too, submit your entry here through September 26.