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Generation Flux

Generation Flux: Raina Kumra

Raina Kumra is a former documentary filmmaker, digital strategy guru at Wieden+Kennedy, and founder of Light Up Malawi, but is now a federal contractor—the Codirector of Innovation at the federal agency, the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

Generation Flux: Raina Kumra

"Fear holds a lot of people back," says Raina Kumra, 34. "I'm skill hoarding. Every time I update my resume, I see the path that I didn't know would be. You keep throwing things into your backpack, and eventually you'll have everything in your tool kit."

Kumra is sitting in a Dublin hotel, where earlier she spoke on a panel about the future of mobile before a group of top chief information officers. She is not technically in the mobile business, nor a software engineer or academic. She actually works as the Codirector of Innovation for the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the federal agency that oversees Voice of America and other government-run media. How she got there is a classic journey of flux.

Kumra started out in film school. She made documentaries, including in South America and India, and then took a job as a video editor for Scientific American Frontiers. "After each trip to shoot footage," she says, "I'd come back after a couple of months and find that the editing tools had all changed." So she decided to learn computer programming. "I figured I had to get my tech on," says Kumra, who signed up for New York University's Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP). She then moved into the ad world, doing digital campaigns at BBH, R/GA, and Weiden+Kennedy and, eventually, launching her own agency. Along the way she picked up a degree from Harvard's design school, taught at the University of Amsterdam, and started a nonprofit called Light Up Malawi.

"So many people say, "I don't know what you do,'" Kumra allows, in an admission echoed by many in Generation Flux. "I'm a collection of many things, I'm not one thing."

The point here is not that Kumra's tool kit of skills has suddenly enabled her to break through the ambiguity of this era. Rather, it is that the variety of her experiences—and her passion for new ones—leaves her well-prepared for whatever the future brings. Certainly her background aids her credibility when dealing with both the tech geeks in Dublin and the politicos in D.C. "I had to try something entrepreneurial," Kumra says, referring to her decision to start an ad agency. "I had to try social enterprise. I needed to understand government. I just needed to know this."

Before she went to D.C., she had an offer to join a large ad agency in New York City, running the digital account for AT&T. "It was a big cushy position," she says. "Or I could take a job at the State Department for half the pay." She opted for the latter, joining the eDiplomacy office at State, "working on both internal platforms and external programs—tech camps and workshops—for civil societies." Part of her motivation, she says: "I wanted to see if there were other troublemakers in D.C."

"Technology has helped me create my path—we're going toward more connection, more information," says Kumra. "Everything I do is related to the speed of change in technology and communications."

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A version of this article appeared in the February 2012 issue of Fast Company magazine.