Mariana Santos is a visual storyteller, journalist, and problem solver.
Having grown up in a world where females were consistently silenced, Santos made it a goal of hers to pave the way for permanent change. As a Portuguese journalist, the stark gap between male and female representation in Latin newsrooms struck her as particularly disturbing.
From that, the idea behind Chicas Poderosas was born.
Chicas Poderosas is a mentorship network for Latina women, working to provide them with increased access to digital media skills. What started as a Kickstarter initiative has quickly turned into an expansive network of female journalists across the Americas — stretching from the United States to the tip of South America.
Santos created her network during her time as an International Center for Journalists Knight Fellow.
“Chicas poderosas” translates from Spanish to mean “powerful women.” It’s a name wholly fitting for the initiative, since its premise is to uplift and empower female voices.
Santos is Fusion Media‘s director of interactive and animation at Knight Chair of Innovation at Florida International University. Last year, she graduated from Stanford’s JSK Knight fellow program, where she worked all across Latin America in major newsrooms and with independent journalists. She’s also a member of the interactive team at The Guardian in London. A trained animator, Santos pioneered the newsroom’s use of motion graphics to make data stories more compelling. She leads design-thinking workshops to increase interdisciplinary approaches to storytelling, and is a leader in community transformation via digital training.
We asked Santos to tell us more about herself and her initiative.
The Tempest: What’s the main idea behind Chicas Poderosas?
Mariana Santos: Poderosas is an organization that’s promoting digital training among communities of women journalists, developers, and designers around the world. We want to offer access to talent and skills to those who can’t access training in technology, entrepreneurship, leadership and management. We started in Latin America in 2013, and are now expanding to other countries. (Editor’s note: These include the United States, Mexico, and several countries in South America: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, and Peru.)
Chicas Poderosas thinks globally and acts locally. Spanish is not a barrier for access, as we tailor experiences and training that meet the needs of a region.
We work with ambassadors across our areas of influence in main cities, providing training on digital storytelling. The skills we teach range from data visualization, animation, video, audio podcast, design thinking, digital management, etc.
Why do you think it’s so difficult to get Latina women in the science and technology industries?
It’s a little bit all over. Especially in the USA and Europe, though, we see a gap between the involvement of women in these fields in comparison to men. The amount of space available for women in these fields is mostly dominated by men, and thus becomes less welcoming for women. And as a result, less women get involved.
Chicas Poderosas wants to change this practice and create a community of women in these areas of expertise, and we’re doing this by creating an ever-growing support network for our women.
What kinds of problems are your Chicas Poderosas solving?
We are giving voice to the underrepresented stories and women, and we’re helping women up the ladder of leadership, management and entrepreneurship. We are trying to switch the chip in women’s brains — empowering them to succeed and teaching them to not be afraid of success and leading the way forward.
Tell us a little about what inspires you.
I was born in Portugal, where in the old times, women were expected to stay home and take care of the house and kids. They weren’t expected to go out there and change the world.
I don’t believe in that, and I want to change the mindset of every girl raised in this kind of culture. These girls are very capable and creative individuals who can make a change in the world. I want to empower those quiet voices and make them reach their dreams.
Where do you see Chicas Poderosas headed in the future?
I see a global network of women empowering and helping each other in this world, where collaboration brings us a long way. Where we’re all looking towards global achievement, rather than focusing on our own belly buttons.
What advice would you give to young millennial women aspiring to be in tech?
Try hard, and don’t quit at the first signs of difficulty — no pain, no gain. Stay in the problem for as long as you can, there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel.
My other advice would be to reach out. Reach out not only to female communities, but to tech communities all around the world who are working towards the similar goal of achieving further and reaching higher. Believe in your dreams and go get them!
If you had a day completely free and to yourself, what would you do?
I would go to the beach, surf, and eat an amazing meal with friends…then sit under a palm tree, reading a book and listening to the waves.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
[art image credit: Kent Hernandez]