“If you want to be a social entrepreneur, make sure you are aligned with something you’re really passionate about. It is the hardest thing I have ever done, but also the most gratifying.”
Gabriela Rocha believes in the power of code to change lives. While at Columbia University acquiring a Masters of Public Administration in Development Practice, Gabi met the future founders of an incredible social enterprise. Mariana Costa Checa, Herman Marin, and Rodulfo Prieto were bound by a common frustration with Latin America’s underdevelopment, all hoping to apply their careers to the improvement of the region. Upon graduating, however, they went their separate ways.
While Gabi went to the favelas of Rio on a project for the Inter-American Development Bank, the three founders journeyed back to Peru and started their first web design company. But when the time came to look for web developers, they encountered an unexpected obstacle. Developers were few and far between, and those they did find were overwhelmingly men. What’s more, they learned that most of their developers had never received a university degree in computer science, and instead had either taken short-term classes or been self-taught.
Mariana realized that there was a tremendous opportunity presenting itself. In a world where demand for web developers is growing, its members unimpeded by the need for university degrees, there was an ideal niche for women to leave the low-skilled, low-pay trap. And thus, the concept for Laboratoria was born. After a successful pilot in Peru, they contacted their former classmates, Gabi and Marisol, who launched branches in Mexico and Chile, respectively.
Since then, Laboratoria has quickly become a transformative, educational powerhouse. It identifies high potential women from low-income sectors of society and puts them through an intensive six-month program. The women are trained in web development as well as personal development, learning both the hard and soft skills necessary to acquire and retain a higher-skilled, better-paying job. To date, it has graduated over 400 students and boast a 75% job placement rate into employment averaging three times their previous income. It has thus effectively and spectacularly broken the cycle of poverty for hundreds of women and their families. Above all, it has proven to the world that poorly educated women working low-income jobs are able to learn coding and begin successful careers in the burgeoning and competitive tech industry.
Hoping to accelerate their already impressive growth, the Laboratoria team applied to Agora’s flagship Accelerator program in 2017. Through the exercises at the retreat and months with a dedicated consultant, they gained access to Agora’s Latin American network, engaging with both social entrepreneurs transforming the region and potential donors interested in their project. They came out of the Accelerator with the certainty that they would officially remain a non-profit organization, and the knowledge that they needed to extend the duration of their program to two years.
Laboratoria’s team today remains unequivocally dedicated to excellence. They hope to train 10,000 developers and be in fifteen cities across Latin America by 2020. Their success is demonstrated by stunning growth in a region hostile to fledgling enterprises, and their commitment to their mission has enabled them to remain focused on their impact and constantly adapt.
Gabi believes in the potential of social entrepreneurship to change the Latin American region. Despite being the hardest thing she’s ever done, she believes that it has also unquestionably been the most gratifying and exciting. She has finally aligned her passion with her work, and has the opportunity to find inspiration everyday in the transformations of Laboratoria’s incredible students. Being of service to a group of women so breathtakingly determined and resilient, who constantly defy stereotypes, expectations, and systemic obstacles, makes the many challenges completely worth it.
With Laboratoria, Gabi and her partners are expanding the notion of what a nonprofit is and can be in Latin America. Run on the honesty, humility, and integrity of its team, the organization is changing the world, one line of code at a time.
Learn more about Laboratoria at http://laboratoria.la