More than 200 years have passed since the majority of countries in Latin America became independent and took hold of the reigns of our future. While the ups and downs along the way and the countless crises we have faced make these two centuries feel eternal, seeing it in perspective, we are just taking our first steps on this path. A path that is continuously changing, is highly unpredictable and is moving at an increasingly fast pace due to the exponential progress technology is making, the increase in knowledge and in phenomena such as the current pandemic. If COVID-19 teaches us anything, it's that we need to become fully aware of this reality and build the future based on it.
This time, the crisis took us by surprise. Incredibly high rates of informality in our economies. Little flexibility within industries in a world that is becoming more and more digital. Educational systems that continue to prepare us for a work environment that is quickly becoming extinct. Gender gaps and inequality levels that impede our attempts of sustained progress. What isn’t surprising, then, is that the sanitary crisis is having a profound and devastating impact on the economies of our region. Already, 34 million jobs have been lost due to the pandemic and we’ve seen an unprecedented contraction in the employment rate (OIT, 2020). This means there are millions of people no longer receiving an income or contributing to our economies. And as it often happens, given the gender gaps that exist, women have been most affected by these losses. According to a global Mckinsey study, women make up 39% of the current labor force but represent 54% of those who have lost their job during this crisis.
Given this reality, if we want to build a stronger Latin America, our priority should not only be to survive, but to work with a long term vision that takes on our deepest problems and allows us to come out of this crisis stronger than we were before it began. And how do we tackle this enormous task? In my view, the answer lies in prioritizing, without falter, our commitment to investing in our talent. The economy that Latin America deserves - one that is sustainable, strong, and flexible - requires us to equip people with more, and better skills. Additionally it requires us to do this with a focus on diversity and inclusion, leaving nobody out. At the end of the day we are the ones who decide if we will reinvent ourselves in order to emerge from this crisis. To get there, we need to begin not only with solid educational foundations but by fostering lifelong learning and building skills that are relevant to the constant change and uncertainty we face. This is not a job for schools or universities alone. Companies and organizations play a fundamental role in people’s learning. We need to take on the responsibility of investing in our talent because that is what our ability to reinvent ourselves, not once but many times along the way, relies on.
At Laboratoria we have been working for the past 6 years to contribute to this promise. More than 1,800 have completed our bootcamp in order to begin a new career in technology and transform their future as well as the future of an entire sector. We have also accompanied companies and over 8,000 of their team members through their processes of learning and transformation of how they work. We have encouraged them to develop new skills to work and grow in the digital era. We have witnessed how hundreds of women have gone, in just 6 months, from being unemployed to working as software developers earning competitive salaries and reaching their true potential.
Given the complex context we are facing today, at Laboratoria we feel an enormous responsibility to do a lot more. We want to contribute to how we are dealing with the crisis by reaching many more women who have faced numerous closed doors due to the way our current system works. We also want to reach many more organizations who are looking to invest in equipping their teams with better skills that will be the force behind their transformation and growth. To achieve this, we, too, are reinventing ourselves. As has been the case for most organizations, the last several months have been a journey of profound changes, of openness to learn how to do things differently and of betting on discovering new opportunities amidst the enormous challenges the pandemic has brought. The circumstances have forced us, along with many other educational organizations, to figure out how to continue achieving remotely the collaborative learning that happened in an in-person environment. After much learning, we feel confident that we are making it happen.
This has led us to begin a new chapter in our story in which we are betting on becoming a fully remote organization in the long run and in that way, transcend borders and scale our impact. During the past months that we’ve been working remotely, we accomplished several valuable things: the consolidation of a vibrant community of women in tech in Latin America made up of graduates from all of our sites, the beginning of our first bootcamp with women from various countries, working with companies in places where we do not have physical training centers and coming closer together as a unique, strong and resilient team. We now have the opportunity for much more of this to happen.
In order to grow our impact, aside from becoming a remote organization, we are also building new alliances that are very special for Laboratoria. In the coming days we will announce two of them in particular. The first one is a new initiative in collaboration with Google.org to help build new skills that will strengthen the employability of thousands of women who are not admitted to our bootcamp. And secondly, a new partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank to help thousands of SMEs through a transformation process that will allow them to remain competitive in the digital era.
Laboratoria was born with the firm intention of building a more diverse, inclusive and competitive digital economy in Latin America that opens opportunities for all people. Today, more than ever, we reaffirm this vision and are reinventing ourselves in order to contribute to it with a stronger drive. Together with many other organizations in this space, we are going to bet, more than ever, on developing in more women and organizations the skills needed to become the engine of our progress. We are convinced that this is the only way to give our Latin America the future opportunities it deserves.
*Translated by: Karen Kelly