Chicas Poderosas to launch incubator for entrepreneurial women journalists in Brazil in 2018

Women journalists, communicators, programmers and designers in Latin American media are like diamonds forming under great pressure, according to CEO and founder of Chicas Poderosas, Mariana Santos. Her organization wants to bring these gems to the surface with a new incubator for women media entrepreneurs.

New Ventures Lab, a tool to accelerate the creation of journalism and media companies led by women, will be deployed early next year in Brazil. Starting on Jan. 22, there will be 17 weeks of mentoring with business developers from successful technology start ups, journalists and media entrepreneurs from Brazil and the rest of Latin America.

Chicas Poderosas is a global movement that began in 2013, while Santos was a International Knight Journalism Fellow at International Center for Journalists, to empower women at Latin American digital media outlets in technology. Today, the organization has a presence in 11 countries in the region.

"We will try to bring design thinking and user-centered experience into everything we do and journalism is no exception. We have a partnership with IDEO designers that will help us spread this technique of creative thinking and collaboration throughout Brazil," Santos, a Portuguese journalist, told the Knight Center.

The objective is to change a discouraging scenario for women who work in the press or want to launch new projects. Usually, editorial or management positions are held by men. These key positions decide which news stories are published and which will be shared with the public, Vicki Hammarstedt, Chicas Poderosas co-director and digital media director at the Berkeley Advanced Media Institute in the U.S., wrote upon announcement of the project.

“This inequality results in biased reporting and suppresses the voice of women, thereby impacting the rights of women and girls, the social and economic structure, civic engagement, and democratic governance– all of which are detrimental to the well being of more than half the population of Latin America,” Hammarstedt wrote.

Initially, three Brazilian cities will function as poles of the entrepreneurship incubator: Recife, which is a technological and innovative center that is geographically outside of the centers of São Paulo and Rio; Manaus, which will serve to include women from more remote, rural and inland areas; and São Paulo, which will host New Ventures Lab, with partnerships with Google Campus and Google News Lab.

"We chose Brazil because it is one of the countries where there is a lot of political corruption at the moment and sometimes press freedom is at-risk. We want to train more entrepreneurial and motivated women to change the general panorama with ideas of collaboration, innovation and leadership in the digital sector," Santos explained.

Starting in October, the three cities will host “design thinking weekends,” workshops where groups of new media and journalism companies will be able to enroll in the incubator. Men can join the team, but the Chicas want women in leadership, as CEOs.

 Attendees at a Chicas Poderosas event in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica. (Courtesy)

"We are making a big bet on the growth of women's digital and entrepreneurial leaders, and trying to create opportunities for their ideas to have wings. There are already spectacular projects in Brazil. With Chicas, what we want is to make synergies and create moments of serendipity so that the magic multiplies," Santos said.

In Brazil, where most journalists are female, nothing would be more natural than for them also to be the most enterprising, according to one of the Chicas ambassadors in the country, journalist Adriana Garcia. Although the incubator is not yet in operation, the Brazilian movement already has an informal network of mentoring, talks and support for women who want to launch their own projects.

The idea began last year during a hackathon on Paralympic sports in Rio de Janeiro. "I was in charge of digital for the Rio 2016 Games. It was two intense days of producing infographics on the subject, then distributing them to the press. Since then, we have been discussing how Chicas can give more support to women who have projects and want to launch them," Garcia told the Knight Center.

The future already seems positive for Latin American women entrepreneurs: a SembraMedia survey released at the 10th Ibero American Colloquium for Digital Journalism revealed that more than 60 percent of digital media sites in the region are led by females.

"I think it's a great sign and a great touchstone, so that we have more role models and more success stories in the networks that can be supported. Chicas work by collaboration, team spirit and mentoring, so we hope that women entrepreneurs in the region can have more support and thus fly higher," Santos concluded.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.