Chicas Poderosas and its founder Mariana Santos are on a mission to help women journalists in Latin America gain digital storytelling skills. Why women journalists? Well, because women are excellent storytellers, just like men. However, women in Latin American newsrooms have been hugely outnumbered by their male colleagues. This is exactly what Chicas Poderosas are working on  bringing women’s voices to storytelling. 

Consider this: According to the Global Media Monitoring Project, in 2015 women make up only 24% of the persons heard, read about or seen in newspaper, television and radio news, exactly as they did in 2010. What’s more, “only 37% of stories in newspapers, television and radio newscasts are reported by women,” says GMMP. We don’t read or hear enough stories about women, nor do we read or hear enough stories told by women. North American news has the highest percentage of experts in the news who are women (32%) followed by the Caribbean (29%) and Latin America (27%). But still, female experts account for only one-third of all experts we see in the news.

With that said, there’s been some significant progress in Latin America news media: over the past two decades, the gender gap in the news has narrowed from 16% in 1995 to 29% in 2015. However, equal participation in Latin American media is not the only issue that’s holding the journalism back. In the era of digital storytelling newsrooms add and develop more technology that requires training to be properly implemented. Women journalists are not only underrepresented in the newsrooms, they also lack the essential tech skills that would allow them to create digital stories. Bringing women together in technology newsrooms in Latin America is the mission of Chicas Poderosas, a network started by a JSK Knight Fellow, Mariana Santos.

“By deciding who gets to talk, who writes, and what shapes the debate, media forms our understanding of who we are, where we live, and what we can.” Mariana Santos


Who’s behind Chicas Poderosas

mariana santos

When Mariana Santos, founder and CEO of Chicas Poderosas, says she wants to help women in newsrooms create more visual stories, she knows what she’s talking about. Santos graduated from the University of Lisbon with a degree in communication design. Prior to founding Chicas Poderosas, she worked as a motion designer at Universal Music Berlin and as an infographics editor at Olympic Committee Rio 2016. Inspired by her experience as a member of The Guardian’s first interactive team, she decided that there should be more training provided by the tech-savvy journalists “to pass their experience on and motivate others to do disruptive visual storytelling in news.”

As Santos states in her article “It’s a better time than ever to be a journalist”, she “didn’t set out to be a journalist but a communications designer.” As a trained animator, she grew frustrated with the idea of telling stories only to sell products and services. She was eager to find a way to tell stories that would matter to her and give her a feeling of accomplishment. Later Santos realized that with the news industry’s shift from print to digital, her experience in graphic design could be very useful.

JSK Fellowship Stanford

Mariana Santos started Chicas Poderosas in 2013 while she was an JSK Knight Fellow at Stanford. John S. Knight Journalism Fellowship is a 10-month program at Stanford University that “fosters journalistic innovation, entrepreneurship and leadership.” Each year the it invites 20 professional journalists from around the world to come to the heart of Silicon Valley for one year to innovate and collaborate with other journalists. The Fellowship’s mission is to “support journalists who are deeply engaged in exploring solutions to the biggest challenges facing journalism.” The program started in 1966 as a Journalism fellowships at Stanford. After receiving a $4 million grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, it was renamed for John S. Knight. In 2014 the fellowship program received a $1.8 million grant from the Knight Foundation to fund alumni initiatives and projects that they come up with during their fellowships.


Changing the face of new media one woman at a time

chicas poderosas mission

Initially Chicas Poderosas was created with an idea to help women journalists in Latin America get the necessary digital skills. “It is a network that matches mentors with woman journalists across Latin America”, says Mariana Santos. “We bring technologies, designers, entrepreneurs and leaders to help them grow and bring innovation into their newsrooms.” After only 15 months of existence, the Chicas Poderosas team held 11 events and trained over a thousand women.


How the training works

The participants gather at Stanford for three days of workshops that focus on how to create digital stories, how to work with databases and how to find information online. Among Chicas Poderosas mentors are leaders and journalists from The New York Times, The Guardian, NPR, Propublica, and La Nacion, to name just a few. Because a number of specialists are involved in working in newsrooms, the emphasis of training is also on how to collaborate with teams of journalists, developers and designers to help women journalists succeed as media leaders and innovators.


Next steps

chicas poderosas

Since its launch in 2013 the Chicas Poderosas network has evolved and expanded. Following the success of the program, Mariana Santos realized that there was a great need of this kind of training program in Latin America. The idea was to grow the Chicas Poderosas network organically without having to travel around the world. One way of doing so was to train the future ambassadors of Chicas Poderosas that would take a leadership role in their communities and empower other women. Today, Chicas Poderosas is more than a mentorship program for women journalists in Latin America, there are now Chicas communities in thirteen countries.

The growing network is now embracing new formats: This year Chicas Poderosas introduced investigative journalism workshops and hackathons. These new events are meant to teach women journalists “the skills and knowledge to research and report on issues that serve the public interest, to hold the powerful accountable, and to seek truth with accuracy.”


New Ventures Lab Accelerator

chicas poderosas

Another project Chicas Poderosas are working on is the New Ventures Lab an accelerator that will provide early-stage, women-led startups with strategic guidance, training, and access to financing opportunities. The Lab’s primary focus is “to create an informed, connected and empowered society” by educating women entrepreneurs on how to create independent digital media companies. The New Ventures Lab idea is unique in a way that it addresses specific issues that prevent women entrepreneurs from being innovative and taking leadership roles in their communities.

The first New Ventures Lab will take place in Brazil in 2018 and will run for 17 weeks. Among the educational topic are digital tools, fundraising, revenue models, team development, budgeting and distribution, to name just a few. Here’s what Vicki Hammarstedt, a co-director of Chicas Poderosas, says about the New Ventures Lab: “The beneficiaries are the people living in the regions across Latin America where the women-led independent news organizations are founded. This inclusive free press will lead to awareness and open dialogue on issues of gender, social and economic welfare and address populations marginalized by absence of news and information that serves the public interest.”

What started as a one-woman project is now a mentorship program, a growing community of tech-savvy and empowered women who work across boarders to educate other women, and  a first of its kind accelerator. Chicas Poderosas live up to their name. They are bold, ambitious and unstoppable, and they are changing the face of media one woman at a time. 

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