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Chicas Poderosas In Bogotá: Inspiring Change in the Newsroom

“I believe that we need to be the first ones to believe in ourselves.”

These words have become the driving force behind Chicas Poderosas [es], a project founded by Mariana Santos with the goal of building a network of women [es] that works to bring about change in the newsroom through technology. Santos, who started out as the only woman on her team at The Guardian, is now holding events throughout Latin America which spur innovation in reporting.

Focusing on visual storytelling techniques for data driven journalism, Chicas Poderosas brings together news organizations, software developers, and designers from all over the world to host workshops and inspire people to become more involved in the media.

In an article previously published on Rising Voices, Santos said,

“[W]e aim to gather a group of strangers together with different skills in order to work together, embrace change, and celebrate the possibility of developing news stories.”

After two successful meetups in Chile and Costa Rica, Chicas Poderosas geared up for its third event spanning September 11 to 13 at the Universidad Santo Tomás in Bogotá, Colombia. This time, Chicas Poderosas joined forces with Colombia 3.0, also known as the “Great Summit of Digital Content,” with a lineup of world-renown attendees, including guests from The New York Times, Washington Post, BBC and Hacks/Hackers Buenos Aires.

Daniel Suárez Perez, one of the co-organizers of the event, expressed his excitement over the event and pointed out that nothing like this has happened before in Colombia:

“Esto va a ser un ‘hit’. Va a ser algo que va a romper con muchos estándares, con muchas cadenas que nos tenían atados al pasado […] Estos tres días van a ser aquí el cambio en Colombia.” 

“This is going to be a hit. This is going to be something that will break through many standards, many chains that had us attached to the passed […] These three days are going to be the change here in Colombia.”

Despite its name, Chicas Poderosas welcomes both men and women with the goal of uniting anyone interested in sharing ideas about content creation and data visualization.

What began as a gathering for 100 people over time attracted 400 plus attendees, with 200 followers via live stream.

Topics ranged from improving skills for newsroom work to digital management. Zeshaan Shamsi, the BBC's senior tech recruiter, kicked off the event with a talk on preparing for interviews. He was followed by Ben Steward, a U.K. project manager working to change the way the government delivers digital services, who shared ideas on managing start ups in the journalism sector, and later talks on data journalism from the Open Knowledge Foundation and mobile story development from Matthew Caruana of La Nación [es] (Costa Rica).

On day two, there were lectures from designer Manuel Canales [es], director of infographics at La Nación, on visual storytelling, and the Mozilla team — Sonya Yan Song, Annabel Churche, and Brian Abelson. Song, a Knight-Mozilla OpenNews Fellow, spoke about her experiences as a web developer in journalism.

Later, we asked Sonya about her experience at the conference as she watched people of so many different backgrounds coming together to spark change in the media:

“Brian Abelson […] speaks just a little bit of Spanish and some participants from Colombia don't speak much English. And in the end [of the teaching session] one young guy just pulled him into a corner and showed him a computer, typed some Spanish into Google Translate. And the English words popped up as ‘I'm so grateful to you, you showed me how to code, you opened a new world to me.'”

Sonya Yan Song during her speech on readability across newsrooms. (Photo by Mariana Santos. Used with permission.)

Sonya Yan Song during her speech on readability across newsrooms (all photos by Mariana Santos, used with permission).

Lia Valero, the event’s third co-organizer, shared her thoughts on how this event changed her outlook on her future in journalism and technology:

“Chicas Poderosas me ha mostrado que podemos ser mujeres emprendedoras en el campo tecnológico, serias y comprometidas sin perder nunca la diversión y el amor por lo que hacemos. Es la oportunidad de perder el miedo y adentrarse a participar en espacios de networking y conferencias de la mano de expertos mundiales.”

“Chicas Poderosas has shown me that we women can be serious and committed entrepreneurs in the technological field without ever losing the fun and love for what we do. This is an opportunity to wipe out the fear and get into participating in networking spaces and conferences at the hands of world experts.”

The third day featured a workshop with interactive experiences for mobile apps, and a Hackathon powered by Mozilla News and hosted by Hacks/Hackers, an international organization that bridges the gap between journalists and technologists, hosted the final days’ activities.

At the Chicas Poderosas hackathon, journalists and developers collaborated for 24 hours and created prototypes for various apps that use data to resolve issues ranging from agricultural displacement to monitoring traffic accidents.

Annabel Church, a Knight-Mozilla OpenNews Fellow at ZeitOnline, presenting at the Chicas Poderosas Hackaton. (Photo taken by Mariana Santos and used with permission.)

Annabel Church, a Knight-Mozilla OpenNews Fellow at ZeitOnline, during her presentation.

Over the course of a few days, Chicas Poderosas populated social media outlets and became a trending topic on Twitter in Colombia with hashtag #chicaspoderosasbog.

Jorge M. Restrepo (@jorgemrestrepo), a teacher and Digital Communications professional in Colombia, did not waste any time before sharing his contentment following the event.

“I am leaving Bogota so happy after learning so much at #Chicaspoderosasbog and meeting and sharing with so many amazing people.”

Though the meetup has ended, this is not the last of of Chicas Poderosas. Currently in the works is another event set for January 2014 in Mexico and interest continues to grow in new countries including Ecuador, Peru, and Brazil. Santos strives to open a chapter in each country in Latin America and has high hopes for the organization’s future:

“Mis metas son que las personas tengan acceso al conocimiento. Yo pienso que en América Latina las personas ven siempre o piensan siempre que los otros son quienes saben mejor y que hacen las cosas mejores […] Yo que espero […] es cambiar este pensamiento porque las personas latinoamericanas también son muy fuertes.”

“My goals are for people to have access to knowledge. I think that in Latin America people always see or think that others know better or do things better […] What I hope […] is to change this thought process because Latin American people are also quite strong.”

To learn more about Chicas Poderosas and keep track of upcoming meetups, you can follow them on Facebook, Twitter @poderosaschicas, and on their website.

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