Mariana Santos is the founder and Ceo of Chicas Poderosas, a global community that ignites change by inspiring and developing women in media and creating opportunities for all voices to be heard. She is a visual storyteller, who did groundbreaking work as a member of the interactive team at The Guardian in London. A trained animator, she pioneered the newsroom’s use of motion graphics to make data stories more compelling. She leads design thinking workshops to increase multidisciplinary approach to storytelling.
Who is Mariana Santos? define yourself
I am a dreamer and one who believes in my dreams. I am a team player by heart and I love to share the journey with people that come from different sides of life, where our differences make us stronger, wiser and kinder. I am very driven by a purpose of life that is connected to something I deeply believe in and to what I want to dedicate my life to. I am a water animal, I like to flow and I am driven by challenges.
I am ultimately a countryside girl, with a big dream, the people I find along my life who share the same vision are my partners with whom I like to co-create and learn from along the way.
"I believe the best way to achieve things is by attempting to do them. Try, fail fast, learn and try again, that’s my motto"
How were you as a kid?
I was a hyper active girl who loved swimming, loved my family and I loved being part of a team, community, group. I have always been a people’s person. I liked to do many things at the same time, arts + sciences, storytelling with graphics, films or dancing. There was a moment in life I was supposed to stop being a kid and transform into a woman, well this transition has not been super clear in my life, so I think I am now a woman with a kid spirit.
You have a fellowship in Entrepreneur Journalism Communication and Media Studies at Stanford University, Bachelor on Communication Design, at Universidad de Lisboa, Digital Media Master at Hyper Island, why did you study that?
I’ve always been interested in telling stories that can generate a change in the world. I’m a visual person and I’m attracted to the arts and creativity, and I studied to be able to have more skills to tell these stories and engage people, attract them to these issues. At first I knew I wanted to be a designer, but I wasn’t certain I wanted to work in media. But then, working at The Guardian, I realized I could contribute a lot to improve the way stories are told with my skills, and I decided I wanted to work to make a change in the media industry.
You have worked as a journalist in very important media companies as The Guardian, Univision, etc and you founded Chicas Poderosas, a global community with hubs in 18 countries, what´s the recipe for your success?
I believe the best way to achieve things is by attempting to do them. Try, fail fast, learn and try again, that’s my motto and what I try to pass on the community of Chicas Poderosas. The other key to making things happen, is collaboration. This is at the core of our community, and it’s a value we try to spread in the media industry, which can many times put journalists in a place of isolation or competition. We believe and know from experience that what we can do when we work together is much bigger than what we can do working on our own.
"I started Chicas Poderosas to train women, give them skills and tools to become leaders in their newsrooms, and to provide them with a network of support to grow personally and professionally"
Tell us more about your global community CHICAS PODEROSAS? what is the aim, the scope, where this idea came from?
Chicas Poderosas is a global community that ignites change by inspiring and developing women in media and creating opportunities for all voices to be heard.
When I was working in Latina America, I realized there was a huge gender gap in newsrooms. It was men who were occupying leadership positions, not women. Women were being relegated, they didn’t have the leadership skills to lead innovation and trailblazing journalistic projects. That’s when I realized I wanted to change that. And I started Chicas Poderosas, in 2013, to train women, give them skills and tools to become leaders in their newsrooms, and to provide them with a network of support to grow personally and professionally.
What started as a small project, became a global community, an international movement, led by women for women. All with the aim of promoting female leadership in journalism and elevating the quality of journalism by doing so. To do so, we work in two areas. First, empowering women through professional development and innovation. We offer professional training to provide women in media with the concrete skills to take their professional career to the next level, boost entrepreneurial journalism projects, and push forward female leadership.
And second, we are changing the narrative to transform the world. We are telling stories from the viewpoints of women, by women, and we are promoting collaborative journalism to create new stories, that are more complex and reflect more diversity.
What is the reality of your day-to-day?
I spend my days working a lot to make Chicas Poderosas grow and become a sustainable, international organization, together with my powerful team. Also, I do yoga & surf.
Do you have any particular philosophy that guides your career decisions?
There’s a phrase that is another motto of mine and which is why I chose this professional path: “we rise by lifting others,” a quote from Robert Ingersoll.
What do you love most about your job? & what is the most difficult part?
I love seeing the impact we are having: we are putting underrepresented issues on the agenda, we are cultivating a culture of collaboration among journalists, and we are helping women grow in their careers: they are changing jobs, starting projects, winning awards. The most difficult part is dealing with the challenge of growing and making this organization sustainable, but it’s a nice problem to have :) And I feel the most fortunate person to be able to work every day with outstanding women and men who have made an assertive decision to dedicate their skills and time to advance opportunities to a more diverse and inclusive world. This is a blessing!
"I don’t think women “must” do anything other than what they want. And I think at this moment women around the world are standing up for the freedom to be themselves and live their lives fully, challenging stereotypes and expectations from a patriarchal society that impose those standards"
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned over the years?
Believe in yourself, nothing is impossible if you are willing to work for it.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Dare to try, to fail, and to learn from your mistakes, and talk with others: share experiences and learn from theirs. This is key. Always keep your heart open and trust the journey.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
It’s not a strategy. But our community has been essential to make our organization grow.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I like to be with friends, run, do yoga, surf, go to the beach, play with my dogs.
Many authors say women can and must strive to have everything – a shining career, blossoming family life, and a perfectly balanced lifestyle all at once, others point out that– then women are placing unrealistic expectations on themselves if they believe they can have it all, I don´t know if you are married or have kids, so according to your experience, what do you think about these statements?
I don’t think women “must” do anything other than what they want. And I think at this moment women around the world are standing up for the freedom to be themselves and live their lives fully, challenging stereotypes and expectations from a patriarchal society that impose those standards, fighting for their rights, and speaking up to make their voices heard. And from Chicas Poderosas, we are trying to support them.
What are your plans for the future?
I am focusing on structuring Chicas Poderosas to make the organization grow, and working with teams in different countries to carry out projects that have an impact on women’s lives to begin with and in society as a ultimate goal, more balanced and inclusive societies.
"Don’t let anyone tell you can’t do it, believe in yourself, and collaborate to make your dreams happen"
There is still the glass ceiling for women in the world: Fewer opportunities, jobs underpaid just for that fact of being a woman, etc. Have you experimented with the glass ceiling? if yes, what are the biggest challenges you have faced and how have you overcome them?
Yes, as many women I have experienced that moment when you hit the glass ceiling. Working in media, I had few female roles to follow, many times my voice wasn’t heard, I didn’t have support. And my response to all of that was to start Chicas Poderosas, to make sure women don’t go through that, or, if they do, that they have a network of support to face these challenges and overcome them. And on top of that be equipped to be able to choose what and how they want to proceed with their lives.
What tips, can you give to young girls who want to become an entrepreneur like you?
Don’t let anyone tell you can’t do it, believe in yourself, and collaborate to make your dreams happen. Don’t cut our own wings by self-sabotage, I once wrote a book for that: If you don’t believe in you, what do you believe in?
I think in your position, many people may have the wrong idea of who you are (personally), and what do you (professionally), with this idea in mind, what is being Mariana and what´s not?
I’m the same way in my personal and professional life. I tend to be honest, and try not to take myself too seriously.
Who is the woman you admire the most and why?
My biggest role model is my mother, her path wasn’t always easy but she has taught me what being a super women really means.
Name: Mariana Santos
Sector: Media and women empowerment
Company: Chicas Poderosas
Designation: Founder and CEO