Isabelle: Activating young black women in São Paulo, Brazil through technology
Isabelle's mother faced numerous social barriers because of her identity. Undeterred, she raised her daughter, Isabelle, to feel confident and capable to be a strong female leader and global citizen. Isabelle's story demonstrates how she channels her mother's support to build up other young women like her.
Growing up in the outskirts of São Paulo, in the Grajaú neighborhood, young Isabelle struggled to access a quality education. However, inspired by her mother’s love for reading, Isabelle educated herself through books and the internet, and eventually taught herself English. Her determination for an education showed her the potential of technology for social transformation.
At the age of 13, Isabelle realized that many other young, black girls from lower income communities lacked the same support or opportunities to access a quality education. Empathizing with these girls, she decided to create a blog to discuss these social injustices. Researching educational disparities taught Isabelle that social barriers are interconnected; race, income, and gender can systematically hinder access to education across Brazil.
At 14, she transitioned from writing about social issues to taking acting by launching an organization called Projeto Meninas Negras, or the Black Girls Project. The goal of the venture is to fight against racial and gender inequalities by helping black girls gain access to opportunities to become women leaders and global citizens. To date, more than 30 girls have participated in her project.
Most of the time, Isabelle and the other young women communicate through digital mediums, like Skype, to study various subjects such as Portuguese, Mathematics, Writing and English. Online, the girls carry out collaborative technology projects, such as participating in hackathons and events like Campus Party, which is a 24-hour technology festival and hackathon. One particular highlight of 2018
for the team was their participation in Technovation 2018, an international competition for app creators specifically addressing social challenges for girls ages 10 to 18 years.
Isabelle’s mother is her most influential ally, offering her only support when launching her social venture. Isabelle’s mother says she faced numerous challenges when she entered the workforce, and so she wanted to “prepared [her] daughter to choose her job, her school, and what she wanted to do in life.”
Isabelle and her mother lead the organization with the professional guidance of 10 educators who volunteer their expertise to shape the project’s curriculum and activities. The venture is also supported by transnational corporations such as Oracle, IBM, and Facebook, whose employees mentor girls in the program. With this growing network of adult allies, in three years, Isabelle hopes to reach over 300 young women.
Ultimately, Isabelle hopes her venture can close education gaps between races and genders while increasing representation of young black women in higher education and companies. “I think everyone needs to dream big,” Isabelle says, “we need to dream things that don't happen so that they can actually happen in the future…” To other changemakers, Isabelle’s advice is: “when you come across something, don't just watch what's going on, but take effective action to make a change for the future.”