Obama meets Laboratoria

A few weeks ago I received a phone call from Danielle. She works at the U.S Department of State and had quite a surreal proposition for me. She was inviting me to be part of a panel at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit with none other than Mark Zuckerberg and Barack Obama.

-Sorry, with who? — My surprise was hard to hide.

-With President Barack Obama, Mark Zuckerberg and two other entrepreneurs from Egypt and Rwanda. We would like you to join us at the panel.

She spoke so calmly that it was hard for me to believe that it was not a prank call like the ones I did when I was a teenager. To add up to the strangeness of the moment, I received the call right outside my prenatal classes. I was pregnant with eight months. Lucia, my first daughter, would arrive soon, and I was being invited to share a panel with some of the most influential people in the world just a few weeks after that.

I couldn’t sleep that night. Obama? Since his presidential campaign in 2008, which I lived closely since I was then living in DC, I’m his biggest admirer. His integrity and humbleness have set a new standard of political leadership for me. Aside from my hopes of randomly spotting him during my walks near the White House, I never imagined meeting him.

-And Lucia? — I asked my husband feeling devastated at the thought of being apart from her only a few days after her birth.

My husband promised that he would look after her with all his love.

Without knowing how life would be after her arrival, I decided to accept the invitation. When she was born a few days later on a Monday morning, I completely regretted my decision. I know it sounds crazy to doubt an invitation like this, but maternity is an overwhelming experience.

With the fortune of having unconditional friends and family ready to make sure Lucia had plenty of love, seventeen days after bringing a baby to this world I boarded a plane to tell the President of the U.S. and the founder of Facebook about Laboratoria. It was hard to leave, but I felt I owed it to Laboratoria, which in a way was my first baby. To the thousands of hours that so many of us have given to this project. To each one of the young women that sees in this endeavor hopes of a better future.

Even if Obama never suspected all it took for me to be there, his genuine interest in Laboratoria made all my effort worth it. How important it is that two of the most influential people in the world have the will not only to sit down with young entrepreneurs like us, but also read about our work, care about our impact and tell the world that what we do matters.

“Entrepreneurs have an idea, gather a team and work to make it happen. They launch products and business and entire industries that transform the world. That is the power of entrepreneurs, and the hope that we see in these panelists today.” — Barack Obama presenting to the panel.

When the panel began, I couldn’t stop thinking about how I got there. I remembered those first days building Laboratoria. The fear of thinking nothing would come out of that first pilot program where next to a friend I decided to teach coding to 15 young women from some of the most unprivileged neighborhoods in Lima. The first award we won, when I felt for the first time that someone else — aside from my family and friends — believed in this idea. The first graduate that got a job, and the first coding conference given by one of our graduates. So many good things have happened since that is seems hard to believe.

The panel reminded me how much I love my job. Sharing what I do every day makes me happy. It overcomes my fears and nervousness, giving me the strength to go out and tell the world that Laboratoria is simply awesome. And it’s not awesome because I started it or because Obama now know who we are. It is special because it really transforms the lives of women in Latin America, giving them the tools to be economically independent and with that, free to build the life they want for themselves.

Some people have asked me what else can we aspire to after this type of exposure. For me, this is just the beginning. Today more than ever I am truly convinced that we can all be part of building the type of country and region we want to live in. It will not be easy, but it’s not impossible. This panel was a recognition not only to Laboratoria’s work, but also to that of social entrepreneurs around the world that risk everything for a dream that goes beyond themselves. To the young people that like Obama said, build companies that transform the world.

I don’t know yet how was it that they chose me for this panel, but it was truly an honor to be there. Thank you, Lucia, for waiting for me, and Laboratoria for giving me this opportunity. My little grain of advice after this experience: put all your strength on doing the things that you are passionate about because if you do, reality can truly overcome our wildest dreams.

Mariana