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Putting gender at the heart of pandemic response


Woman entrepreneur putting gender at the heart of pandemic response

  • The most vulnerable groups, including women, are being hardest hit by COVID-19. Leadership roles for women must be part of the pandemic response.
  • Marysela Zamora’s Nosotras Women Connecting International is providing women with new digital training, equipping them to thrive in business despite the crisis.
  • The company’s unique storytelling platforms empower the next generation of female leaders, including 16 politicians from across Latin America so far.

When COVID-19 hit Costa Rica, Marysela Zamora’s response was to find opportunity in the crisis. “At the very start, I was scared. Everything I do is about bringing people together. But then I realized: this is an opportunity for us to create a new reality,” she said. “This is an unprecedented moment to put gender equality and inclusion at the core.”

To support women in response to the pandemic, her business, Nosotras Women Connecting International, launched a new two-week digital training program to help women thrive in their businesses while working remotely. Morning sessions focus on networking and business building; evening sessions focus on self-care, community building, and leadership.

Marysela’s company is one of seven winners from among 2,400 applicants to the World Bank Group’s annual SDGs&Her competition. In partnership with UNDP, UN Women, and the Wharton School Zicklin Center, the competition supports women entrepreneurs around the world, so that they can thrive in their businesses while helping achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

Since COVID-19 hit, the World Bank Group has taken fast action to help strengthen the global pandemic response. Projects are deploying $160 billion in financing, with support tailored to the health, economic, and social shocks countries are facing.

Changing the narrative to change your story

Especially during the pandemic, Marysela believes women must be better represented in leadership roles, thus supporting SDG 5 in Achieving Gender Equality. In 2020, women still account for only 20% of the officials in national parliaments and 36% in local governments. “Too often, women are not including in the decision making processes,” she said, adding that her company’s programs help empower women through storytelling.

“The power of a story can change people’s minds. The moment you hear a woman talking about the struggles she faced as president, you realize these are the same ones you face, just on a different scale. You begin to see what is possible,” Marysela says.  To date,

Nosotras Women Connecting has hosted five international summits for around 7,000 young leaders, and created tailor-made programs like LAB Nosotras Lideresas, empowering 120 entrepreneurs and 16 politicians from across Latin America and Kenya.

Working to empower girls is also critical to the organization’s mission. Nosotras has joined UNICEF Costa Rica to create Generación Valentía, a platform that uses a digital character, a 15-year-old girl named Valentía, to depict how powerful ideas can change the world for the better.  It is connecting 150 women aged 14-24 and supporting them in becoming change agents within their communities.

Building a community to build change

The most vulnerable groups, including women, are being hardest hit by the pandemic. Marysela’s work to build new communities of powerful women supports SDG 10, Reduced inequalities.  With more than 90% of COVID-19 cases in urban areas, her business also brings together diverse women from all backgrounds and locations, supporting SDG Goal 11 to build more Sustainable cities and communities.

“Back in 2014, I felt my life was on a bad path,” explained Marysela. She is among one in three women globally who have experienced violence in a relationship. “But I didn’t want it to go on that way. I thought about how I could change my narrative, and then support other women, so that others would not have to feel alone and isolated like I did.”

“We see that our programs bring change,” she said. “Women have changed their story, because they know other women who have already done it. They overcome fear as a result. That is how we inspire leaders of today and create leaders for tomorrow. We all need as many allies as possible to make our work impactful. We realize that when a woman doesn’t have an opportunity, her whole community is affected.”

Marysela believes that Nosotras Women Connecting will become a global movement of women supporting women to change this situation, helping achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. “One of my strengths is in making people dream with me, then bringing them together to make those dreams a reality. I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know how to do everything. But by networking, I know somebody that probably does,” she said.

About SDGs&Her:

In 2015, all 193 United Nations member countries signed on to 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to "create the future we want in 2030.” SDGs&Her is an online competition for women entrepreneurs to showcase how they are supporting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through business leadership.

Putting Gender at the Heart of the Pandemic Response in Costa Rica

Do you think the pandemic response needs more women leaders? You’re not alone: join SDGs and Her competition winner for Latin America and the Caribbean and North America Marysela Zamora. She is bringing Nostoras Women Connecting digital courses and storytelling workshops to empower women and girls through networking opportunities and leadership skills training, leading global change for a more equitable world.