Susana Martinez-Restrepo, Director of Research and Development, "CoreWoman Institute"
“It doesn’t really fit our culture. The measurements come from India and Bangladesh. It doesn’t really apply to South American women. We are empowered and disempowered in different ways in South America.”
Meet Susana Martinez-Restrepo. Susana describes herself as a “curious nerd from Colombia, who loves to write, discover, and empower women.” She is the co-founder and Managing Partner of CoreWoman, a non-profit innovation lab that works to close the gender gap in education and the labor market. A self-described introvert, Susana holds a Ph.D. in Economics of Education from Columbia University in the City of New York and is fluent in four languages. In her quest to achieve mind/body balance she does triathlons (which is how she met her fiancé) and has gone back to nature, moving up to Monroe, NY near Harriman State Park where she lives on 9.3 acres. She is the editor of the recently published, Measuring Women’s Economic Empowerment: Critical Lessons from South America. You can follow Susana via CoreWoman on Twitter.
What Does She Do?
While wearing one of her many hats — as CoreWoman’s Director of Research and Development at the “CoreWoman Institute” – Susana conducts applied research, offers capacity-building consulting and leadership programs especially designed for Latino and Latin American women. She is also often called in as a consultant, based on her expertise in education and labor market policies, gender equality, and women’s empowerment working for a range of stakeholders including governments, foundations, Fortune 100’s, and international organizations.
Susana notes that while there is a worldwide gender gap, it is particularly acute among Latin American women. Susana has become known as a vocal critic of standard methodology that has been the basis for measuring women’s economic empowerment. “It doesn’t really fit our culture. The measurements come from India and Bangladesh. It doesn’t really apply to South American women. We are empowered and disempowered in different ways in South America.” Despite this, the growth rate in the number of Hispanic women entrepreneurs has more than doubled between 2007 and 2016 — which outpaces any other entrepreneurial segment.
How Did She Get Into This Work?
“My mom is an entrepreneur, but out of necessity.”
Susana and her brother were raised by a single mom who was also a successful capitalist. Before selling her business — it was the first company in Colombia to produce Stevia — and retiring, she had amassed a staff of fifteen and worked tirelessly, often anxious about paying bills and staying afloat. For this reason, Susana’s entrepreneurial DNA is tempered by a dose of risk aversion.
Not content to receive a middling education, and to the shock of her family, Susana decided to study in France, finding scholarship monies that enabled her to make that a reality. It seemed to be inevitable that she become an academic, but a battle with depression saw her take leave to study yoga in India. Her practice enabled her to leave the anti-depressants behind and made her self-aware enough to realize that her future would include neither anxiety migraines nor hard-core academia.
Still, she was encouraged to complete her Ph.D., with an understanding that her training in impact evaluation would be put to good use. For a year and a half she toiled at the United Nations Development Programme – UNDP — but found its “Golden Cage” (as its often referred to) too bureaucratic.
Susana found her way back to Colombia, buoyed by a seven-figure grant by Canada’s IDRC / CRDI (International Development Research Centre) to start her very own research center, with her American husband in tow. Susana filled her hours with research in the field; candidly, much of it to avoid her husband. (“I guess I had to get divorced to get CoreWoman.”)
Along the way, she had an epiphany: While understanding that research is necessary to inform public policy, Susana asked herself: “What am I doing? I’m just taking information from these people, publishing, and feeding my ego. What are we doing to empower these woman? And what are we doing in terms of measurement?”
CoreWomen, then, would focus on knowledge, consulting and programs to reduce the gender gap. Susana discovered that these three components are not often offered together, and can therefore not contribute to improving one another. Furthermore, high-quality research, consulting services, and leadership programs are often out of reach for the most vulnerable women. Since launching CoreWoman three years ago, Susana has trained nearly 1,500 women. (Susan’s business model is to offer CoreWoman services to NGO’s, governments, and academia at market cost while making them free to grassroots organizations and Latina entrepreneurs.)
What Project(s) Is She Working On?
Susana is particularly excited to launch an app in the near future that, based on her conceptual framework, will show Latina women what resources they need to achieve their goals and what they need to develop to acquire agency (from soft skills like negotiation and self-confidence to the financial education necessary to launch a business). CoreWomen will then provide training to ensure success. (By the by, Susana has found that most frequently women need tools for self-promotion and some coaching in public speaking.)
CoreWoman is likewise scaling-up research, consulting and programs with the use of disruptive technologies and is in the process of launching a project that will build capacity among grassroots organizations, NGO’s and governments in Latin America to mainstream gender in their project cycle.
How Did She Come to Civic Hall?
Susana was working out of a WeWork but felt that she wasn’t aligned with their community. Through friends, at Purpose (Jeremy Heimans’s agency) she learned about Civic Hall. Initially, she saw Civic Hall as an alternative to staying home all day with her cats; she’s since come to enjoy our brown bags, our panels and workshops, and most of all, our people.
What Is Her Ask of Civic Hall?
While Susana has a broad and deep network in Latin America, she is still entering and opening markets in New York and Miami among Hispanic women. She is looking for introductions to foundations that will support CoreWoman operationally, as well as guidance with the integration of disruptive technologies within CoreWoman’s programs. She’d also love some brainstorming around CoreWoman’s evolving business plan.