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A social-tech entrepreneur’s playbook with Lucia Gallardo

How can we encourage women in tech to play a more active part in this industry?  

Our most recent guest on Slaves to the Algo, Lucia Gallardo, says, “I don’t think there are too many men in tech, I just think there aren’t enough women in tech. It’s just a matter of like making sure that your opportunities are presented in a way that make [women] feel like they can belong at your company.” 

Lucia joins Suresh for the second time on Slaves to the Algo podcast. In the first part, she talks about her intent of leveraging tech for the social good. She goes on to elaborate her findings -conserving rainforests through NFTs, refugee management, Crypto and more.

Lucia Gallardo is a Honduran serial entrepreneur and the Founder & CEO of Emerge, a company dedicated to developing emerging technological solutions with a social impact. Emerge is a humanitarian technology company that enables the more efficient, more humane, and more transparent movement of people, goods, and data around the world.  In 2020, Lucia was named one of MIT Technology Review’s Innovators under 35. And in her spare time, she sits on the boards of varied non-profits like Crypto Kids Camp and Rainforest Partnership, tech organizations like Penta Network and The Caribbean Blockchain Alliance, and WE Global studio, which supports women entrepreneurs across the world. She is Acquisition International’s North American Female Blockchain CEO of 2019. In 2020, Lucía has been nominated for Royal Bank of Canada’s Entrepreneur of the Year award and Future of Good’s 21 Founders to Watch. 

How can we build financial services for refugees? What’s the tech behind the future of payments –NFTs, Bitcoin and Crypto. Check out the full conversation between Suresh and Lucia below. 

About Slaves to the Algo  

Whether we know it or not, like it or not, our lives have been taken over by algorithms. Join two-time entrepreneur and AI evangelist Suresh Shankar, as he talks to leading experts in various fields to understand how they are using or being used by algorithms in their personal and professional lives. Each episode highlights how businesses can leverage the power of data in their strategy to stay relevant in this new age of AI. Slaves to the Algo is brought to you by Crayon Data, a Singapore-based AI and big-data startup.  

Suresh Shankar is the founder and CEO of Crayon Data, a leading AI and big data start-up based in Singapore. Crayon Data’s flagship platform, maya.ai, is the AI platform powering the age of relevance.  

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Full transcript of the episode below: 

Suresh Shankar 

Welcome back to One more episode of slaves to the algo. We continue with Lucia founder and CEO of emerge. Lucia has had a fascinating career that started at the age of eight. I thought it was 12. But she corrected me and told me it was eight, where she learned about what she wanted to do in her life and create social impact. And then that went on to her starting to get into the world of technology and see she become one of the leading social tech entrepreneurs in the world. In the last episode, we talked with Lucy a lot about data and identity and privacy and how different kinds of applications are being used to create social impact. In this episode, we’re going to continue the conversation with her or on how data and AI is being used to help migrant workers solve corruption problems and so on. Welcome back to the show, Lucia. 

Lucia Gallardo   

Thank you. Thank you for having me again. I am super happy to be here and keep keep this discussion going. 

Suresh Shankar   

I think a lot of work that you do is with migrant workers and refugees, and 80 million people flee their homes, nearly 25 million plus refugees, most of them are under the age of 18, which is not just a refugee problem, it’s a problem on terms of sexual abuse is a problem in terms of economics, etc. Many of them denying nationality lack access to basic rights. And now AI and machine learning and data are being used to understand migration related phenomena, right? Project, Jetson, which has this index that, you know, allows you to make short term predictions of data flow, you worked a lot to the migrant caravans in Mexico and all of that, what sort of data are you using? Are you seeing being used to help the whole cause of refugees and migrants? 

Lucia Gallardo   

Sure, um, so actually, that 80 million is an interesting figure, because it’s what does the United Nations recognized as a displaced person, and that 80 million is a statistic that relates to conflict, conflict based displacement. So unfortunately, that means that anyone that is fleeing due to climate due to economic factors, they don’t count in that statistic. And then that also doesn’t count homeless people, which is a very interesting form of displacement, because it generally tends to be the longest term form of displacement. And so to me, it’s one of those things where I just, there’s, I think every single person on the planet has an issue that they think about at night. Like they just, it’s an issue that like, whether it’s, you know, many parents, for example, think about education or issues that relate to children, I think that some people think about, you know, what the state of the world is looking like in terms of climate, I think that I think the most like, the average good person in the world thinks about an issue regularly. And for me, I cannot sleep when I start thinking about displacement and the consequences of displacement and the causes of displacement, it just becomes like a whole, huge snowball that impacts my ability to sleep, because I’m just very saddened that this is the state of the world and that people are living in this condition. And so it’s been an issue that I just care very deeply about. And to me, there was, you know, we were looking at what, what data is collected. On refugees, it’s interesting, because there’s a lot of misconceptions about it. Like, they’re not being a lot of data on them, but actually, in order to be resettled. It’s actually one of the most robust files that you’ll ever see on a person like you the burden of proof for resettlement you can you need like documentation that like a normal person wouldn’t even think to keep in order. Like, it’s like the amount of security checks, background checks, verifications, testimonies, etc, etc, etc. Like, it’s actually a quite bureaucratic process. And so on average, it takes about one to two years. 

Suresh Shankar   

Because I thought the one thing that people wanting to be resettled wouldn’t have is data. 

Lucia Gallardo   

Yeah, except that because in order for them to like for countries to say, yeah, we’ll take them, but we want to know everything about them, because otherwise we don’t want to let them in. Right. So then what happens is like, on average, it takes one to two years to get someone resettled. But this is also like benevolent policy, right? So benevolent policy, is making it so that certain countries decided we’re going to open up X amount of slots for displaced persons in, you know, to come to x country, Canada is a very generous example. They said, you know, at the onset of Syrian crisis, they said, We’re going to take in 75,000 Syrian refugees in the span of three months, that was a very generous example. But that means that like 75,000, out of 80 million on conflict alone. And so, and they’re one of the most generous countries in relation to this. And so, really, what you’re looking at is that on an annual basis, about 104 105,000 People get resettled a year. That’s it. That’s because the that’s it, because it’s a very burdensome process. It takes on average one to two years. And because it depends on countries that are saying, Yes, we will accept refugees. Now the problem with this is that it creates a burden narrative and public opinion actually makes things worse, because then people are saying, well, they are a burden, right? Because they’re, you know, we’re gonna have to pay for them to come and then they’re gonna have to adapt and maybe they learn the language and so on and so forth. So there’s a very big public opinion that is formed on the basis of the fact that we’re treating these people like they’re they are a burden. And in reality, especially when it comes to conflict, conflict affects everyone conflict does not discriminate. A bond does not choose only to impact the world’s most poor a bomb will hit where Ever, it’ll impact doctors, it’ll impact engineers, it’ll impact other like graphic designers and mechanics, it will impact you know, people with no education. And it will leave people in very, you know, dire, dire circumstances. But conflict does not discriminate. And so when you think about it, we’re only collecting data that relates to this idea of like, okay, who are you? Why are you displaced? Are you actually who you say you are? Are you a threat to some kind of national security? Do you have any family members anywhere else in the world that maybe we can send you to, if you pass all these security clearances, all of these things are conducive to this idea that like, they’re never going to add value to a society. But in actuality, when you look at like, the the value of, you know, people that have different types of skill sets of people that have different types of culture, that that really bring vibrancy to a city, especially in in the case of knowing that, like, it’s a young population that’s being displaced. And you have so many countries, like Scandinavian countries, for example, or even Canada, that are aging populations, the people in those countries aren’t having kids as fast. And so when you think about even like something as simple as an economic to be on capitalistic terms, as pension funds, pension funds are structured very oddly, because the what you think you’re doing is that you’re paying to a pension fund, and eventually you’re gonna retire, and that’s the money that you’re gonna get. That’s not true. You’re paying your pension fund. And then like, that pension fund is paying for somebody else’s retired right now. And then eventually, the next generation is going to put money into their pension fund. And that’s what’s going to fund. 

Suresh Shankar   

So when we call it a Ponzi scheme in other places, but yeah, 

Lucia Gallardo   

your words, your words. But the problem with that is like if you have an eighth country with an aging population, who’s putting money into their pension funds, because you have mostly people living off their pension funds, so even economically speaking, it makes a lot of sense to bring in young populations into countries with aging populations to make sure your economics work out. So there’s like many reasons, obviously, I that’s an example for a heavily capitalistic outlook on life. But I think 

Suresh Shankar   

the actual migrant and the refugee, right, I mean, they seek aid. But we didn’t know anything about documentation, they need financial services, they need to send money back home, there’s a whole bunch of different things. How are you seeing social entrepreneurs make an impact on the actual refugee migrant worker 

Lucia Gallardo   

to there’s two situations here, because what you just described to them needing financial services, et cetera, that’s because they’re currently in a state of refugee and they need services now, because they don’t have access to a lot of things now, especially like, there are some refugee camps in Africa where they’re not allowed to have a phone because that could like, basically, they don’t want to risk giving them the types of rights and opportunities that regular residents have. Because then the UN can turn around and say, like, oh, well, now you’ve just accepted that this person lives in your country. So like, countries that are transitory, like, you know, when people flee into Jordan, or flee into Uganda or fluid flee into whatever, they have to deal with the follow up, but they can’t accept everybody, obviously. And so, so then it becomes problematic. So the first issue is, what do they need right now. But the second issue, which is the one I focus more on is, how do we get them out of that situation as fast as possible. And to me, the fact that the type of data that we have only captures burden is a very big problem. So my priority is like, looking at data that would bring dignity back to this process, like, who are you? Like, did you ever get an education? And if so, what did you train in? Or what is your job experience? What is it that you prioritize in terms of like cultural connection or, or economic opportunity, for example, you know, someone that’s been torn away from their home, you know, they might prioritize a cultural community, because they never wanted to leave in the first place. So, you know, the US is a very good example of this, because I know the geography, the geography of it, but if, for example, you have a, you know, a Mormon, you wouldn’t send them to San Francisco, because they wouldn’t, they would struggle to find a Mormon church in San Francisco, perhaps. But if you sent them to a place where there’s a very big Mormon community, they might feel a little bit more connected. And it might be a little easier for them to resettle. But if you have someone that just cares about labor than like, what cities are fastly, you know, hiring, growing their economies, like, you know, Miami, for example, might be a good choice right now. And so you start to learn more about who they are as people. And then that data allows you to resettle them in places where they will be value add. And it’s no longer a burden narrative, but actually very much a value add narrative, which is what they are. And so, so there’s to these questions. There’s many much work that’s being done on the realm of getting them what they need now. So a lot of education initiatives to help upskill refugees have been learned about coding, how to learn about UX UI and things like that at refugee camps to prepare them for, for the future of work. So I think that’s been a very interesting use case. Obviously, there’s like some peer to peer payments and a company called Sampo. That’s doing like emergency relief via via digital currencies. So there’s a lot of work that’s being done on the left get them what they need now. But my question is like, how fast can we get them out of that situation because they shouldn’t be living in that situation you don’t want 52% of refugees right now are under the age of 18. And you do not want them growing up in a situation where they don’t have official rights official home official connection into into modern day society. Because that’s a problem that you’re leaving to your children. It means that people will not be able to integrate properly and that they’re growing up outside understandings of law of education, sectors of health access, and we need to solve that. And so like, the more it’s almost like, the more services that we give them to deal with where they are now in terms of camps and things like that, the more it becomes worrisome to me that we’re going to use that as like an excuse to keep them there for longer. And I want to make sure that we’re pulling them out of camp situations that were resettling them around the world that we’re you know, strengthening communities and economies around the world by allowing people to move freely throughout the world. And I think that’s where data can have like data can shape not just the way that we do this efficiently. But it can also shape the narratives around which people are more receptive to this outcome as well. So that’s really what my priority is. 

Suresh Shankar   

And that’s fantastic. Because what you’re talking about is two different problems. One is the fact that you need to make these people you need to settle these people in some form, from their skills from their own from their identity from their communities. And the second part, but you also worked on this, and this is something I’m curious about, which is, you know, I mean, remittances and sending money home for all migrant workers, whether you’re in a country or outside is a huge part of why people leave, you know, the economic refugee leaves, because they don’t have an economic future in the country, they go somewhere else, and they’re really sending the money back home. And you’ve had some really interesting experiences with using Bitcoin, to really break the, the kind of the stranglehold that the existing financial payment networks have and the amount of money they’re charging, could you share us a little bit more about how tech is being used to solve to make sure that if I earn $100, most of the $100 goes back home? 

Lucia Gallardo   

Yeah. Yes. Um, so a very fun fact that I think few people know about me is that in, I think it was 2017. Yeah, or 18. I can’t remember. But essentially, I lived as an undocumented person for three months. I, essentially what I wanted to understand was like, what? Where are the invisible barriers? Like, I know, logically speaking, you don’t have an ID, you can’t open a bank account, you can’t get a job. You can’t, like I know, you know, everybody knows more or less like what those primary pain points are. But I wanted to know, what are the invisible barriers, and one of the invisible barriers that I found that I was sort of kind of screwed by? I don’t know if I’m allowed to say that. But um, was this the fact that like, within the first like, by the first month, I had run out of money, like, I didn’t have money anymore. And so I texted my mom. And I was like, Hey, Mom, you know, can you send me a little bit of money on through Western Union. And so she sent me money on Western Union, but she sent me there’s like, apparently a limit, there’s like a cash limit. And so if you send anyone, even like 10 cents more than that limit, instead of giving you cash, they’ll give you a check. And that means you have to find a place to go get it, like to go get a cash. And unfortunately, my mom sent me the right amount, it would have been below. But the conversion rate? 

Suresh Shankar   

Absolutely. I figured this out. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a deliberate thing. 

Lucia Gallardo   

Well, you know, so they gave me a check. And so I was holding on to this check. But I didn’t have ID and I didn’t have anything, I didn’t have a bank account. So how was I going to cash this check. And ultimately, I had to go and get a like an under the table job to get paid in cash that weekend, because I was holding on to this check that I could not catch. And so I I never did ultimately, like I cashed it three, like two months later when I finished this three month experiment. And so it sounds weird to say to call it an experiment, because it’s very privileged of me to be able to do that. But it really did give me so much insight into understanding like, what are the ways in which life has made so much more difficult by virtue of you know, the way that you experience identity the way that you experience money? And you know, Bitcoin is a very interesting experiment, because what it does is it allows you to trade more directly without the need of middlemen, except that that’s theoretically true, but it’s currently not true, because you’re still using wallets and you’re still using exchanges, and you’re still using a lot of different types of services. And the reason for that is because it hasn’t been widely adopted enough to be able to be a direct form of payment. And so to me, Bitcoin represents a very Future, a very big future opportunity for us to be able to send payments cheaper, faster, instantly immutably trust idli. So, you know, if you are a person that is working in, you know, as a farmer in the US that sending money back to your family members in El Salvador, that let’s say, you are spending this money to pay for your children’s school, that there is a way thanks to the Bitcoin Blockchain, that you could trace the money all the way to the school, because you know, that that’s where the money is going. But for that to happen, then, you know, the school needs to be able to accept Bitcoin as currency. And so so the more 

Suresh Shankar   

somewhere, somewhere along the way this is going to, and this is the one of the things I’m having, and I’m sorry, I’m getting a little bit ahead of your answer here. Every country will have to have a cbdc of some sort. That comes with its own challenges. Because otherwise, how are we going to be able to track all of these things without having some kind of central authority in a decent? 

Lucia Gallardo   

Well, why you don’t need a central authority to trace my money, like my money, my freedom, so no, but the but I think like the government will want to trace it. But that doesn’t mean I have to use it. And I think that that’s really what what the underlying principle of Bitcoin is, right is this idea that like, it’s a separation of money and the state, because the state does should not be privy to all of my financial transactions, it should be privy to the financial transactions that are relevant. So I do think that, you know, there is room in the world for different types of cryptocurrencies, including stable coins and CBDCs, or whatever. But I think it’s up to individual sovereignty, to decide which financial instrument you’re going to use to transfer money. And so, personally, I would transfer using Bitcoin. But that immutability of saying, Okay, I’m sending my family member money to pay, you know, for school, that I should be able to sort of see the full threat of that happen. And that’s what Bitcoin enables that I think the trust level is increased when it comes to sending remittances because obviously, like as the person that’s in the US working, once I send the money via Western Union or whatever, I don’t really control, like, I hope that whoever’s receiving it is using it in the right ways. And sometimes they’re not, you know, and so I think that there’s a really big value add as a trust and traceability that, but I think even just by like you see, so many countries that are exploring making Bitcoin legal tender, you see more merchants willing to accept it every day. And so I think that like, that’s going to be a very important milestone, it’s going to be when you don’t need to transform your Bitcoin into a fiat currency like $1, or, you know, local currency, when that no longer becomes imperative for you to do in order for you to use that money. I think at that point, we’re going to hit a very interesting point in the remittance market, because it’s going to change the way that money is sent. And I think, you know, companies that struggled to adapt like Western Union, or like, you know, there have been experimenting with Blockchain rails, but I think that it’s not sufficient once true competition from completely decentralized currency comes into play. That said, you know, it’ll be very interesting to see how government agencies 

Suresh Shankar   

will lead to a different set of set of challenges, because I understand that it’s my money, and I should be able to send it anywhere, I don’t want the state to know. But at the same time, when you look at what is happening around the world of the moment of money, and corruption, and so on, states do want to know and want to have some kind of a right to be able to stay out, try and control it. So just like between data and privacy, I think you’re going to have a little bit of this, when you have the completely decentralized model is, what is the traceability of it beyond, you know, for when things are being used with bad intentions? But that’s, 

Lucia Gallardo   

I think, actually, I do have an end. Well, like the answer here is like, because we’re used to thinking about people instead of money. So like, the thing is that, you know, when you see an a corrupt doctor, or criminal or whatever, what the way that they investigate this is they investigate the person, right? So they say, Hey, I have a suspicion about x person, and like, you know, we’re going to investigate this person and where they’re receiving money from and so on and so forth. So the entirety of the burden of like, investigative, you know, need is done toward the person. When it comes to using networks like Bitcoin and things like that. You’re not You’re not investigating the person because you don’t know who the person is. Maybe, maybe you do. You can piece it together, but like, for the most part, if they’ve, you know, handled their transactions all wrong. But generally speaking, you know, you’re not looking at the person you’re looking at the money. And I think that that’s actually a really interesting thing because we like to say innocent until proven guilty. And that’s because we’re looking at people and we’re saying you I think are you know guilty of a crime the law will treat you innocent until proven guilty, but we’re looking at you for committing a crime. Whereas this new approach of like, traceable money immutably traceable money is saying, hey, there’s evidence here That money is being used in the wrong way, let’s figure out who’s responsible for this. And so it works in reverse. And it’s going to, it’s going to require a change in attitude, in perception of all regulators, authorities, even people to understand that now you have evidence, and you need to figure out who the wallet addresses belong to. And that is possible. And in most cases, it’s very, very possible. But what you’re with a point of departure now is actually you have evidence of wrongdoing, because you’ve traced that money. And you, you know, that’s really what you’re what you’re basing your claims against. 

Suresh Shankar   

But I love the way you describe it, that it is going to need a different attitude, because we want to focus on the data flow and the money flow rather than the people. However, I do admit to some ideological challenges with what you’re saying, because I do believe that there are a lot of people that truly bad intentions. So you have to have a system that’s also able to look at, you know, from a people perspective, but that’s probably a discussion another day, because I need to get on to another aspect of your life. It’s a multi dimensional life daily, which is the fact that you are one of the leading women in tech. And you have a perspective on the fact that there are too many male people, especially even, even in blockchain, I’m in full of men, I mean, everywhere I go, there’s only men that I see, including myself, right? So why is there what what can we do? I mean, is there this huge gender diversity gap? You know, how can you encourage women in tech to play a more active part in this industry? And I asked you this question from a different perspective, it’s been proven in country after country, that when you do direct transfers of money into women’s wallets, you know, it’s happened in India, that when you actually go and give food and this thing, and whatever it is to women, they are far more responsible with this whole idea of money and family and long term thinking. But somehow, that doesn’t seem to come into the tech industry. So what’s your take on this thing? Why do we not have more women saying we will change the world through tech? To be clear 

Lucia Gallardo   

and fair, I don’t think there are too many men in tech, I just think there aren’t enough women in tech. That’s, that’s the point. We need more people in tech really is what I’m saying. The and this I think it leads to my answer. The second part of my answer, the first part of my answer is you’re right about the statistics around giving people money and opportunity, women money and opportunity. No matter where you look, whatever country you’re looking at in the world, including countries that are perceived to be high, like gender equal. Scandinavian countries, primarily, no matter where you look, including Scandinavian countries, women are the primary decision makers of a household. And that includes household spending, and even decisions now that traditionally and historically have been male. So like cars, are still today currently being primarily decided by women. And so about 79% of households. I didn’t know that. Yeah, like, yeah, like a typical men decision, which was what car the family is gonna have, is now women being made by women. And so and not only that, but also they are 51% of the world’s population. So there’s more women, which means that if you’re looking at the next wealth transfer, that’s going to happen. Number one, it’s going to be the largest wealth transfer we’ve ever seen in the history of humanity. And number two, it’s going to fall primarily in the hands of women. And so if you are a company, that is not seriously considering the impact of your product, service platform, whatever data on women, you are very, very, very blind to what is the future reality of the gender dynamics in the world. And so I think, number one, it’s really important that strategically, companies start to pay more attention into the blind biases and the subconscious biases that they have in their product services and platforms, and start understanding more what the gender impacts are of their their existence as a company, because that’ll be very necessary for their future survival. The second thing is that, like, we need to make sure that women know that there are many ways to enter the tech sector. And it doesn’t just mean being a programmer. I love women programmers, I love seeing women programmers, statistically speaking, they are much more detail oriented and error free than male programmers. Just saying, 

Suresh Shankar   

but I’m not a programmer. So I take that, but it 

Lucia Gallardo   

is not well, you know, statistically, like there’s been some some gender blind studies and women generally tend to make fewer errors. But, but that’s not the only way you can contribute to the tech sector right now. The tech sector, oh my god, AI and blockchain desperately need communicators. Because people are really struggling to to like a sage fears of you know, how people feel about these technologies. People are trying to communicate what the value propositions are in ways that people can understand. It’s very hard to do. You know, we need communicators. You need people that have an understanding of operations. Like I remember one time I said something like, I want my operation teams to be all like well I’m in that have had children in the last like five years. And everyone was looking at me like, What? And I was like, Yeah, I want like women that have been moms for like, like five years, that’s gonna be my operations team because no one understands, like proper, like routine operation detail oriented like they do. And so I think like saying, Okay, I want more women in my operations team, more women in my communications team, I want more women in my design team, because we need the perspective of their lived experience to know how to properly design our product, these are all easy ways that you can start getting involved in the tech sector. And that’s how I started I didn’t program when I first started. I mean, I still would say, I’m really bad at it. But um, but now it’s lack of practice and discipline, because I’m building other stuff. But I think I started not even knowing what artificial intelligence was when I first started in artificial intelligence. And I think that that really speaks true to this idea that like women can be included in technology. And so these excuses are like, well, we can’t find qualified women or, you know, we don’t know where they are, like, they’re all around you, it’s just a matter of like making sure that your opportunities are in our are presented in a way that makes them feel like they can belong at your company. And so I think it’s gonna be very important to include women, not just in the strategic view of like them as consumers, because they are the most like the largest population segment in the world, they also have a lot of financial power. And you need to include them from the perspective of building because the products that you build will not resonate to women unless women are included in this process. 

Suresh Shankar   

But the most common question I get in this is when I go to my team and say, for example, we have 30%, we need to get this ratio up to 40%. If you get it up to 40%, it’s not like a hard numeric target, but we got to think in that direction. And they say, okay, 60% of the new recruits have to be women. Is there isn’t enough supply? Yeah, that’s a big issue that I kind of that we constantly keep hearing about. So how do you address that that issue at all? Or can it be resolved? 

Lucia Gallardo   

Yeah, I do. And I think that the answer to that is like transferability, I think, naturally, like there. This is a, this is a data bias. By the way, of course, there are less women in these roles. Because up until very recently, women weren’t either allowed or encouraged to pursue these roles. So naturally, that’s a datum. And actually, we criticize us about about AI all the time, when we’re saying like, Okay, well, Google returns, male for doctor, because, you know, that’s what it does, and female for nurse, and everyone’s like, Oh, that’s discriminatory? Of course it is. Because it the way that Google arrived at that decision, was that it used historical data. And historically speaking, there was a point in time where women were allowed to be doctors, or lawyers. And so what ends up happening is the data set that Google pulled that that correlation from is biased itself. And so naturally, right now we’re in an inflection point where we’re at the same place, like, historically speaking, women have not been in these careers for long. And so when we’re sort of looking at supply, that bias is worked in, what ends up happening as a solution for me is like, you start looking at transferability, you have a very good mathematician, that’s a woman great like teacher how to program, you have a very good designer, graphic designer or illustrator, great teacher UX UI, you have a very good communicator, awesome teacher about SEO. So it’s really understanding like, where’s the transferability of skill sets that women have historically been a part of? And how are those skills immediately convertible into the role that you want to fill, and the types of slots that you want to fill. And so I think this solution for me is transferability. 

Suresh Shankar   

And that’s such a lovely insight. And I’m going to take that back to my company next time I get this argument inside. But you know, I could talk to you, we’ve been speaking into full episodes, and I think we could do three or four more, and perhaps we will person, I am going to come to the final facet of your multifaceted journey. When you’re an entrepreneur, you built a firm, and you know, the challenges of starting something, and you chose very interestingly, not just being social tech, which, if you might pardon my language doesn’t pay or isn’t known to pay. But at the same time, you ended up bootstrapping the firm. So can you just tell us a little bit about how hard this has been? How easy it’s been? And I’m gonna ask that question. I’m gonna ask you one more, and then maybe we’ll come back for another episode. 

Lucia Gallardo   

Sure thing. So, um, I think that people definitely think social entrepreneurs shouldn’t or can’t make money. And I’m a very big fan of the opposite of that. I think that we need to be putting our best minds to social issues, which means that we need to be offering competitive pay. We need to be thinking about the viability and the profitability of like doing good and we need to realign economic incentives and financial instruments that have traditionally been constructive or destructive to the world. b2b realigning them toward regeneration and social impact. So I think 

Suresh Shankar   

I’m just gonna interrupt you for one minute, only the second social entrepreneur I met who said that, and it’s such an important point that I want to emphasize it right? Somebody asked this guy who came and was doing some great work or you know, but why are people? Why do you have to pay big salaries to the people who work with you? And the guy said, the guy’s the person’s got to live, they have a dream, they want to live their own life, and why shouldn’t they be earning this because they’re doing good for the world. So somebody sitting in a bank, or some tech firm, and like doing whatever it is, I’m so glad you made that point. Because sometimes we think that the very word social work means I’m DOING IT pro bono that I’m doing it. That is, that’s not true. If you want to track the best beans, you got to pay the best money. 

Lucia Gallardo   

Correct. And we give unlimited vacation policy, we like you know, we want it to be a healthy place to work, we want it to be a good place to work. And we want people that are, like feeling good as they’re doing good. And I think that that’s super important. And it’s it just means that like, we need to think about the viability, the financial viability of doing good means that that project will live longer, its impact will multiply. So we don’t think about things like it from a charitable approach. We think about it as like, what is the strategy for keeping this viable? What is the strategy for making sure that we have our best talent on it? What is the strategy for making sure that we are competitive, and that it’s not just that you choose to go work with our firm, because we’re doing good, you’re choosing to work with our firm, because we’re great technologists, we’re excellent and very creative when it comes to designing solutions. And on top of that, hey, it feels good, because it’s also going to be an impactful solution. But it is going to solve your business problem, it’s going to solve your government problem, it’s going to solve the industry approach problem that you came to us for, and we’re doing it in an innovative way. It just also happens to be a very, very impactful way. And I think that that’s really the core of what we’re doing. Now. When I first started, people didn’t really get that. They were like, Why Why is impact so important? You know, I don’t think that they predicted that impact would be as dominant a conversation as it is today. Because in the pandemic, I think everybody realized that we can’t keep ignoring the global social issues that we have, I think the pandemic showed people, the degree of inaccessibility of health, the, you know, inequality of health outcomes and quality. They saw, you know, people struggling with poverty, even though they had jobs, they saw, you know, all of these social and economic issues that came to the limelight that started impacting their main consumers, their employees, etc. And then companies started looking and saying, oh, okay, so we can’t, we can’t just keep operating as we have, how do we start? How do we work through this. And so there was a change in my company’s demand, when I guess companies started to see that they were inextricable. But when I first started, this was not the case. And so I started, and at the time, I had gotten a lot of my entrepreneurial ideas from North America. And I was kind of like stuck on this path of like, oh, well, I have to go get funding and go down this VC path, and so on, and so forth. So the first year, I kind of set out on that path. And it was a horrible experience. I was a young Latin American woman, and I was very uncomfortable in many of the situations there were flat out, just aggression toward, toward me in in either verbally by saying things like, you know, I don’t know if I should help you or, or, or what is 

Lucia Gallardo   

Like, I don’t know if I should help you, or Yeah, like, if I should just help you, I think what you’re doing is so great. And I just like I can’t believe you’re like this beautiful while you’re doing it like you’re like comments on my on my mouth, like it was very, very, very uncomfortable. I would get I had a situation where like somebody told me that they didn’t want to invest in me, because they just wanted to take care of me personally. And they didn’t want to create a conflict of interest that would ruin our ability to pursue a personal relationship, when I had never ever ever indicated that I even wanted that with this person at all. And so it was a very difficult experience, there was a lot of discriminatory moments, there was a lot of just like moments that maybe some of the comments were just like subtle enough that you wouldn’t even like you can’t even make a huge deal out of it. Because it’s subtle enough. But there were moments that are like very obvious and disgusting. And so I had the full range of experiences. So at one point after the one when he told me he wouldn’t invest, because he wanted to take care of me personally, after that moment, I was like, no, no, no, no. Like, I love like, I am very, very firm and what I believe I’m doing, and I’m going to continue to do that, but I can’t do it at my own expense. And so I decided to stop looking for funding, and I decided to start looking for clients. And I said, Okay, if I channeled the same energy to find one client that pays me that’ll be enough. And so at first it was hard because essentially we needed to we were in a start up, we didn’t have a track record. So people didn’t they didn’t have any legacy to trust about what we had done before. And we were asking them to trust us with like significant get, you know, resources in order to make these very complicated, almost naive sounding projects happen. Now they know they’re not naive because we had to prove it. But at first they did sound that way. And so who do they trust? What do they trust? And so I built a REIT, I like sat down and reworked my whole strategy. So my strategy was no more investment, we’re gonna go down the client path, and what are they going to trust, they’re going to trust me. So I started writing, I started doing conferences and speaking engagements a lot. And very slowly, like, people started coming to my panels and listening to what I had to say. And then people would walk up to me and be like, I’m actually really interested in your perspective on this. And so I started doing like some strategic consulting, which would then lead to a project proposal, which would then lead to a project. And then we gave, we gave away a lot of the early tech, because we just I knew that there was no choice. So we sucked it up. And that’s why I’m very grateful to the people that have been with me from the beginning is because we, we sacrificed a fair bit to get people to see that we could build technology that didn’t just sound it that it actually worked. And at that point, in 2020, like the there was a big shift in, okay, you know, we can’t ignore the greater, you know, issues that the world is facing. Hey, Lucia, haven’t you been doing this for a really long time? And I’m like, yes, yes, I have. And so that was at that point, it was a very different conversation. But I genuinely initially thought my company wouldn’t make it past the pandemic, I think every entrepreneur goes through moments where it’s like, either you’re jumping up and down and enjoy, or you’re like sitting on the hotel floor crying, because we don’t think it’s going to work out, I did have a moment in the pandemic, where I thought we weren’t going to make it because a lot of our projects were paused because people didn’t know what was going to happen. And so I called this friend of mine who works at the Inter American Development Bank, and I said, I think, I don’t think Emerg is gonna make it. And so he called me the next day. And he’s like, Don’t worry, I have a job for you. You can lead this like effort of, you know, blockchain and AI related effort in the bank or whatever. And I’m like, no, no, you don’t understand. I don’t need a job. I need my company to survive. So I need a project. And he’s like, oh, okay, sorry. Sorry, sorry. So then they called me back a week later, and they’re like, might have a project for you. And so that was the only reason why, why we made it through. But I think, you know, there’s a very interesting idea of what it means to be a bootstrapped entrepreneur. And in the recent years, it’s started to become very glorified, because a lot of white men started deciding that they wanted to do things on their own terms, and now be a bootstrapped entrepreneur. But the reality is, if you look at the state of venture capital funding and seed capital funding around the world, actually, the concept of a bootstrapped entrepreneur existed in different space in minority spaces in women led ventures that are completely underfunded. And I think that as you sort of think about what it means to be a bootstrap founder, think about the people that didn’t have a choice. You know, think about people that don’t get funding, because they’re international, or they have an accent, and they can’t pitch in the right way. Or because, you know, they, they happen to be a woman and will go through these kinds of sexual experiences, or, because, you know, they’re just chronically underfunded. And people sort of assess them by their track history instead of their potential in the way that they do other like men. And so it’s just a very interesting concept to now be referred to as a bootstrapped entrepreneur, in celebration, when in reality, it’s a reflection of like, people that look like me or that have my similar background, it’s been something that we’ve had to deal with. And so we are the ultimate bootstrapped entrepreneurs. But, you know, in a way that speaks truly to the ways that technology as a as an industry, and as a funded industry needs to change. 

Suresh Shankar   

Thank you so much for sharing that and so transparently, because I think the first part really talked to me, it must have been very difficult to go through it. And it’s heroic that you went through that and, and, you know, struck out and said, I’m gonna go and do it my own terms, and you’ve succeeded, and that are my first startup was a bootstrap version myself, so I can understand some of the pain that he talked about the other kinds of discrimination. But I do believe that there is a inherent bias in the way people think about these things. And, you know, having also now in my second sort of raised money, I don’t know whether it’s good or bad. I think it’s also a little bit about the fact that you know, you have to, you know, both sides come with I think both what raising money and bootstrapping come with different advantages. But the truth is that I think many people just simply don’t have the opportunity simply because of the fact that they’re not able to explain themselves in a language that speaks to language of high finance, that is the biggest block. But Lucia like I said, I could keep talking to you for another hour, but I have one last question for you. What advice would you give your younger self? If you could go back in time? 

Lucia Gallardo   

It was, I thought you said you only had one short question for me. All right, I will try to answer it briefly, which is As I think I would tell myself to trust my gut more often not to do things in the way that like they’re supposed to be done, I would be, I would just tell myself, like, you know what you’re building. And you’re like, you’re thinking about this strategically, you’re not afraid of criticism. And that means that like, whatever it is that you process as criticism, you process as feedback, ultimately, your gut is going to make the right decision, because you have that right combination, which is if you can’t take feedback, don’t trust your gut, because maybe it’s wrong. And it’s bias. If you can take feedback, you’ll be an excellent entrepreneur, when you learn how to listen to the feedback, analyze things strategically, holistically, and then trust your gut, because your gut will make the right decision. So I think I would have told myself to start that sooner. But you know, I think at the same time, I’m grateful for the journey that I’ve had, it’s made me a particular type of entrepreneur, and I think it is just making each of my next, you know, moves a lot stronger, and coming from a foundation of confidence. And so so in a way, I wish I would have started that sooner, but at the same time, and I would encourage other people to trust their gut, especially if they’re female entrepreneurs that constantly get, you know, a heavier degree of criticism or feedback. There’s something about what you envision that set you on this path and trusting and staying true to that is very, very important, we will never not be a humanitarian, you know, socially impactful company, that will never change the technology that we use the tech stack, the way we arrange it, the algorithms, the math, the everything else can change. But our DNA has remained the same for years. And I think that that’s that that consistency will just enable you to strategically build, you know, whatever it is that you want to build in a way that’s true to its original DNA. And I think that that’s those are the most special entrepreneurs. 

Suresh Shankar   

Thank you so much for sharing that Lucia. But if I had to just quickly comment on that the one thing that struck me throughout the entire conversation is, there is a lady who trusted the gut feel that she had a yes, well, and repeatedly through alive. So if you’re coming back and telling me I should have trusted my gut more, I don’t know how to react to that. I just don’t know. 

Lucia Gallardo   

I actually hadn’t thought about it that way. To be honest, that’s a very 

Suresh Shankar   

overwhelming takeaway. My Oh, 

Lucia Gallardo   

yeah, I’m gonna say with that, thank you. 

Suresh Shankar   

Anyway, it’s been great having you on the show. It’s, you know, it’s such a pleasure to listen to somebody who’s kind of started so early in wanting to create social impact went and did technology, you know, is a woman, a social, you know, an entrepreneur, and you know, you’ve combined all these different facets so well, but really the humanitarian, transparent, efficient movement of people, goods and data, what a wonderful mission you’ve set yourself on. Thank you so much for sharing all of these thoughts on technology on leadership, with this audience, and, you know, thank you for being on the show. 

Lucia Gallardo   

Thank you so much for having me. It’s truly been a pleasure. And I hope we do it again soon. 

Suresh Shankar   

To my viewers, and listeners, it’s been great. Thank you for listening to Lucia and to me today, stay for the algo is available on YouTube, Spotify, Google App, Apple podcasts, or wherever you get your poison from. release a new episode every week, sometimes a little bit more frequently. If you liked this episode. Don’t forget to Like Share, Subscribe, stay relevant because we are in the age of data and AI. And we do not want to be a slave to the algo as has been so wonderfully demonstrated to be true. I really shouldn’t say a master of the algo but saying a misuse of the algo doesn’t sound right. But she looks at clearly is not a slave to the algo thank you once again Lucia and see you all next week.  

Author avatar
Sruthi Ravishankar

Sruthi is a ‘Brand Mom.’ She believes that to see a brand do well in the market, is almost like proud parenting. Currently, Sruthi is a Brand Marketer and Storyteller at Crayon Data.