ILEANA LA ROSA

Venezuela,

Ileana La Rosa is preparing poor, marginalized women to succeed in high-quality, well-paying technical jobs. By partnering with a vast network of businesses, Ileana has achieved higher rates of employment than any program in Venezuela, and plans to leverage these partnerships to expand nationally. 

This profile below was prepared when Ileana La Rosa was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2013.

INTRODUCTION

Ileana La Rosa is preparing poor, marginalized women to succeed in high-quality, well-paying technical jobs. By partnering with a vast network of businesses, Ileana has achieved higher rates of employment than any program in Venezuela, and plans to leverage these partnerships to expand nationally. 




THE NEW IDEA

Through her initiative, Aliadas en Cadena (Partners Along the Chain) Ileana provides intensive, innovative education to women at the bottom of the economic pyramid, helping them succeed in cutting-edge, technical pursuits. Most are the heads of their households but are poorly educated, have little to no work experience, and manage the family income. Ileana’s workshops have helped thousands of women find jobs and reinforce their self-esteem. Most now work in private and public companies and have started new lives—free from marginalization and for some, domestic abuse. 

In order to comply with local law, most companies in Venezuela hire women but only for menial jobs with no chance of upward mobility. To change this, Ileana is developing a model for women to receive formal training to be promoted mostly in the information/technology industry. Her courses have been more effective than those offered by the government.

Ileana piloted her vision through a series of centers in Caracas and two states in Venezuela. After having achieved notable success, she is embarking on a new, powerful phase of work that will further distinguish Aliadas en Cadena. Ileana plans to offer this project nationwide by partnering with private companies and opening satellite centers, which no organization has done in Venezuela. The satellites will be located in low-income areas with training programs in technology and computer skills, as well as provide counseling and psychological support to students. These alliances will catalyze national change in how disadvantaged women achieve successful employment; while sparking a mindset shift in the private sector.




THE PROBLEM

In 40 percent of Venezuelan homes, women are the head of their families, but they lack the means to provide a stable and prosperous quality of life for them. With little education or skills, many women with children enter the labor market to look for a job or some source of income in the informal economy to support their families—confronting chauvinism and misogyny in the process. Currently, there are approximately 512,719 unemployed women, meaning that 7 percent of women have no formal access to work. Those employed in the informal economy are subject to high turnover rates and poor compensation. Much of the public job training offered by the government is ineffective for successful insertion in the job market, because training is limited to the classroom and does not offer job support placement in the market.

Violence is also a threat to women in Venezuela. In 2012 at least 86 women were murdered by their husbands or companions, and during the first quarter of 2013, at least 38 women have died in similar circumstances. Many of the victims are not able to break free from this circle of violence due to their precarious economic conditions, since most of the time, if the woman is not the head of the household, the aggressor is the provider. 

A significant disconnect exists between the preparation of women at employment age and the jobs available to them. Few businesses have the experience or knowledge to hold successful on-the-job training programs, especially for positions that require computer and digital-based work. Concurrently, recent legislation that should benefit women with increased pre and postnatal maternity leave may be used to discriminate against them. Many companies refuse to hire women during their most fertile ages to avoid the associated costs of their maternity leave. According to official figures, Venezuela has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in South America, with 23 percent of the annual birth rate being mothers under 19 years old. This means that even fewer women are able to finish technical training and enter the labor force. Outside major metropolitan areas, where women have more limited access to basic public services and to the formal labor market, they must have alternative opportunities to learn new skills, or will remain unemployed or severely underemployed in situations of poverty and neglect. 




THE STRATEGY

Ileana began with a vision to help women who lacked the confidence and preparation to assume the head of their households or manage the family’s finances. She developed a series of effective strategies to meet their needs. Aliadas en Cadena is sustainable through partnerships with businesses, modest fees to participating students, and social consultancies that advise the private sector in social responsibility—with all earnings reinvested into the organization to carry out its workshops with women. Aliadas en Cadena has twenty employees, including a manager for every branch, several ITs, administrator, and public relations officer.

At the center of Ileana’s program are her strategic partnerships. She has developed a vast database of private companies and has dedicated time to developing healthy relationships with them. These companies refer job openings to her and the expertise needs to fill the position—such as certain software skills. With such practical information of the current labor market demands, Ileana’s program educates students with these skills. After hearing about the success and failures of some of the students to achieve well-paying jobs, Ileana has adapted the curriculum a more flexible curriculum. Now, the courses also include entrepreneurship, microfranchise, and inclusive business models to teach women how to generate their own economic means. Ileana’s training is based on small groups, each classroom has 14 computers/14 students, and the regular course is four months. 

Ileana’s program also goes beyond traditional technical skills; in recognition of the trauma and violence that many women face at home, Aliadas en Cadena added self-esteem and emotional support courses so women would be able to begin new and healthier lives. Upon graduation, students’ receive a professional certificate from the well-known Venezuelan “Liberator” Pedagogical and Experiential University. This degree helps to further legitimize their education among employers. Through her classes, Ileana has been able to help women to secure steady, well-paid employment in different private and public companies. Initially, they hired at relatively low or entry-level positions, such as assistants or operators. In a recent survey by Aliadas en Cadena, they confirmed that most alumni rise in companies in a relatively short period and they are offered mid-level positions. 

Ileana has trained over 5,000 women and 58 percent have accessed secured employment—a remarkable figure compared to the extremely low success rates of similar programs. To support the program, Ileana and her team offer consultancies to companies. Using her contacts among private companies, Ileana is trying to implement a new business model that prepares low-level employees, especially women, to apply for higher paying jobs with more responsibility in their companies, while also preparing the companies themselves to use higher, smarter technology in their business. Through this arm of the program, Ileana also spreads the concept of digital inclusion and gender equality in the private sector; key to change corporate culture across Venezuela to support low-income women. 

Aliadas en Cadena currently operates five centers: three in urban areas of Caracas and two in the states of Lara and Zulia. Ileana is committed to expanding these sites across the country by establishing satellite centers. The satellites will be able to operate with relative autonomy, raise their own funds, and maintain a consistent curriculum. They will also employee social workers and psychologists to maintain an emphasis on the social and emotional needs of women. Ensuring appropriate, cutting-edge and flexible coursework in the centers is key to maintain the brand and image of the organization. Ileana hopes that ultimately new communities and local authorities adopt these methodologies, which will guarantee greater reach and generate a sea change among the lives of low-income women. 




THE PERSON

Ileana studied literature at university in Venezuela, but as many women do, she dedicated most of her time to raising her children. One of her daughters attended medical school and was interning at the city morgue. Accompanying her, Ileana observed that womens’ husbands or companions were often the perpetrators—murders that would remain “unsolved” and never receive justice. The victims came from low-income areas and shantytowns in Caracas, and Ileana decided to visit the areas to learn more about their histories and stories, and took part with her daughters in a series of social service activities to promote sexual and reproductive health in those areas. Ileana came to appreciate the sheer magnitude of the problems facing low-income women, and became committed to understanding and addressing them. She realized that many women were not able to properly provide for their families because they lacked training to take higher-paying jobs. Ileana decided to teach computer programming to prepare them to work in business with demand for employees with more technical training, and dedicated all her efforts to building and sustaining new training centers. By launching Aliadas en Cadena, Ileana combined her networks among the private sector with her own commitment to be spokeswoman for women without a voice—empowering them with the tools for a new life. 




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