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Mariel Reyes Milk: Empowering Latin American Children to Thrive

Mariel Reyes Milk: Empowering Latin American Children to Thrive

Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs, Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, and Changemakers who are advancing the UN SDGs. 

Hey, friends! It's Spiffy, back again on Planet Earth with an eye on changemaking leaders making the world a more equitable place! To wrap up the week, I have another great interview for you all. Today, I’m excited to cruise around with Mariel Reyes Milk, the co-founder of VélezReyes+. Let’s see what she’s been up to!

Spiffy: Thanks for joining me, Mariel! Tell me, what challenge are you addressing through your organization?

Mariel: Glad to be with you, Spiffy! We are convinced that every child is born with the potential to do extraordinary things. We believe that all children should have the opportunity to be and do whatever they dream of: an astronaut, a veterinarian, a shoemaker, or an entrepreneur. Unfortunately, the reality is very different. Many children lack access to the opportunities to fulfill these dreams, including no access to a school with quality education, no chance to learn another language or to access the internet, and limited financial resources to be able to study for a professional career if they so desire. We work to help build a space where all children, regardless of race, place of birth, socioeconomic status, gender, or parents' education, have the same opportunities to thrive.

Spiffy: Awesome! What motivates you to tackle this challenge?

Mariel: When David, my husband and co-founder at VélezReyes+, and I look back, we realize how lucky we were. Our families have always provided us with many opportunities. In my case, my father was the first (and only) of his siblings to go to university, get a masters degree, and learn a second language. Together with my mother, they worked very hard to give me and my siblings access to the best education. That allowed us to also go to university and then pursue professional careers. Both David and I inherited from our families a deep social conscience, and we share the belief that life's meaning is derived from making a difference in people's well-being. This is the spirit that has guided our journey.

Spiffy: How would you describe the impact of your work?

Mariel: In VélezReyes+, we support organizations that focus on education as the most effective way to level the playing field, and leadership as the only path to promoting systemic change. Our main goal is to provide all Latin Americans with the tools, knowledge, and networks to develop their fullest potential, regardless of their birth conditions. Beyond VélezReyes+, I am also a co-founder of {reprograma}, a social impact initiative that focuses on teaching programming to vulnerable and underrepresented women who lack the resources and/or opportunities to learn how to program. After they graduate, these women can earn up to 3-5 times what they earned before. Truly life changing!

Spiffy: That sounds transformational indeed! Tell me about a recent milestone or initiative by VélezReyes+. What impact does that make? 

Mariel: This is our first year of operations at VélezReyes+. Still, we are already supporting 13 organizations in three Latin American countries with the purpose of creating more and better opportunities through education and leadership initiatives. As for {reprograma}, since its creation, and accounting for programs to adults and youth, the organization has received over 21K applications and held 48 online and offline boot camps for women. These numbers have led to over 1,485 graduates with a course completion rate of over 82%. Additionally, six months post-graduation, around 68% of graduates are employed in the tech market.

Spiffy: Thanks for speaking with me today, Mariel—it’s been an honor!

Mariel Reyes Milk is a mother of four, social entrepreneur, and philanthropist, who focuses on improving access to opportunities for underserved and underrepresented Latin Americans.  With her husband, David Vélez, she founded VélezReyes+, a philanthropic platform that promotes equal access to opportunities in Latin America. She is also the founder and chairman of the board of {reprograma}, a social impact initiative that focuses on teaching coding to vulnerable and underrepresented women. (First published on the Ladderworks website on March 17, 2023.)

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Ladderworks LLC.

© 2023 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by George Romar. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Launchpad: Creative Entrepreneurship Workshops for K-3 Kids and their caregivers here.