Raúl Montiel Calderón: Changing the Ecosystem for Latin American Girls’ in Science and Tech
Hi everyone, Spiffy here, you’re one and only interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth. I’m thrilled to be talking to Raúl Montiel Calderón, an entrepreneur striving to make the world a better place through his work with GreenPretzel. Let’s see how he’s doing it!
Spiffy: Hola, Raul! Thanks for talking with me! Can you start us out by telling me about GreenPretzel and the equity issues you are addressing?
Raúl: De nada, Spiffy! I’m addressing three big causes: education, economic empowerment, and equality. At GreenPretzel we work towards the UN SDGs by delivering tools and methodologies for young people to become change makers. We have a special interest in achieving equal opportunities for young women. One of our main projects addresses the gap in the science and technology sector — most young girls don't have the chance, the role models, or the support from parents and teachers to become scientists or work in technology.
Spiffy: Really? How did you realize that and what motivated you to focus specifically on young women?
Raúl: I'm an engineer and college was the first space that I noticed the gap for girls. Several years later, I became a teacher specializing in math and technology subjects for 8th grade through university students. It was there that I started noticing some patterns. I was shocked to discover that my female students thought that the science and technology field wasn't made for them. I began to research the causes — I still can't believe some of the things I found — and I became certain that this had to change.
Spiffy: It really does! So tell me, what are you doing to make the world a more equitable place?
Raúl: We work with partners from the educational sector, high schools, and universities here in México to deliver workshops and training for young students to become social entrepreneurs and changemakers, focusing on empowerment and equality. Our project, She Can Do It, is a platform where girls from all contexts join a community and receive mentoring from experienced and talented female scientists and technologists. They also receive career advice and support for becoming what they want to be.
Spiffy: Have you achieved any milestones this year?
Raúl: One of our challenges is to develop the local change-making ecosystem, and we work towards a youth-led and equally-led social impact ecosystem in the state of Hidalgo, México. Recently we were able to run the first-ever social entrepreneurship and innovation forum — virtually of course. More than 800 people from México and other Latin American countries attended, including students and researchers. Our content reached more than 100,000 people via social media through this forum.
Raúl after facilitating a social entrepreneurship workshop with college students in 2019. (Photo courtesy of Raúl Montiel Calderón)
Spiffy: That’s incredible Raúl! It sounds like people were eager for something like this to happen! Have you ever had an experience when you faced failure and didn't give up?
Raúl: At one of our recent virtual events — a three-day ideathon covering issues surrounding education and inequality — we started the first day with 20 participants. By that afternoon we were working with 15 participants, and by the end of the next day, there were just five people remaining. We managed to go on with the event but discovered that the methodology didn't work. We learned that we had to really adapt to the new normal, rather than just transferring the same experiences to virtual spaces.
Spiffy: What is something unexpected you’ve learned from someone lately?
Raúl: I was recently in a meeting with government officials, introducing an education technology startup that I was mentoring. Everything was going well, but officials started to point out that they had other cheap, or even free, solutions in use at schools. I thought it was over, but there were some teachers in the meeting and they explained that my proposal had value and that the tools they currently had could never be as helpful as this one. This experience made me realize that perspectives from the field are always important.
Spiffy: Never underestimate the power of a teacher! Do you have any parting words — anything else you would love to tell our audience?
Raúl: Sí, Spiffy! I started my journey as a changemaker when I realized I had the power to use my talents to change things for the better. None of this could have been possible without the support of many people and the high number of alliances that my team and I have formed. Nobody can change the world alone. If we really want to make things happen, we need to be open, vulnerable, trust others, and have the right people by our side — because they are the ones who give us power.
Raúl Montiel Calderón is a passionate social entrepreneur, and an ethical and responsible leader with experience in project management, alliances, and cooperation. Raúl is the Executive Director of GreenPretzel, MY World México Ambassador, and Ashoka Connector, with an extensive network in the social innovation ecosystem. His areas of interest are education, economy, and sustainable development.