Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Purple hearts afire!

Women’s Month this year became an opportunity for SM Supermalls to continue what now looks like a tradition of inviting, and flying in, very interesting speakers to highlight an SM occasion. Just last year, we had noted Canadian author Malcolm Gladwell during the SM 65th Anniversary Summit, and now we had She Loves Tech Co-Founder and Co-CEO Singapore-based Leanne Robers, for International Women’s Day at SM. The event saw the Samsung Hall at SM Aura awash with purple T-shirts, banners and collateral, all in the name of, and in support of, Women’s Month.

For those living under a rock, and not exposed to tech news or sustainability and gender inclusivity issues, Leanne Robers is one of the guiding lights behind She Loves Tech, which is only the world’s largest start-up competition, acceleration platform, and flagship conference for women and technology. She opened the afternoon sessions of SM’s International Women’s Day Celebration: Investing in Equality Toward Gender-Inclusive Prosperity, last March 8.

Leanne Robers, co-founder of She Loves Tech, at the SM celebration of International Women’s Day.

The topic of the fourth session, led by a keynote address from Robers, was Bridging the Gap: Technology and Women’s Empowerment in Business. This was a forum where the likes of Bianca Gonzalez-Intal, Eliza Antonino of the Moment Group, social entrepreneur Zarah Juan, and Anne Emperado-Macababat of Malanne jewelry and accessories, joined Robers in a lively discussion.

On the evening of the seventh, I was the lone thorn at an impromptu dinner that SM Supermalls VP for Corporate Marketing Grace Magno organized, with representatives from two other media platforms - and it was a wonderful opportunity to sit down with, chat, and engage with Robers.

Founded in 2015 by Robers, Rhea See and Virginia Tan, She Loves Tech (SLT) is a global program that funds women-led tech start-ups. It now operates in 76 countries, across six continents. In it’s nine years, it has worked with over 15,000 start ups, with close to half a billion dollars raised post-competition. As Leanne was happy to report, there are close to 5,000 entries each year, and they’re constantly surprised by who wins, the kind of tech being proposed by the start-ups.

Committed to closing the funding gap for women, the SLT platform has the world’s largest database of women-led and women-impact start-ups. Looking up past winners, I was amazed to see the diversity of the start-ups. In 2022 alone, finalists included a game changing start up with acoustic material and sound therapy app aiming to eradicate avoidable ear damage, to an algae-based biofuel, and biomimetic self-healing concrete. A finalist from Africa that had to do with household essentials quick commerce may have sounded more mundane, but had strong social impact.

Mr. Gustavo Gonzalez UN Resident Coordinator in the Philippines, welcoming all to International Women’s Day at SM Aura.

And Leanne was happy to accept how there has been progress in women participation over the last nine years. In fact, at the International Women’s Day press conference, Leanne mentioned that the dream is really a world where She Loves Tech no longer needs to exist, that there truly is an equal playing field in the arena of tech start-ups. But until that time, she’s ready to be pushing for Education, and for the Angel Investing they represent. Presently, to join the SLT competition, the founder of the start-up has to be a woman, or the tech proposed has to impact women significantly. A working prototype is also a must.

Leanne Robers was a 2019 Obama Global Leader (Asia-Pacific), was Booking.com’s Tech Playmaker of the Year and garnered the Champion of Change Award in 2020, and just last year, was awarded Monte Carlo Woman of the Year special Prize in the Monaco Women Forum, as presented to her by Princess Charlene and Prince Albert II. It’s really been one accolade after another as she successfully merges sustainability, technology, women empowerment and inclusivity, while hailing from Southeast Asia.

Interesting to learn that Leanne is married; but as she frankly says, her maiden surname of Robers was so unusual, she just opted to keep it, and not become Mrs. Gupta. They don’t have children, and she smiles recounting the years when her mother and mother-in-law would constantly bug them about children. She tries to compensate for the impression she may be making about being obssessive over-achievers by saying she and her husband are the best auntie and uncle to the children of their siblings and friends. Me, I joke back that that’s so easy to say when you know you can return the kids at the end of the afternoon; and Leanne laughs.

We’re eating dinner at a Thai restaurant, and I notice how she loves her mango sticky rice. Passionate and committed, but also gregarious and possessing levity; it was a distinct pleasure meeting Leanne, scratching the surface to go beyond the public persona we’re exposed to. (Source: Manila Bulletin)