Empowering through education

UQ alumnus Clarissa Rios is working to champion economic empowerment in developing countries. She is a UN Women’s Empower Women Global Champion and founded Ekpapalek, a not-for-profit that seeks to empower Latin American professionals. Clarissa discusses how UQ and specifically the ilab at UQ program helped shape her journey.

Have you ever wondered how much professional talent is wasted in developing countries? I have, and I’m working to change it.

I feel very connected and responsible for the social issues happening in so-called "developing countries". I come from a low-income family in Peru, so I know about the limitations for pursuing your academic dreams when you have no money or support network to help you to achieve your goals.

I overcame my initial lack of opportunities by empowering myself through education, working hard and being persistent about my goals. Although I could overcome these problems, that is not the case for millions of young students and professionals in Peru. Lack of money and opportunities for professional development are still big problems in Latin America. So, in order to provide a solution to these problems, I started Ekpapalek, a non-profit social enterprise that seeks to empower Latin American professionals.

Ekpapalek promotes the social and economic development of Latin American countries. We provide opportunities for professional development through five different programs. We connect students with professional experts from around the world, who are willing to support them through our mentoring program. We also seek to empower women by redefining what it means to be a role model for women in Latin American societies. One way we achieve this is by giving talks and workshops about women's economic empowerment at secondary schools.

Thanks to The University of Queensland, I had the chance to initiate my entrepreneur journey and make Ekpapalek a reality.

The UQ Idea Hub allowed me to experience the entrepreneur ecosystem. After this I was ready for the next step so I applied for the mini accelerator program offered by ilab at UQ. I was selected for four weeks of mentorship and learning about startups. The invaluable knowledge I gained, together with the pitch event we had, has been a great help for turning Ekpapalek into a social enterprise.

By participating in the ilab at UQ course, I also got to know about the opportunity to work with the UQ Business School. Professor Nicole Hartley contacted ilab at UQ asking if any startups would like to be considered to collaborate with UQ Strategic Advertising Management course postgraduate students. Ekpapalek was chosen! During the second semester of 2016, seven extraordinary and brilliant UQ Business School students worked on a one-year marketing plan for Ekpapalek.

And that is not all: having spent more than four years studying at UQ, I got the chance to meet many like-minded people who have since joined Ekpapalek as mentors.

We now have more than 50 mentors – 16 of whom are UQ alumni – from all over the world. Thanks to them, we offer 19 different academic areas of mentorship. In the past year we have achieved 100 mentoring sessions with Latin American students, and we brought women empowerment events to more than 50 students and professionals. We have also become UN Ambassadors for the Sustainable Development Goals and were invited to speak at the Atlantic Dialogues and at the UN Women Empower Women webinars. Our blog articles have even been published in the Spanish newspaper Mundiario and in the famous Time magazine in USA.

If you are interested in becoming a mentor or a contributor, please contact us. You can also help us by donating to our GoFundMe campaign.

Last updated:
1 February 2017