The age-old tradition of the physical marketplace may be crumbling, and many women-led families in Costa Rica are feeling the pinch. In fact, in Jazmin Fallas Kerr’s hometown, Desamparados, nearly half of all families with women as head of household are in poverty.
To combat that, Kerr made a digital bridge between creation and commerce. Hyena is an Internet-based marketplace which allows women artisans to sell their handiwork online for a fair price. The site now has more than 50 local women courting customers for their crafts. Kerr’s upbringing helped her develop the idea.
“I was inspired by my mother; she is a family leader and artisan,” Kerr said. “We are from an area of social vulnerability, and I know the difficulties these families face.”
The site helps solve a more universal problem. It gives women the flexibility and time to work outside of homemaking responsibilities.
“[I want to] empower women to create better opportunities for their families,” Kerr said. “It is being achieved through a platform involving different actors in society that involves from fair trade to online education.”
Winner of the “Creator of Digital Change” contest, Hyena exists thanks to that $3,000 prize money from the University of Costa Rica. As Kerr is a business student, she plans to expand the site to include structured business classes for the women using it.
“I know the benefits of receiving access to higher opportunities, so I decided to take the needs of this population and mix them with my knowledge in marketing,” Kerr said. “I personally believe that women have a special gift to intuit and connect with people’s emotions. These characteristics become powerful inputs to create more humanized technologies.”
Still, access to these technologies remains sparse, which is another problem Kerr is facing down fearlessly.
“I believe that there is a lack of knowledge and fear of technology. It is believed to be only for certain sectors of society,” she said. “I also think that the main problem to solve is universal access. Unfortunately, the population with the greatest need to acquire knowledge is the one with less access to the Internet and its positive use.”
The 25 Under 25 awardee says growing up with her mom as such a strong female role model along with two mentors, Kelmy Camacho, who founded an initiative to empower girls and women in technologies, and Sandra Cauffman, a NASA engineer, gave her the confidence and strength to be an entrepreneur at such a young age.
“Kemly is a very active woman who made the decision to dedicate her life to creating opportunities for women and girls in technology that has shown me the impact that can have on people’s lives,” she said. “Sandra is an example of how women can fulfill their dreams, break paradigms and be successful in technologies. She, just like me, grew up in a poor community in Costa Rica in a family with difficult conditions but with a powerful mother.”
While Kerr’s days and nights are hectic, with a mixture of business, educational responsibilities and personal fulfillment through activities like dance, reading international news and listening to classical music, she embraces her role as a young technology leader in her community, and hopes others will do the same.
“I was always taught to fight. Since I was a child, I was characterized as very active in my community, dreamy and with clear goals,” she said. “My advice is to seize opportunities and surround people with vision. One of the main things that I think has enriched my life is that I am always in constant search of learning, and IT is a world where there is still enough to discover and create.”
Join SIG Women, which is open to all people and “works towards the involvement of women in technology and contributes to reducing the gender gap in the field.