Marisabel Ruiz of Sheva tells us about empowering women in Guatemala through mobile technology and the internet.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Marisabel Ruiz: We are based in Tokyo, Japan, at the moment. At the beginning of the pandemic, I would say it was scary, but luckily here is a community-based society where everyone respects and cares about one another. So I feel lucky to be here.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Sheva.
Marisabel Ruiz: I founded Sheva 5 years ago with a mission to empower women in Guatemala. We created a program, “Tech for Good,” to help reduce the digital gender gap in Guatemala by helping women get access to mobile technology and the internet. We partnered with Tigo, the biggest telecom company, to create the project called Conectadas, where we have trained almost 45,000 women to learn how to take advantage of mobile technology effectively to better their personal and professional lives.
How does Sheva innovate?
Marisabel Ruiz: We started with face-to-face training specifically around education programs, then we created more programs around entrepreneurship and business. Later, we created a micro-learning platform free of charge so that women and girls could continue learning about mobile tools even when we were not there, and later we started virtual training, where women and girls could have micro-lessons to learn about different tools. We are constantly innovating and trying new things, as we need to keep up with new tools found on the web.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Marisabel Ruiz: Definitely, the budget was cut. We had to work as a team to decrease salaries and try to find new clients in order to be sustainable. We are also constantly innovating, trying to find the most sustainable way, as a lot of companies and our biggest partners also had cuts.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Marisabel Ruiz: Yes, the lesson learned is that there are people that are really committed and are willing to sacrifice for the company, and that feels good because it means they are connected to the purpose of the company and have hope that things will get back to how they were.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Marisabel Ruiz: I will talk about finding people to train. We got help from media who posted about our programs; we had to create an almost like call center to start finding people. We sent thousands of emails and WhatsApp messages in order to reach our goal. Our goal was to have 400 subscribed; we had approximately 4,000.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Marisabel Ruiz: No. We did not have any government grants.
Your final thoughts?
Marisabel Ruiz: Covid is making a lot of companies innovate. It has been very unfortunate for people who have lost their jobs for sure and been affected by the pandemic. I hope companies are able to innovate and find a sustainable business model and clients to keep afloat.