Women transforming Latin America's infrastructure development
As both developing and developed countries move to fully capture the economic and social benefits of inclusive infrastructure, there is increasing understanding of the value of women’s perspectives and contributions in planning, designing and delivering infrastructure. Yet, the gender gap in infrastructure remains. The infrastructure industry continues to attract and employ far fewer women than men, and women users of infrastructure still face safety and other issues from infrastructure that hasn’t been designed to work for everyone.
Today, the GI Hub shares the second in a two-part series speaking with women infrastructure leaders in Latin America. The seven women interviewed in this series share how they started and progressed their careers in infrastructure, and the successes and challenges they encountered along the way.
The GI Hub is committed to highlighting women’s roles in infrastructure development and encouraging greater gender inclusiveness throughout the industry – in alignment with the G20’s agenda of social inclusion as an integral component of quality infrastructure. The G20 has long recognised the benefits that follow when diverse groups of infrastructure users are consulted to create infrastructure that works, and when there is diversity among the people responsible for delivering infrastructure.
The women we introduce today are faces of inclusion, talent, skill and innovation. Their stories help illuminate what the industry has achieved and what still needs to be done.
Ana Candida, Partner, Barbosa Mussnich Aragao, Brazil
Ana Candida resides in Sao Paulo and is a partner in the law firm Barbosa Mussnich Aragao. She has fifteen years’ experience formulating and managing partnership frameworks of public-private partnerships in infrastructure development across Latin America.
She is also the co-founder of Infra Women Brazil, the first and only group of its kind in the region. Started in late 2019 by 11 women, it now boasts over 250 members from various industry sectors, representing both public and private interests. The organisation’s mission is simply stated: To promote and encourage the presence of women in the infrastructure sector.
“The idea came about when five of us attended a major infrastructure development conference in London,” says Candida. “Our delegation from Brazil, all women, were the only women in the room. It got us thinking about what we could do to help encourage more women to enter the industry.”
In addition to organising networking events across the country, Infra Women Brazil is encouraging women to be more visible as industry experts in sector panel discussions, forums and conferences. “Women bring critical diversity of thought in planning and designing of inclusive infrastructure” says Ana.
Jhoana Montalban, Deputy Manager, COFIDE, Peru
Jhoana Montalban is the first person in her family to graduate from university. Armed with a finance degree, she went to work for COFIDE, Peru’s state-owned development bank, charged with closing the investment gap for development projects.
She feels lucky that her first boss was a woman who took her under her wing. Often, they were the only women in the room negotiating financial terms in complicated contracts. “She and I made such an effective team, strengthened by mutual trust and confidence. She taught me to put people first, that the relationships are the foundation of any infrastructure project. I lead my own team now, and what I learned from her makes me a better leader.”
Her proudest project to date is the ongoing Rural Electrification Project which is installing 500,000 photovoltaic (PV) systems (roof panels and energy storage) off grid. The infrastructure project will ensure the social inclusion of remote areas that have never had access to electricity. She led the team that financed one phase, installing 175,000 PVs, an effort that led to a national prize for innovative funding in 2018.
But the prize is not what gives her joy. “Over 220,000 people are getting electricity for the first time. It's truly uplifting to improve so many lives.” says Montalban.
Silvina Panizza Director, Public Private Participation Unit, Ministry of Economy and Finance, Uruguay
Silvina Panizza has a Masters in Economics from the University of Montevideo and began her career as a consultant advising on investment projects. In 2010 she joined the Ministry of Economy and Finance and is now the Director of the Public Private Participation (PPP) unit for all sectors of infrastructure development.
One recent project involves the building of 44 kindergartens and 15 childcare centres across the country, to be developed by a design, construction, financing and maintenance PPP over a 22-year period.
“When I first thought about infrastructure, I associated it with transport,” says Panizza. “Then I discovered the other side, social infrastructure, and its powerful, positive impact on education, health and prisons. My enthusiasm has only increased in the ten years executing public infrastructure projects under private participation schemes.”
Mentors have been critical in her career development, in particular the head of a partner organisation, the National Development Corporation. “From him, a fellow economist, I learned the soft skills. He expresses a unique perspective for a man, and gender’s never been an issue.”
It’s the soft skills that Panizza believes women value more, and wield better. “Creative negotiation, assertive communication, teamwork, empathy, and self-control. These skills combined with technical expertise make effective leaders.”
Through networking and mentoring, women in Latin America are aiming to encourage more women to enter the infrastructure industry.
Read part one of this series here.