FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT, CORPORACIÓN MANOS VISIBLES / VISIBLE HANDS FOUNDATION
Paula Moreno is founder and president of Corporación Manos Visibles, a Ford grantee working to redefine power and cultivate a new kind of leadership in Colombia. In 2007, she became the first Afro-Colombian woman—as well as the youngest person—to hold a cabinet position in Colombia’s government when she was appointed minister of culture.
After earning a degree in engineering and later serving as culture minister for the government of Colombia, you founded a nonprofit, in 2010, called Manos Visibles—or, in English, Visible Hands. What’s the goal of the organization?
In Visible Hands, what we do is cultivate leadership. It’s leadership development but kind of thinking about changing power relations in excluded communities. We think about how we make more diverse elites, how we build different kinds of power from grassroots leaders. That’s what we try to do.
What kind of work does Visible Hands do to advocate on behalf of women?
It’s very important to say that I think we are trying to change patriarchal structures and ways of seeing power and performing power. So when we are doing this leadership development, we are thinking, what is the role of women to play and to perform power. I think that’s our main reflection. How to change the traditional patriarchal ways of power is an ongoing process. Power is really related to men. And to rethink power, to rethink the kind of leadership that we want in the private or public sectors is just about changing the mindset—not only in Colombia but everywhere, no? Because when you talk about the president or the mayor, in general people think about a male figure. So it’s about changing the narrative and the mindset.
In 2007, you changed the narrative of who typically occupies a cabinet-level position in Colombia. What was it like blazing a new path?
I was the youngest woman to be a minister in Colombia. I was the youngest in the history of the country, because I was 28. And at the same time, I was the first black woman to be in that position. I see power as a way of serving the society. My main motivation for doing this work is because I didn’t want to be the only one. And I’m working to make that more the rule—not exception.
I hope many people who look like me or represent different diversities won’t need to fight so hard to be in different positions in this society. So many people believed in me, invested their capacity, their energy, their resources, in my training. So I want to create that for a big group of people. With Visible Hands, I have been able to empower more than 3,000 leaders. Many of them are now in positions of power in the public sector as mayors, even ministers, and I want them to have all the tools to make our role in society more visible and more effective.
When you wake up every morning, what gives you hope?
I create a program in my organization called Innovation Girls. We help to incubate—in one of the most excluded and violent places in Colombia. We help to build robotic schools and we have girls learning programming and learning to create solutions in their communities. And I really love how they rediscovered their role in their society—as women, how they can build tools to really make the society work in a different way.
What does equality mean to you?
Equality is to recognize and to value your power. I think when you realize your power, then everything starts changing, because you have power to negotiate and define where you want to be in society and to channel all your energies to really be more effective in the society that you want to build.