Felipe realized he had a part to play to redress the balance. His involvement stemmed from conversations with Mariéme Jamme, founder of the global movement, ‘iamtheCODE’, which teaches girls coding and other work-related skills. Felipe linked up with Mariéme at a hackathon event in Recife – developed with the aim of evaluating local skills – and was inspired to take a stand and work towards a more inclusive workplace in his own country.
‘IamtheCODE’ was set up to achieve four of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, including quality education, gender equality, decent work and innovation. It has declared the impressive ambition of reaching more than 1 million girls with training and mentoring by 2030. The movement had already run educational projects in a number of countries, notably in Africa, but this was a first in Brazil.
Felipe took a pioneering role. He brought Unilever personal care brand Sedel (Sunsilk) on board. With its purpose of opening up possibilities for girls everywhere, Sedel provided an excellent fit with the initiative. Local NGO Plano de Menina, Sedel’s existing partner, also joined the project. Contact was made with a secondary school in São Paulo and Felipe worked with them to ensure that the content of the ‘iamtheCODE’ classes aligned with the Brazilian educational system.
And so the São Paulo Digital Club was set up. The girls who enrolled were taught about coding. “We teach girls the basics of programming logic,” explains Felipe. “And then we show, in real life, how to code.” But the classes covered much more than that.
“The core of the program is about empowerment,” he adds.
The classes included elements of confidence-building and other soft skills, and harnessed non-traditional techniques such as acting to facilitate learning. The girls were even encouraged to debate the Sustainable Development Goals.
Forty volunteers, drawn from Unilever and the community, helped Felipe in rolling out the project. Over three months he managed the teams of volunteers and ensured that the course content was correctly followed. The students were well supported and no one got left behind.
This holistic approach helped the girls to prepare themselves to join the workforce or undertake further education.
“This is perhaps one of their first opportunities to have a better job,” says Felipe, who participated in every class. “It’s changing not only the lives of the girls but also the lives of the volunteers.”