Alumni News

SIPA Emerging Leader Award: Gabriela Rocha MPA-DP ’13

Posted May 17 2024
SIPA Emerging Leader Award: Gabriela Rocha MPA-DP ’13

The SIPA Emerging Leader Award is presented annually or as otherwise determined by the Board of the SIPA Alumni Association to honor alumni who have graduated within the 10 years preceding the year in which they are nominated and have demonstrated distinguished achievement in their chosen field. 

Gabriela Rocha is cofounder and CEO of Laboratoria, an organization that empowers women who dream of a better future to start and grow transformative careers in technology. With operations in 11 countries, Laboratoria strives to achieve a more diverse and inclusive digital economy that can transform Latin America’s future. Before launching Laboratoria in Mexico, she worked as a public policy consultant in Mexico City and directed development projects in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro and in the Peruvian Andes.


GABRIELA ROCHA: I didn't always dream of becoming an entrepreneur. I feel that I kind of stumbled upon it. I was always driven by big Ideas and the possibility of them making significant positive impact, and where I found that to be possible was in entrepreneurship and specifically social entrepreneurship.

I grew up in Latin America. I'm originally Brazilian. Historically, Latin America is a region with so much talent, so much potential, and, unfortunately, there is a lot of that that is still untapped, specifically for women.

The tech sector has provided a unique situation where, because demand for tech talent is at an all-time high, companies and tech teams are willing to forego university degrees and simply look for the most skilled people at solving technological problems. This idea came about. What if we identify young women who are extremely talented with high potential but didn't have access to quality education opportunities, train them in tech skills enough to land them a junior role in tech? Could that be possible? And if so, that seemed extremely exciting for me. I wanted to be a part of making that happen.

In 2015, my cofounders and I started Laboratoria, an organization that empowers women who dream of a better future to start and grow transformative careers in technology. We started off in Lima, Peru, with about 15 young women. We taught them tech skills enough to land roles in tech teams. And after about six months, we had companies calling us, wondering if they could interview and hire some of these women. If you can study something for six months and then get a high-paying job and not need to show that you have some sort of fancy degree or prior experience, that is really powerful.

We quickly expanded to Mexico and Chile, and we are now in 11 countries in Latin America. Since we founded Laboratoria, we have trained over 3,000 women. We have a 80% job-placement rate. Our students go on to work in companies like Accenture and Citibank and global companies and organizations leading in the tech sector.

SIPA actually has a special place in Laboratoria's story because that's where we met as cofounders. SIPA brings people from diverse backgrounds together from all over the world, and I feel it was a really favorable environment for people with big ideas, passionate about solving some of our region's more significant problems. We were able to come together and sort of bring those ideas to life.

If I had planned my dream job and what I hoped to be able to achieve after everything I learned at SIPA and after a career trying to impact social change, I think Laboratoria is very representative of that dream. Laboratoria is a place where we bring together passionate human beings who are transforming education, transforming society's idea of talent.

It's an honor and a privilege for me to dedicate my everyday to work towards expanding the kinds of opportunities that I was given throughout my life. I think the women who have gone through the program, they are the ones that are going to make a huge impact in the region.