”la Caixa” fellows, a network of empowerment for all women

14 July 2020

It has been 30 years now since the ”la Caixa” Foundation gave out its first fellowships. In 1982, the first cohort of over 30 fellows saw a dream come true: the chance to study in the USA and boost their careers.

Up until this day, the ”la Caixa” Foundation fellowships programme is still offering unique transformative opportunities for people with huge amounts of talent in all fields. Now they are not just educated in the USA, but rather they are at the top universities in over 20 different countries. Furthermore, we have specific talent capture programmes in excellent research centres in Spain and Portugal.

Over the last 30 years, over 5,200 people have received a ”la Caixa” fellowship. Among them, 2,530 of the total amount. In a general context where the gender gap is still a reality, 48.5% female fellows represents a great step towards parity, offering the same opportunities to men and women.

Overcoming this gap is no mean feat and requires specific actions on both an individual and collective basis. However, we know that many women and girls, as well as men and boys, need female references to build more diverse social and professional ecosystems together, in which each person's potential can develop regardless of their gender. For us, each and every one of our female fellows are a reference point that girls and young women can see themselves in, as well as an example for everyone that talent knows no gender. 

In this article we want to speak about three successful female fellows with very different backgrounds and careers and who, as a group, represent the diversity of women, talent and interests in our community. 

Salomé de Cambra has been in the Fellows network for 30 years. After studying medicine and completing the residency exams for preventative medicine, a fellowship from the ”la Caixa” Foundation allowed her to do a Master of Business Administration (MBA) at Columbia University. This changed where her life was going: “It was the opportunity to embark on a completely different career at the time. After MBA, I stayed working in the healthcare sector but now not as a doctor, but rather as a person who knew how the healthcare system worked from a more business-oriented perspective,” she said.

Beyond her training in management and financing, Salomé values the opportunity to have that experience in the USA above all else and she describes it as “a place where people have a very positive attitude and support ideas with the conviction that they are going to work.” She also said that she felt very comfortable when she lived there because of their “really proactive” character.
After a turning point in her career, this attitude is surely what led her to found WA4STEAM, an association of small female investors, alongside 34 other women with two aims: “we wanted to learn how to be Business Angels by investing and also to support projects lead by women in the STEAM fields.” As such, Salomé puts a lot of effort into mentoring, networking, consulting and supporting female entrepreneurs so that they can find success in the fields of science and technology by developing projects that will materialise on the market and generate wealth around us and in society at large.

Salomé de Cambra.

Beladenta Amalia also studied medicine at Universitas Indonesia, near to the city where she was born, Tangerang. During her time working at a private clinic in a rural area of Indonesia, she discovered a recurring cause of diseases that her patients suffered from: tobacco smoking. “This is how I got drawn into public health, specifically in tobacco control,” she said.

After completing a master’s degree in public health and despite some baseless doubts held by people in her field, Beladenta wanted to do her PhD in order to influence political decisions based on scientific evidence. “The people around me wondered why I would bother to get another academic title abroad, if being a doctor was already more than enough for a woman in a country where we are expected to look after our families rather than working outside the home.”

In 2017, INPhINIT ”la Caixa” PhD fellowships programme gave her the opportunity she was looking for an she is currently doing her PhD at the Universitat de Barcelona as a pre-doctoral researcher at the ICO-IDIBELL Tobacco Control Unit, in which she is taking part in the European TackSHS project, which is tackling the effects of second-hand smoke and aerosols produced by e-cigarettes. “My horizon opens up as we identify more toxins and their impact on the European population,” she said. “It is a very rewarding experience which has allowed me to meet many experts in the field, which would not have been possible without the support of the ”la Caixa” Foundation,” she added. 

Beladenta Amalia.

In 1994, Núria Oliver made one of her greatest dreams come true: she did her PhD in AI at the MIT, thanks to a ”la Caixa” fellowship. After working for Microsoft and Telefónica, in 2016 she was appointed as the first Chief Data Scientist at DataPop Alliance, an international non-profit organisation created by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, the MIT Media Lab and the Overseas Development Institute that works on getting the most out of Big Data to improve the world. She is currently the Chief Scientific Advisor at the Vodafone Institute and the co-founder of ELLIS for Europe. Núria has been able to have a successful career in a sector that is dominated by men where she has always felt like part of a minority.

In her opinion, this problem stems from the existence of “huge gender stereotyping towards people who study tech careers, which makes them less attractive for young women.” This is not helped by a lack of references and the perception that engineering is a difficult field, which “leads to many teenage girls holding themselves back and thinking that they aren’t good enough,” she said. 
In this respect, Núria believes that “the ”la Caixa” Foundation fellowships play an important role since they allow talented women to work on ambitious projects that would not be possible any other way.” Apart from the economic support, they also have an even more advantageous added value: the opportunity to form part of a huge community. “There are now over 5,000 ”la Caixa” fellows and you can't put a price on being part of a really international social network with truly skilled and well-educated people,” she concluded.

Núria Oliver.
Female ”la Caixa” fellows in numbers
Salomé, Beladenta and Núria have shared their voices in this article but there are so many other that could have done the same. On this blog and on the fellows channels on Twitter and Facebook, we’ll keep talking about all of them.


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