Sara Monteabaro’s Mission for Women & Girls with MIT Solve

Editor’s Note: This interview in our Feminist Giving IRL series features Sara Monteabaro, newly appointed Director of Strategic & Partner Programs at MIT Solve.

Sara Monteabaro is the newly appointed Director of Strategic & Partner programs at MIT Solve. (Image Credit: MIT Solve)

1. What do you wish you had known when you started out in your profession?

Being a perfectionist is a strength masked as a weakness. As a self-proclaimed perfectionist myself, I’ve learned over the course of my career that perfectionist tendencies—when controlled—are something to lean into. It’s a matter of striving to do one’s best, while also accepting that failures along the way are learning opportunities, not signs of weakness or inadequacy. 

2. What is your current greatest professional challenge?

One of our key goals at MIT Solve is to help our network of social entrepreneurs, whom we call “Solver teams,” navigate through this period of uncertainty caused by COVID-19. Our Solver teams face many pressures throughout their entrepreneurial journey, which are only exacerbated by myriad disruptions to their work that a pandemic brings. We are working hard to build coalitions of support from across the MIT Solve community to further invest in both current Solver teams and future innovators to ensure they can refocus their work on the communities they serve. 

3. What inspires you most about your work?

In my current and previous roles at Solve, I have had the great privilege of working closely with diverse innovators from around the world who are driving transformational social impact. In particular, I have had the opportunity to help support inspiring women entrepreneurs who are addressing key challenges in their communities. Take for example, Lidia Oxi Chuy who leads MAIA, a school for Mayan girls that helps amplify indigenous female voices in Guatemala. While Lidia is dedicating her life to lifting up other girls in her community, we at Solve have the opportunity to elevate her and her work. I love this trickle effect that occurs and I feel fortunate to play a role in making it happen. Unlike Lidia, I have yet to find the one singular cause or project to which I’d like to dedicate my life . Instead, I’ve found my purpose in being able to serve as a facilitator in helping others grow and scale their good work.

4. How does your gender identity inform your work?

I am where I am today because of many other women in my life: my mother, my sister, my bosses, my friends, my mentors, and many, many teachers along the way. I am deeply aware of the privileges I have been afforded by having had strong female role models who encouraged my educational and professional growth. I also recognize that others are not so lucky. Today, out of the 132 million girls worldwide who are out of school—including 52 million in Sub-Saharan Africa alone—16 million will never set foot in a classroom. 

That’s why I am proud to have helped design MIT Solve’s 2020 Learning for Girls & Women Challenge, focused specifically on supporting equitable learning opportunities for girls and young women across the globe. Through open innovation and partnerships, the Challenge aims to not only support tech-based solutions that reduce the barriers that prevent girls and young women from reaching key learning milestones, but also promote gender-inclusive and gender-responsive education for everyone, including male, gender non-binary, and transgender learners.

5. Do you think your gender identity has affected your career?

I have found that I thrive in work environments when surrounded and supported by diverse women leaders. Whether consciously or unconsciously, I tend to put myself in situations where I can work closely with women who inspire and motivate me. That is especially true at Solve, where our senior leadership is composed of incredibly smart, motivated women whom I feel lucky to work alongside each day.  

6. How can philanthropy support gender equality?

It’s been shown that women-led enterprises receive significantly less investment than their male counterparts. Some may assume that the reason is because there aren’t enough women entrepreneurs, but that is simply not true. As MIT Solve’s Executive Director, Alex Amouyel aptly put it, “If you can’t find women tech entrepreneurs, you’re not looking hard enough.” Take our own Solve network for example, where over 50% of the social impact ventures in our portfolio are women-led. 

The global philanthropy community must do more to incorporate gender diversity into investment strategies and funding decisions. 

7. In the next 10 years, where do you see gender equality movements taking us?

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Beijing World Conference on Women, a watershed moment for global gender equality. Since then, significant strides have been made in addressing the root causes of gender inequality from poverty and lack of education, to health risks and early marriage. Still, more innovation, capital, and support must be deployed to continue to level the playing field for adults and children of all genders.

I’m excited to see what the next 10 years bring from the newest generation of social entrepreneurs. From Malala Yousafzai to Greta Thunberg, we are already witnessing young women step up and take action to address inequities in their communities and around the world. By 2030, my hope is that these young women will be in leadership positions and will have inspired a new generation of changemakers to follow in their footsteps. 

About Sara Monteabaro: Sara Monteabaro is Director of Strategic & Partner Programs at MIT Solve. In this role, she works with Solve community members and partners to develop custom open innovation challenges and programs. Previously, Sara led Solve’s Learning Community where she worked to cultivate a robust community of innovators, cross-sector leaders, and change-makers dedicated to improving learning opportunities and access to quality education around the world. Prior to joining Solve, Sara served as the inaugural Morton L. Mandel Presidential Fellow at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Herbert Scoville Jr. Peace Fellow at Partnership for a Secure America and has worked at the Clinton Global Initiative, Council on Foreign Relations, and CRCC Asia Ltd., a global recruitment consultancy firm in Beijing, China. Sara holds an MS from New York University and a BA from American University.


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Author: Maggie May

Maggie May is a small business owner, author, and story-centric content strategist. A Maryland transplant by way of Florida, DC, Ireland, Philadelphia, and -- most recently -- Salt Lake City, she has a passion for finding stories and telling them the way they're meant to be told.

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