Karla Godoy Da Costa Lima feels like it’s her calling to empower other women.
Born in a Brazilian favela, Karla was surrounded by inequality, fear, and lack of choice, but her mother, grandmothers, and sisters were role models for strong, powerful women. They showed her how women do not have to conform to what life offers them.
“Growing up seeing examples of women overcoming poverty to raise their kids made me want to fight for a world where women don’t have to struggle to provide for their families,” Karla said.
Karla joined the University of Minnesota community this semester as a Fulbright Scholar in the Master of Development Practice program at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, and a scholar with the Interdisciplinary Center for the Study of Global Change. She wants to use her degree to help reduce poverty among women by including gender guidelines in sustainable development programs.
“I believe that when a woman’s life changes, the world around her changes with her,” Karla said. She hopes to work with initiatives that give women the capabilities necessary to choose what they want to do in life.
Her startup is Acara Challenge winner
Karla was working toward this goal even before enrolling at the University of Minnesota. At just 16, she became chief marketing officer for Life UP, a startup focused on the development of humanitarian technology to solve problems in the lives of people with physical disabilities. More recently, she co-founded EcoCiclo, a startup producing the first biodegradable sanitary pads in Brazil.
EcoCiclo aims to reduce poverty by employing women who are at social and economic risk. It also focuses on reducing the environmental impacts of conventional menstrual products. The company estimates that people who menstruate use 10,000 to 15,000 pads and tampons in their lifetime, and these products take up to 500 years to decompose.
Karla worked to further develop her project as a fellow in the Acara Graduate Changemakers Lab, which includes graduate students from a variety of disciplines, all with ideas for equitable projects addressing environmental or social issues.
Her project was so impressive that it was recognized as the top graduate-level winner of the 2021 Acara Challenge, which awards students who have fresh ideas for how to solve the world’s biggest challenges. Karla will receive a $5,000 grant and ongoing support from expert faculty members as she aims to launch her project. Karla and her co-founders expect to start selling their pads in Brazil by July.
EcoCiclo is also working to help other women developing sustainable products. In partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank, the company is preparing to launch a marketplace platform where women can sell their sustainable products online.
Building a Sustainable Future
Karla says her involvement with the Acara Changemakers Lab has been helpful and rewarding.
“It has been a great opportunity to get to know like-minded people who want to leave a good impact in our society,” Karla said. “During the Impact Studio sessions I get to hear opinions and insights from important professionals in the area of sustainability and social change to improve my social venture.”
In past years, the lab has helped develop innovative projects in Indonesia, Guatemala, Kenya, Minnesota, and elsewhere. Projects ranged from community-led tourism initiatives promoting sustainable development in specific communities to creating inclusive and environmentally sustainable menstrual hygiene management policies on campus.
In July, Karla will represent Brazil at the One Young World Summit in Munich. The annual event brings together young talent from all over the world who are working to accelerate social impact. Delegates from more than 190 countries participate in four days of speeches, panels, networking, and workshops, hearing from influential political, business, and humanitarian leaders such as Justin Trudeau.
“I hope to show other countries what has been happening in the ‘Global South,’” Karla said. “I would like to show them that there are young women mobilizing each other to build a sustainable future. I also expect to be inspired by the amazing leaders who will be attending the conference.”
A version of this story was originally published by M Global.