'You cannot change what you cannot see,' says Paola Santana
The Dominican expert in public policies is recognized for creating business opportunities for diverse communities.
MORE IN THIS SECTION
Emphasizing that she does not like to be labeled in any of the professional fields through which she has passed in her prolific career, Paola Santana is recognized for her impeccable work philosophy that allows her to make projects come true that otherwise would not be executed.
Santana pointed out in an interview with AL DÍA News:
Neither I nor anyone can label me: Paola the lawyer, Paola the technologist, the entrepreneur... I am what I have to be to do what I came to do in the world.
In her many roles, Santana seeks to efficiently promote the correct execution of public policies that different communities urgently require.
In addition to standing out as a Fulbright scholar and graduate of George Washington, Georgetown and Singularity University, Santana has received in her short but rich career such important recognitions, like CNET Top 20 Latin in Tech, Forbes Top 50 Women of Power in Central America and the Dominican Republic, and LinkedIn Top 10 Professionals Under 35 in Enterprise Tech, among others.
She also served as lead of the UN International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Unmanned Aircraft Systems Advisory Group and appointed member of the first FAA Drone Advisory Committee.
In her role as a professor at Singularity University and a mentor at the Social Entrepreneurship Labs Incubator at Stanford University and Google AI, Santana talks to her students about what it means to be someone who was born and raised in Latin America.
“I tell my students at Stanford, who already have PhDs by the time they get there, that they didn't come to the U.S. to learn to care. The Latino has a PhD in solving his day to day. They know how it is to solve without electricity, without drinking water, without knowing how they are going to eat the next day,” Santana explained.
The Dominican enjoys her time teaching and forming diverse work teams that have the tools and talent to generate continuous disruption in different areas that offer benefits to the population.
“You grew up there, you came out of there, you know this big problem in the world that you want to change. Return to your family, to your community, to your neighborhoods, because no one has solved this problem. You already have that PhD, so now at Stanford the question is how are we going to solve this problem, how are we going to make money solving that problem, and how are we going to unlock resources for everyone by doing it,” emphasizes Santana.
GLASS Commerce: Visibility and Transparency
Recently, GLASS secured $3 million in funding from leading investors in the e-commerce and government procurement space to strengthen and accelerate the growth of what is considered the company's flagship product.
According to SBA data shared by Santana, if you look at the conformation of the businesses, 99% are MSMEs whose composition is full of completely diverse people, without labels, such as women, cooperatives, LGBTQ+, Asian Pacific, transgender, etc. ., where no one looks like anyone else.
“We are going to see what we are doing to be able to improve, because we cannot change what we do not see. And since many times it seems that the government does not want to see, that is why we put on our glasses, to see what is being done wrong and change it,” notes Santana.
The Latina leader also underlines: "With GLASS Commerce, our flagship product, we are creating a pioneering platform for government marketplaces, so that the government can make minor purchases with only three clicks.”
With this in mind, Santana urges communities to create business relationships with the government and to call for the use of public resources to develop businesses that strengthen and grow the local economy.
“Those businesses exist, those people exist, so we are going to buy from them because that is what I want done with my money,” insists Santana.
Talking about how her technological venture seeks to help communities, make them visible, and allow them to access better conditions for their development, Santana points out: “What business is not for the people? What solution is not for people? Who are we designing for if it is not for the rest of us, for 99% of the world, places where neither wealth, nor opportunities, nor technology arrive?”
Also, she notes that when you have that DNA to work with, diverse teams are formed capable of creating money opportunities, all thanks to the fact that it is executed for all people and not just for a small group.
“It is a matter of creating and maximizing public value. It's not a favor. The powerful and beautiful thing about this business that we are doing, which is public businesses, is that they have the largest decision-maker in the world, which is the U.S. government, which is also the largest individual buyer in the world, therefore it is also the largest investor of public resources," stresses Santana.
Santana, who in the company of her team precisely seeks to give visibility to MSMEs to help them connect effectively with a buyer of these characteristics, calls on the financial authorities and businessmen.
"When you say to that buyer [the government], 'hey, you have a lot of economic power and you say that small and medium-sized businesses are the foundation of the country's economy, so my question is, why don't you buy from the foundation of your economy?” questions Santana.
Santana indicates that the great power of GLASS, from its very name, is not only to aim at transparency in business, but also to be a lens through which companies and all the necessary instances around the purchasing and sales process become visible., where between 30% and 40% of the budgets of each country are spent on public purchases, a market of $800 million that few pay attention to.
“Public procurement does not mean digitizing governments. For us it represents the most powerful tool to change the government, because public purchases are not what you say you want to do, it is what you do. You put money behind the initiatives that you approved in Congress, and thanks to that things get done. At the end of the year it is not what you said you were going to do, but where you put the money or how you spent it,” points out Santana.
“So public purchasing is the most powerful tool because it assigns financial resources to the things that the government says it wants to do,” notes Santana, emphasizing that the government no longer has excuses for not buying from these groups that it says it seeks to support.
"Buying locally translates into maximizing budgets, creating a circular economy and keeping these businesses open so that they can keep local jobs, as well as reducing CO2 emissions and transport and supply chain time, uniting local demand with local supply," she adds.
Santana recalls some of the major turning points in her life that marked her and led her to pursue a career in public policy.
“One day in Santo Domingo, getting on the public transport with my grandmother, who was taking me to some class, I, only 6 years old, thought 'why is this experience so bad? Why is the transport, where everyone rides, in poor condition? Why does my grandmother have to ride something that doesn't take care of her and doesn't take care of me? Why do we receive such an undignified experience in a public service?’”
Highlighting how that sense of injustice stayed with her from a young age, Santana says she initially decided to study law to do politics and work to improve conditions for Dominicans.
However, given the undemocratic dynamics of political parties, which regularly stop any attempt at change and are dedicated to putting up obstacles rather than offering solutions, both in the Dominican Republic and in Washington D.C., Santana indicated that this first approach to create dignified life conditions for the communities was not the correct one.
“I made a mistake studying law. But I took a step back and said, ‘what system is actually changing the world?’ I found out it was technology, which is not asking anybody if they want to change the world or not," Santana said.
Here comes a second turning point. After learning about technology in Silicon Valley, Santana developed an innovative public transportation infrastructure system through drones with which he was able to connect communities that for several decades had been waiting for a state intervention that would benefit them.
“Oh, Paola is now a technology entrepreneur making drones. No, I am doing public policy, I am building what the government had to do, which I did not delegate, I did it myself at a fraction of the cost and in a fraction of the time,” she highlighted.
Santana, who after each professional and personal project has acquired greater knowledge and experience in a field in which she aspires to continue making an impact, also continues to create new projects that provide basic solutions that communities have been waiting for for a long time.
Thanks to her initiatives, creating physical infrastructure through her drone project, as well as digital infrastructure with her GLASS platform, Santana continues to make public policy for everyone.
Santana and her team don't think they're doing anything truly new, they've simply put together a number of elements on their platform that allow businesses and governments to transact business effectively.
“We do not believe that we are doing anything new. What we are doing is looking for the government to prioritize making these purchases with local MSMEs, socioeconomic groups that they call priority. We are going to ensure that all the purchases that are made in the minor line, which are the purchases that are made in a simplified and fast way, are made efficiently, which is its purpose,” indicates the founder of GLASS.
Likewise, Santana highlights what happens when 32 million businesses come together on the same platform with the largest buyer in the world, the U.S. government.
“The platform serves to attract all government credit card buyers, which in the U.S. number 22 million people, so that with a simple and intelligent search bar they can find goods, services, software, rentals, and anything the government buys, which is literally everything, and in one place they can find the 32 million MSMEs that have exactly what the government needs and they have it in real time and without making a contract.”
Regarding the visibility of diverse communities, Santana highlights that through GLASS Commerce two objectives are met.
On the one hand, it allows the government to see the millions of local companies that offer what they are looking for, while making businesses visible. And on the other hand, after the whole process is simple and transparent, it is also possible to see how the leaders use this tool to generate the real change they propose.
“We are not a minority. We are majorities, but we do not have visibility, and everything revolves around this. Those purchases are there; the MSMEs are there; credit cards are there; the products and services that the government buys are there; even the government spending of 16 trillion public purchases is there.”
Finally, Santana made a new call to governments to honor their word to support local companies and carry transparent public spending: "Don't give them subsidies, don't do them favors, give them business, because what people need is dignity to work from sunrise to sunset and take that money home.”