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  • Writer's pictureLaura Caicedo

Gina Romero: Empowering Filipino Women Through Technology & AI Skills Training

Gina Romero is the Founder and Head of Special Projects at Connected Women and MettaMatch. With a background in community building and technology, Gina is dedicated to empowering women through AI skills training and job creation, specifically focusing on women from underserved and rural areas in the Philippines. During this interview Gina shared her experience creating a for-profit social enterprise, her mentors and advice for women considering tech.

Can you share a bit about your background and your current role?

I am the Founder and Head of Special Projects at Connected Women and MettaMatch. Connected Women empowers women through AI skills training and job creation, particularly focusing on women from underserved and rural areas in the Philippines.

MettaMatch provides ethical AI data services to companies globally. My advocacy is centered on integrating women's empowerment into AI governance to ensure ethical AI use worldwide.

How did you first become interested in technology, and what led you to your current role?

I began my journey in women's community building with The Athena Network in the UK, a leading community for women in business. At the same time, I was running a boutique innovative IT solutions company with my husband, which was my first experience in the tech industry. 

When we moved to Singapore, my passion for technology and women's empowerment led me to launch Connected Women Singapore, focusing on driving technology adoption by women in business and startups.

While living in Singapore, I became increasingly aware of the struggles faced by many women domestic workers who leave their home countries for better opportunities abroad. My mum left the Philippines to work as a domestic worker in the UK in the 70s, and I was shocked to find that this remains a reality for many women from the Philippines and other developing countries.

This realisation brought me back to the Philippines to launch Connected Women, with a mission to elevate the lives of Filipino women through socially responsible online work.

What main challenges have you faced in your career, and how have you overcome them?

Most of my challenges have been related to entrepreneurship—typical founder problems like securing sustainable funding for cash flow and growth. I've transitioned from being a small business owner to a tech startup founder and impact entrepreneur. Each business model has its own challenges, some common and some unique.

As the founder of a for-profit impact company, balancing the core mission to do good with commercial goals is challenging.

The for-profit social enterprise model can be confusing, especially in Southeast Asia. Commercial investors may doubt your commitment to ROI, while philanthropic groups sometimes doubt your commitment to impact.

Despite this, I strongly believe in the for-profit social enterprise model which integrates doing good into the core business while delivering commercial value and profit. I believe all businesses can do good while making money, and this business model can be extremely rewarding for everyone involved.

Who or what has been the most significant influence or support in your tech journey?

I've been fortunate to have incredible mentors such as Jacqueline Rogers, the Founder of The Athena Network (UK), who taught me about networking and community building. In Singapore, Grace Sai, Elim Chew, and Benny Se Teo inspired me in social entrepreneurship.

Recently, I've had the opportunity to work with some of the brightest minds in data science like Erika Legara, engineering like Jo Stansfield, and research like Mansi Gupta. 

There are too many amazing people to mention, but these are some of the people who have influenced me in my journey across community building, social impact, and tech.

How have you seen diversity and inclusion evolve in the tech industry throughout your career?

The need to bridge the gender gap in tech isn’t new, but in the AI era, there is even more urgency.

We often look at a lack of diversity as a loss of economic opportunity, but in reality, bias in fast-scaling technologies like AI poses significant risks to society. Getting more women involved in technology, especially AI, is essential to avoid perpetuating biases and widening the digital gender divide. Thankfully, we are seeing more calls to address the gender gap in the tech industry. There has also been progress in creating and implementing inclusive governance frameworks and gender-responsive AI governance principles. The only way we can really overcome biases is by involving more women and diverse groups in the design, development, and monitoring of AI systems.

How do you manage the work-life balance in the tech industry?

I've been an advocate of flexible remote work for over a decade now, and this is what we provide at Connected Women and MettaMatch. Although it doesn't solve other barriers that women face, including unpaid care and household work, it's at least a step towards making it easier for women to stay in the workplace.

Many of the women in our workforce come from remote areas in the Philippines, where finding work and travelling can be challenging.

Providing upskilling and flexible work to women from underserved segments is a way to bring them into the tech workforce. This allows them to take care of their families and gives them the option not to leave the country to look for job opportunities.

Women from Malamawi Island travel by boat to use the computer facilities at a training centre. Photo: Connected Women

What skills do you believe are most important in today's tech world?

AI and data literacy are essential for women to meaningfully participate in the digital economy.

At Connected Women, we provide training on AI Data Annotation and have trained over 1,000 women, with 400+ project placements to date.

This is a critical skill for training and fine-tuning AI models for natural language processing (NLP) and computer vision.

We also recently launched a Generative AI program for Filipino women freelancers and professionals. This program helps them navigate the disruptions caused by these new technologies. Understanding and leveraging Generative AI is becoming increasingly important as it opens up new opportunities and challenges in the tech world.

It's an exciting time with so many new possibilities, but we are also facing a period of uncertainty so it's essential to stay up to date, keep learning, and adapt.

Sixty-one women from Toledo City graduated from the Elevate AIDA Program. Photo: Toledo City Public Information Office

Can you share a project or accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career?

Launching our Elevate AIDA program with UN Women at the height of the pandemic is one of the things I am most proud of.

We had an extended lockdown here in the Philippines, which meant we weren’t able to launch the originally planned face-to-face training. We quickly adapted the program online and pushed through with the launch despite challenges. The program has won awards for COVID-19 response, inclusive innovation, and contribution to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Through this program, we provide high-quality data annotation services to global companies while creating sustainable job opportunities for women from underserved communities. This showcases how inclusive innovation can drive both social impact and business success.

What are your future goals, and where do you see the tech industry heading in the next few years? We plan to expand MettaMatch to create more opportunities for our community, while contributing to the development of ethical AI systems. We will continue to develop programs and solutions that empower people in the future of work, particularly women and marginalised communities. I am also very passionate about advocating for human-rights-centred frameworks in AI governance to ensure that the benefits of AI are distributed equitably.

It's a crazy time right now because the disruptions we are seeing in the AI space are significant. I believe that once the dust settles around the hype, we will start to learn how to best optimise human + AI workflows, leading to productivity gains and a completely different way to live and work. We've seen a lot of tech innovation over the last two decades, but I don't think we've seen anything like what we are about to experience.

More than anything, I hope we will see greater access to learning and education, and breakthroughs in medicine and energy, leading to a better quality of life. We also need to be careful. As stewards of the AI systems that we are building, there is also a lot of potential to widen the divide, leading to a future where a small number of people benefit at the expense of many. This is why a human-rights-centred framework for AI is essential, and I can't stress this enough.

What advice would you give to other women considering a tech career?

I find it sad to see all-male panels discussing AI and tech, knowing there are many talented women in this field. I often hear stories from organisers who struggle to find women who are willing to represent, especially if they don’t consider themselves “experts” on the topic. I hope more women will be willing to participate in these important discussions.

And you don't need to come from a tech background to leverage technology to make an impact. I've learned everything I know from being curious, passionate, and persistent.

Technology now impacts every aspect of our lives, and this will only become more significant. We definitely need more women contributing.

You don't have to be an AI expert to be part of conversations about the impact of AI on your industry. I encourage women to join these discussions and be willing to speak up. Your perspective is valuable, and your voice is needed. 

What would you like to see in the tech industry to make it more inclusive?

I’d like to see more focus on impact sourcing and an ethical supply chain that creates opportunities for women, including those who don’t have a formal education or work experience. By committing to ethical supply chains, companies can ensure that their business practices do not exploit vulnerable groups and can contribute positively to the communities they engage with.

What’s next in your career?

With everything changing so fast, who knows where any of our careers or businesses will be in the next few years. We will continue to build on what we have started at Connected Women and MettaMatch and to work towards our vision of a more inclusive workplace. But realistically, in times like these, we need to work with shorter planning cycles, so I am mostly focused on achieving our goals for the next quarter and the next twelve months. Beyond that, I am watching with great anticipation to see what unfolds and how we can leverage these changes to create even more impact!

 Let's continue the flow... who would you like to read on the Lovelace Series?

I would like to nominate Jo Stansfield. I love her vision for Inclusioneering and the work she does as a board member of ForHumanity. Her story should be shared.

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