Since June 2020, Apple has funneled more than $150 million into its Racial Equity and Justice Initiative (REJI) — the tech company’s commitment to supporting students, developers and founders who are fighting inequality and injustice with their work.
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Less than a year later, Apple launched its first-ever Entrepreneur Camp for Latin founders and invited developers from the U.S., Brazil, Guatemala and Portugal to highlight the next generation of Latinx and Hispanic-founded apps.
Apple’s goal has been to improve the percentage of Latinx developers operating in the App Store. In 2015, 7% of all app developers in the App Store identified as Latinx or Hispanic.
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“There’s a very small community of Latinx in the startup world and while it’s important to create content for our families and friends, it’s also vital that Latinx creators are the ones who own and are creating the content,” CEO Steven Wolfe Pereira told Paste Magazine.
Pereira is the CEO and co-founder of Encantos, a storytelling app that offers users the chance to tell their stories. Pereira was one of the four panelists featured at Apple’s recent event, which highlighted some of the app store’s most innovative Latinx and Hispanic founders.
“We are giving the opportunity for creators that haven’t been able to share their stories to share their culture in an authentic way through books, videos, music and games,” Pereira explained. “We are so proud of working with so many diverse creators and they bring it to life in so many interactive, beautiful ways.”
Olga Gutierrez, who works on environment, public policy and social initiatives at Apple, kicked off the panel by explaining how vital it is to continue striving for a diverse app-building community.
“We believe that technology is a key tool for social change, and with apps becoming more central to the way we live, work, play and take care of ourselves and each other every day,” Gutierrez said.
The accessibility and everyday use of apps is what creator Andrea Campos considered when launching Yana. Yana is a wellness app with specific tools for Spanish-speaking people who deal with anxiety and depression. Campos taught herself how to code, and Yana’s download count exploded — from around 80,000 users to over a million — after it was featured on the App Store.
“We’ve found a particular niche among 18- to 25-year-old women,” Campos explained. “Yana has become everything from a best friend to a mother figure.”
The Latinx and Hispanic population is the largest ethnic minority group in the U.S. and data reports that less than 10% of them have access to mental health services. While there are a number of reasons why this is — insurance, legal status, cultural stigma — the language barrier for some individuals is what makes accessing mental health services challenging.
“While our app is available in every country, I will tell you that you will only find it in Spanish,” Campos said. “This is the language we chose to serve with due to the lack of options available here.”
Providing important resources specifically for U.S. Latinx and Hispanic communities was a common theme throughout each of the presentations at the panel. Co-founders Diego Montemayor and Corina Hierro started Chamba to help as many users as possible to find jobs.
Montemayor kicked off Chamba's presentation by showing photos of his family immigrating to the U.S. from Mexico, him working his dream job at the U.N. as an adult and then working with the Chamba team.
“How did an immigrant come this far? What made this possible?” Montemayor asked. “The answer is very simple: It is employment.”
Because of a problem similar to the one Campos saw in existing mental health apps, Montemayor and Hierro made Chamba offer language options.
“We created the first bilingual app that allows them to apply without any of the language, accessibility and cultural barriers by eliminating these between employers and job seekers,” Hierro said. “We have opened the doors of opportunity to an otherwise historically underserved and untapped workforce that can solve the biggest problem in a post-pandemic world.”
Chamba has since clocked in over 250,000 Latinx and Hispanic job seekers — with most sign-ups coming from cities with high Latinx and Hispanic populations like Los Angeles, Chicago and New York.
“Chamba was created by Latinos, and most importantly, immigrants that understand the Latino job seeker and the language that they speak,” Hierro concluded. “Employment is a human right.”
Montemayor and Hierro raised another point, one that Apple is trying to make with REJI, which is that innovation only happens when a socially and culturally diverse team is behind it. Funding more Latinx and Hispanic developers will further diversify the App Store and tap into customer needs that were lacking.
There’s an emotional element too — as exemplified by the fourth panelist, Maxeme Tuchman, who created Caribu.
Caribu is focused on keeping socialization and education alive between family members, no matter the distance. The app offers activities and makes the calls interactive — a must-have, especially during the pandemic when Zoom fatigue was spiking. It was named one of the 15 Apple App Store Award winners in 2020 and was dubbed one of the Top 100 best inventions by TIME Magazine in 2019. Caribu also counts Kevin Jonas as a big fan.
“A customer recently pointed out that Caribu has the most extensive library of kid-friendly books and activities in Spanish that can be shared across generations,” Tuchman said. “We are honored to be building a place where our Hispanic [and] Latino families can ensure that we keep our [stories] alive generation to generation.”
Caribu hosts read-alongs in both English and Spanish and, in honor of Latinx and Hispanic Heritage Month, will be donating 300,000 subscriptions to Latinx and Hispanic children ages 7 and under.
“Eighty percent of grandparents still live more than one hour away by car. Sixty-three percent of dual and single parents work full-time and need help,” Tuchman pointed out. “Caribu provides a perfect virtual babysitting platform for extended family to help out with the kids, and the model for edtech spend has changed, shifting the share of the wallet from the school to the parents.”
While there is still a lot of room for growth and inclusivity within the tech space, founders like Pereira, Campos, Hierro and Tuchman are paving the way for more innovative businesses to be founded. From mental health to employment to keeping families connected, the success of these apps — both on an emotional level from users, to a financial level from the App Store — further proves how vital it is to offer spots for more Latinx and Hispanic developers in tech.
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