The mission of the Estée Lauder Emerging Leaders Fund is to build a new generation of leaders who redefine leadership. Carolina Cohen, a participant in the VV Visionaries program, is the kind of leader who fights for her community.
As the founder of Colabore com o Futuro, an organization (NGO) that aims to fight healthcare inequality in Brazil, Cohen is shaping the future of healthcare policies in her home country. From her beginnings in the corporate world to working for non-profit organizations, Carolina has officially bridged the gap between the two in her latest venture. Her organization has helped amplify the voices of millions of Brazilians regarding healthcare policy, and the impact has been tangible.
We chatted with Carolina about taking the professional leap from corporate to social impact, finding her purpose, and the importance of cultural values in her everyday life.
What fuels your passion for your work?
The profound belief in the potential for meaningful change. Because of my own experience with a rare disease, I am deeply moved by the countless individuals who have faced unfavorable experiences within Brazil's healthcare system. Whether it's the lack of access to adequate treatment, enduring months of waiting for a basic consultation or the absence of compassionate care, these challenges drove me to action.
When we bring individuals together and amplify their voices through Colabore com o Futuro, we effectively convey their concerns to policymakers. This not only raises awareness about the pressing issues affecting the Brazilian population, but also leads to tangible changes in public policies that align with the real needs of the people.
Our organization has already played a pivotal role in helping millions of Brazilians by shaping or revising laws, facilitating the inclusion of crucial treatments in the public healthcare system, and ensuring the allocation of government resources where they are most vital. In practice, this work translates into extended, higher-quality lives for numerous patients and their families. Witnessing the positive transformation that we bring to so many lives fills me with profound satisfaction and reinforces my commitment to this important cause.
What was it like to transition from the corporate world to running your own organization? Can you talk a little bit about the pros & cons of each?
During my corporate tenure, I gained extensive insights into the significance of well-defined processes, strategic planning, and the importance of measuring outcomes. These experiences were pivotal in shaping my professional perspective. However, despite the attractive salary and promising career prospects, I felt a deep sense of incongruity with the corporate environment. Something was missing, and I yearned for work that resonated with a higher purpose.
Today, I lead a for-profit business that exclusively focuses on social impact—a bridge between corporate enterprise and traditional NGOs. While this path comes with the challenge of managing a smaller team and a disparity in salary compared to the corporate world, the immeasurable reward lies in the sense of purpose and love I have for my work. The fulfillment I derive from making a meaningful difference in society far surpasses any financial considerations, reinforcing my belief in the priceless value of purpose-driven work.
When it came to starting your own business, what was your biggest learning?
Starting Colabore com o Futuro has been a profound learning experience, and one of the most significant lessons I've gained is the realization that operating a business reliant on sponsorship and goodwill is far from easy. It can be immensely frustrating to understand the capacity of positive impact of your work and the benefit that it can bring to the population while not having enough financial resources give the issue the awareness it deserves.
However, through these challenges, I've come to embrace two vital lessons:
Understanding the Needs of Supporters: It's crucial to discern what your clients or prospective supporters truly desire and then craft projects that offer mutual benefits. While this can be a complex endeavor, it is entirely feasible. In this context, everyone involved can leave satisfied, with their respective goals achieved.
Self-Validation: I've learned not to base my self-worth on external validation. Instead, I've cultivated a sense of self-worth that stems from within. Rejections and setbacks rarely shake me, as I've grown to understand the inherent potential of my organization. Pushing forward, even when faced with financial challenges, has allowed me to stay true to my beliefs and mission. Looking back, after six years of tireless effort, I am filled with pride and certainty that the work we do holds immense value. The tangible impact we've had on countless lives serves as a testament to the worthiness of our cause.
What kind of leader are you? Or how would you describe yourself as a leader?
I am often recognized for my ability to motivate and inspire people. I believe this is due to my real desire to make a difference in the Brazilian health system and legitimate concern for those who need assistance in navigating it. When people feel the love for the cause and realize that they can participate in the process of making change, they also want to be part of that purpose and naturally come along.
In the daily operations of Colabore com o Futuro, it is crucial to me that the entire team feels fully engaged in the process. I prioritize their involvement in shaping our strategies and annual planning for the organization. By actively including the team in these decisions, not only do they feel heard and valued, but it also ensures that everyone understands our primary objectives. This collaborative approach fosters a profound sense of purpose in our day-to-day activities.
What was your biggest takeaway from your VV Visionaries experience?
My VV Visionaries experience provided a multitude of important lessons. However, the most meaningful thing for me was that the cohort gave me a sense of belonging that invigorated my strength to follow my purpose.
Engaging with a diverse group of global leaders, sharing experiences, and witnessing other inspiring leadership in action reinforced my belief in the power of determination and unwavering commitment.
What was the most surprising or unexpected thing you learned or experienced as part of the fellowship?
During the fellowship, we learned that the timeline for closing the gender disparity has been significantly extended due to the pandemic. The gender gap, which was originally projected to close in 99.5 years, has now been extended to a staggering 135.6 years. This revelation was startling, and it filled me with a sense of disappointment, particularly as a parent of a 2-year-old daughter.
Despite this statistic, meeting and interacting with the incredible women in the fellowship who are actively working to address gender inequality and other societal disparities around the world was an incredible experience. Their dedication and impactful work instilled a renewed sense of hope in me. It reinforced my belief that by joining forces and working collectively, we can accelerate the process of creating a better, more equitable world for not only my daughter but for countless children worldwide. This unexpected learning experience served as a reminder of the urgency and importance of our shared mission.
How has your cultural background influenced your relationship to beauty?
My cultural background has had a profound influence on how I perceive beauty. I'm very proud of the values that my family has imparted to me, and one of these values revolves around beauty.
I genuinely believe that beauty radiates from the inside out. It's about having self-esteem, self-love, and self-appreciation. When we work on nurturing these aspects of ourselves, we not only feel beautiful but also exude that inner glow. In the context of my cultural upbringing, I've been taught to continually strive to be the best version of myself. This journey of personal growth and self-improvement is something I hold dear, and I hope that my own path can serve as inspiration for other women to embark on their own journeys of self-discovery and self-enhancement.
Discover more about the Estée Lauder Emerging Leaders Fund.