In 1967 a little girl named Karla was born in ‘Hopital el Retiro’ a few years before it was destroyed in the devastating 1972 earthquake. Today the regional retail banking group where Karla works, is built on exactly the same spot. During the earthquake Karla remembers roof tiles falling down like rain and her dad putting her brother’s fire helmets on their heads, as he brought his wife and their four children to the relative safety of their garden. Luckily, other than a couple of cracked walls, their house was not affected, but downtown Managua almost completely disappeared.
I truly enjoyed my week of participatory observation, by far my favorite invention in the field of anthropology. Staying at Karla’s home in Managua, Nicaragua and sharing her daily rituals whilst extracting her life history was a truly amazing experience! It allowed me to get a glimpse of an exceptional human being; her equanimity, her intense and personal relationship with God and her ability to visualize and strive for a future she believes in. By giving you a bird’s eye view of her story, you may start to understand my awe.
Her mother an idealist and a well-known poet, her father a lawyer with a rather conservative background, Karla’s parents met, married and contributed to the Sandinista cause in the 70’s. A fall-out over political choices led to their divorce and Karla eventually had to leave Nicaragua for the U.S. at the tender age of fourteen. It was summer, June 1982. She was on her own, despite the loving care of her uncle and aunt. For a long time she was bitter towards both her parents as she felt abandoned.
Having learned English through bilingual episodes of Sesame Street, Karla’s dream was always to become a medical doctor. However, after she finally graduated from High School in Miami there was nobody to advise and guide her on next steps. Karla had a political refugee status which did not allow her to apply for a scholarship.
Over time, Karla’s determination to become a doctor transformed into a passion for finance and banking. Banking as an alternative way to help people achieving their dreams of a better life. It was a world that started to fascinate her and it was a pragmatic love as this career path allowed her to combine her studies with paid work therefore no longer needing a scholarship. Karla decided she wanted to work for a bank, even if she had to clean floors!
Karla remembers a bumper sticker that said: Temporary home of a rising executive. She stuck that sticker on her computer. She was determined and kept envisioning her future. She saw herself at age 30 in an executive role at Bank of America. Instead at 30, she played a crucial role in stabilizing the banking sector in her country Nicaragua, by liquidating four out of nine commercial banks, in her role as the Intendent of banks. She was permanently escorted by bodyguards and testifying in court became one of her routines.
Today, besides being a loving wife, a mother of 3 talented youngsters, a devout Christian, a cancer survivor, a sister, a daughter and a dear friend Karla is a dedicated professional playing a crucial -yet largely invisible role- as the trusted advisor to the founder and president of a big retail banking group in Central America.
Karla is yet another remarkable woman and an inspiring role model to many. Her story is the second of a series that I am making to portray female leaders in the financial sector. I am looking for the unsung heroes and choose to write about women only as many, many portraits of male heroes already exist…