It’s been a few years since defibrillators started popping up in places besides hospitals and clinics. Having the devices available in public spaces where people spend time — schools, office buildings, shopping malls — ensures bystanders can quickly help someone having a heart attack. The need is particularly profound for Young Innovator and Vital Voices GROW Fellow Manuela Gil de Tober.
I lived through a lot of violence in my childhood. It was very hard — every day, I was afraid my parents were not going to come home.
Growing up in Medellín, Colombia, during five decades of drug and civil conflict made her keenly aware of the need for emergency preparedness and response. “I lived through a lot of violence in my childhood,” she says. “It was very hard — every day, I was afraid my parents were not going to come home. Then, during the night, there would be a bomb and all of the windows would be broken. When you are vulnerable when it comes to emergencies, you need to figure out a way to work with it.”
That’s exactly what she’s done. Along with her husband, Gil de Tober is growing her father’s small medical device distribution company, Ingeniería Hospitalaria, beyond its previous focus on sales — and in the spirit of start-ups that’s giving Medellín a reputation for innovation. “What we’ve done is convert the device into a service — to convert regular people into friends of the heart, so that everyone can save a life who is willing to,” she says. “That’s the most important thing.”
That service is empowering others to save lives. Putting a process engineering education from Germany and Colombia to work, Gil de Tober is building training programs for teaching people who don’t work in the medical field to operate defibrillators and other medical devices. “We train and prepare people to assure the survival chain is there,” she says. “For example, if someone fell down right here, the first question would be, ‘What do you do?’”
In-person and written instructions have worked, Gil de Tober says, but she’s set her sights on more: virtual reality and highly intuitive training. It’s one of the next steps she’s addressing through her Vital Voices GROW Fellowship. Among the inspirations that led her there? Uber. “Uber is very easy, and it’s achievable for everyone,” she says. “We want that for our service.”
We train and prepare people to assure the survival chain is there. For example, if someone fell down right here, the first question would be, ‘What do you do?’
That innovative approach comes together with a sense of purpose. “I went to Germany because I fell in love,” Gil de Tober says. “But then I said, ‘I want to go back to Colombia and do something for my society.’” That purpose, in turn, has built passion in her team. “Passion for what we do is very important,” she says. “I want every person who works for us to believe in what they are doing.”
That’s not a stretch for Gil de Tober and her team, thanks, in part, to many of their upbringings in Medellín. Now, it’s a matter of building on that connection. “Working with emergencies makes people more human,” she says. “Once you have that empathy — once you know that you can help if something happens — you are going to be there. And I believe I have so much more to explore on that.”
Vital Voices and FedEx
Vital Voices Global Partnership has invested in more than 15,000 women in 181 countries and territories since its inception in 1997. The organization recently expanded coverage of its GROW Fellowship, which FedEx supports as a platinum sponsor, and now includes participants from the United States, Asia and Europe, as well as Latin America, the Middle East, North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa. Learn more about the work of Vital Voices in an Access interview with Alyse Nelson, the organization’s co-founder, president and CEO.