Rooted in her Quechua culture, our latest Distance Traveled series feature is Lili Gangas, Chief Technology Community Officer at the Kapor Center. A proud self-proclaimed nerd, she shares her personal journey — growing up as an immigrant kid with a supportive and determined family, and how her lived experience fuels her passion for centering folks who have been historically left out of tech.
Born in Bolivia and raised in Southern California, Lili and her family sought a better life for themselves. Growing up, Lili longed to see representation of her heritage. She looked on TV, in the classroom, and her neighborhood-with no luck. Despite missing these role models, she found her own icons much closer to home.
Like many immigrant families, the backbone of Lili’s family were the women who not only built the foundation for their lives in the U.S., but served as a constant support and source of strength for Lili. She attributes much of her success to the encouragement and upliftment she received from her mother and sister. Lili’s mother immigrated to the U.S., a single parent with two daughters. Working two jobs, she prioritized two things: hard work and the preservation of their Quechua culture. Her mother’s determination and resilience was passed down to Lili.
“As an immigrant kid you are taught early on that you can’t quit, you have to keep working. I’ll just tell you I grew up with very strong women!”
First borns are often credited with being strong leaders, shouldering the expectations of being the role models for their younger siblings. Lili’s sister was no exception. Growing up, Lili’s mother was often away at work, leaving the two girls to raise themselves.
“My sister is the eldest. The eldest immigrant kids know a lot of the burden of what your parents go through. Their [parent’s] trauma is on their shoulders.”
Lili describes the challenges her family faced during her childhood, like not having enough money to pay the bills. Lili credits her sister for not only shielding her from the stress and trauma, but for also empowering her to follow her dreams despite the challenges the family was going through. Encouraging her to speak her mind and be unapologetically her true self in every room she walked into.
“Don’t forget you still have your innate power, your voice.” says Lili Gangas.
Her unwavering optimism and drive stems from these two matriarchs. Like family, there is power in one collective movement. Her story reminds her of the importance of uplifting voices of those often left out of the conversation, because it was once her own.
Without the presence of her native language in the classroom, Lili was left underestimated and unheard. The gatekeeping of language often leaves children feeling lost, making connecting with others difficult. As a result, she turned to math and science. Lili explains that this was the only way she was able to express herself growing up. A proud nerd who found her early love language within equations and lab experiments.
After pivoting her career away from engineering and management consulting, Lili finds herself today working in social impact and philanthropy. She is passionate about how fast technology can develop, but more importantly- who gets to develop it. She fights for pathways and opportunities for underrepresented communities who find themselves working through the same barriers she also faced.
“Reflecting on the the last two years, thinking back in in the peak of the pandemic:
Who had the opportunity to go to school online?
Who had the opportunity to have access to health care online?
Who actually had a choice whether they could go to work or not?
It’s always something that I keep top of mind because I think about myself and my family when we first immigrated and what life would have been like for us. If we moved into the U.S in the current conditions, I really don’t think we would have been able to make it.”
Today, Lili is reminded of the struggles her family once endured, admitting that current conditions make it harder for families similar to her own to survive. Lili’s work at the Kapor Center focuses on philanthropy and social impact through programs, grants, partnerships and policy. Finding opportunities to leverage our private foundation to level the playing field for underrepresented communities in tech. The same collective movement that her family forged is the same connection that is needed to mobilize for a more equitable future in tech.
“We know it’s not going to take one person. It’s going to take a collective power to really change the large complex situations that we’re in. We aren’t leaving it up to luck, but actually aiming to improve those opportunities.”
Watch the full video above to hear Lili’s story and learn more about her distance traveled to the Kapor Center.