Erika Ender may be the woman behind the record-breaking hit “Despacito” (which this summer tied Mariah Carey for 16 weeks on the Hot 100), but the Panamanian songwriter and artist says she’s just like the rest of us. “I am an ordinary person,” the Grammy-winner told the audience at Sunday’s (Sept. 17) Social Good Summit, which helped kick off this week’s United Nations General Assembly in New York City. “I wake up every morning trying to give the best of myself.”
For Ender, giving her best — in addition to creative pursuits that this year saw the composer inducted as the youngest member ever into the Latin Songwriter Hall of Fame — means giving back. She spoke about her longtime philanthropic pursuits at the 7th annual summit, which saw global leaders and activists discussing ways to improve the world by 2030.
Her organization, Fundacion Puertas Abiertas, founded in 2009, helps thousands of children victims of child labor in her home country by offering social services and educational programs. This year she also launched a national television talent program, TALENPRO (Talent with Purpose), that sees teen youth honored with scholarships for their music artistry as well as community activism. (The finale airs on Oct 29 in Panama.)
“Music is such a powerful tool and we have to be responsible in everything we do,” Ender told moderator and MSNBC correspondent Mariana Atencio. The songwriter credited her mother for her sense of social duty, which also extends to the message behind “Despacito.” “I know I’m going to mark a moment of someone’s life,” she says of her songs, including the Luis Fonsi/Daddy Yankee smash. “Even if it is a fun song, it has to have a message. With ‘Despacito’ it’s about taking care of a woman, honoring her as a work of art, about not being aggressive with her, which is not always typical for urban [reggaeton] songs.”
Before the program at the 92nd Street Y (one of the sponsors of the event along with Mashable, the United Nations Foundation and United Nations Development Programme), Ender met briefly with Carmen Perez, Executive Director of The Gathering for Justice and Co-Chair of the Women’s March on Washington. “I’m a huge fan,” Ender tells Billboard. (Perez reciprocated, “We were just listening to ‘Despacito’ at our retreat,” she reveals to Billboard.) Ender closed her session with two powerful, message-driven songs, “Porque,” (Because) about a young boy abandoned by society, and “Todos Somos Eguales,”(We Are All Equal) which celebrates the diversity that brings us together.
“Society is focused on ‘what I have gives value to what I am’”, she told the audience. “Instead we need need understand who we are, what are we going to do with our talent, why are we here and what can we leave behind.”