Positive Deviants: Juliana Jaramillo, Ricardo Rincón, Sergio Rojas, José Campos
Company: Volver a Ver
Location: Colombia

Ordinary people working for extraordinary people

The VaV team

Volver a Ver (VaV) is the result of the work of four ordinary people who care about social issues. Each one of us, from our own professional perspective (design, law, engineering and economics), had long been looking for a cause that would make us feel passionate to make even the slightest social contribution to the base of the pyramid (BoP) population in Colombia. 

We started caring about a common problem that a lot of people face during our lifetime: not being able to see well. With this as our focus, we based our initiative in two main principles: empathy and reuse. Visual refractive impairment at the BoP is a problem that has had little attention; leaving those with this condition continuously vulnerable. We also found that many people, whatever economic class, have a pile of old glasses frames in their drawers.

¿So what do we do?

VaV efficiently sources used glasses in order to make affordable glasses for low income persons.

¿How do we do this?

Using unused resources: people don’t know what to do with their old, but still usable, frames. We are constantly looking for this unused resource.

Providing technical support: through partnerships with different organizations, we have been able to grow a group of volunteer optometrists who diagnose the population we work with.

Developing alliances: increasingly, businesses are moving towards models responding to customers demand for environmental and social impact, thanks to this we have found businesses willing to sponsor our work.

Building appropriation strategies: We are constantly looking for ways to ensure people understand the importance of what they receive by developing interactive and inclusive education activities.

¿Why do we do it this way?

VaV aims to close the gap between those who are able to afford a pair of glasses and those who cannot. We like to consider our project as the product of the emerging collaborative economy by leveraging existing resources from the same community in order to create social change. As for now, we would like to share some of the lessons we have learned along the way so that you can have some advice/motivation to get your own story started! 

LESSON #1: A little passion can go a long way.

Look for something you feel passionate about. It will still be a huge challenge to get it going but if you are not passionate about it, it will simply be impossible.

Some of us at VaV are blind as a bat and coming from our own experience we understand that a day without a pair of glasses is a lost day. How terrible would an entire childhood with a visual disability be? How terrible would it be to spend the first years of your life looking at a blackboard without actually seeing anything that was going on? Or having a landscape in front of you without being able to admire its beauty?

On the other hand, we knew that in every house in Colombia there is a drawer full eyeglasses waiting to be used again. A little more than a year ago we asked ourselves what would happen if we used these drawers so that someone who needs to, but cannot afford to, could see again (Volver a Ver).. 

LESSON #2: Incremental innovation should be your best friend.

It is not mandatory to come up with something completely new, but you should look for unique ways to do so. Hopefully your way will be better than the current state of the art.  

Thrilled with this idea, we committed ourselves to the task of developing several interventions. We did this by identifying people who needed a pair of glasses but could not afford it. We managed to do this with our own resources and those of close relatives to see how difficult it was and if it was worth it; of course it was.

Sometime after, convinced to scale this project, we decided to try to sort out our operation model. We tried to develop the model that we believed would help us scale our idea and impact more lives as we grew. Defining our project was one big milestone even though at first it did not seem so important. We defined VaV as an organization that funnels diffused resources towards a more focused, common goal.

LESSON #3: Believe even more when it gets rough. If you don’t believe in your idea, no one else will.

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If you prepare yourself show passion for what you want to do, you will most likely find someone willing to support your social project even if you have no track record to show.

First you have to go out there and ask. Ask for help, things, and options. Just do whatever it takes to make your plan work even if it means asking a lot. We worked for three months with the community of a private school in Bogota to raise awareness and to motivate it to mobilize resources towards the project. The resources were used to benefit a community center in Ciudad Bolivar which primarily services low-income families.
At the end of the intervention we benefited 28 boys, girls and seniors who can now look at a blackboard and actually learn, who can admire the beauty of a landscape.

LESSON #4: Go for it, take that first step.

Jump into it because you will never be 100% ready and challenges along the way will always come up. 

As we went for it, we decided to strengthen our team, rethink our project, set goals and start searching for a new intervention. It might sound self-evident, but it has been incredibly valuable to have people from diverse backgrounds. We analyze the same situations from very different points of view and have been able to build richer and comprehensive solutions to the challenges we face.

LESSON #5: Big is scary good. It means growth is coming.

If there is something that at a first glance makes you nervous because of the responsibility you are about to take on, that is exactly what you need to grow.

We believe there is a great deal of people, who want to make a social contribution to their communities but do not know how or where to do so. Further ahead we want to start measuring the impact we have in the lives of our beneficiaries because we are convinced this impact exists.

If you have an idea related to social impact and you think our experience would be helpful in any way for you, do not hesitate to contact us.

Thanks for reading our entry!

Team VaV