“I really believe that these stories deserve to be told. My priority is always to consider how we are telling the organization’s story, how we’re telling the story of the characters involved, and how we’re inspiring people.”
Valentina (Vale) Quagliotti, founder of an audio visual production company called Ikusi, has spent the last several years on a remarkable journey as a social entrepreneur. Ikusi makes audio visual content for nonprofits, NGOs and other global organizations working to address social issues. By merging journalism, film-making, and a focus on social impact, Ikusi creates “micro-documentaries” that increase visibility for the nonprofit as well as the people it is aiming to help.
In the past, Ikusi has worked with a variety of local and global organizations, including UNICEF and Grameen in Uruguay. You can watch an example of a video here.
“We put the person in the video at the center of our process. For me, it is critical to get to know the person well and make them comfortable before the camera comes out.”
What differentiates Ikusi from any other production business is their process. Ikusi’s goal is to produce content that moves or inspires the audience to take action, but to do so in a way that empowers the characters of the story while truly capturing the essence of the organization that Ikusi is working with. The people featured in the videos are not usually the nonprofit or NGO staff members, but their beneficiaries. Vale is always intentional about respecting those people—she takes the time to have a conversation, get to know them, and respect them as humans before unpacking a camera.
“One thing I learned through volunteering is to respect people, regardless of circumstances. Why should we expect to enter someone’s home, tour their neighborhood, or put them on camera just because we think we have more money or are part of something big and important. We can’t exploit people, generalize them, or share their story in a way that is marginalizing or disempowering. At Ikusi, we humanize and empower our subjects.”
In approaching video creation this way, Vale and her production team facilitate real, meaningful human connections. Beyond increasing the visibility of an organization or its cause, Ikusi films produce new relationships and connections. For example, Ikusi produced a video for UNICEF that included an interview with a blind school girl living in Uruguay. Vale stayed in touch with this girl and later learned that the mother of a blind girl in Spain had seen the video, reached out to the Uruguayan girl’s mother, and the two families were sharing experiences, ideas, and advice. To Vale, these types of human connections capture the mission of Ikusi perfectly.
The Backstory: Creating a network of Ikusi supporters
Vale originally dreamed of producing stories for nonprofits and NGOs when she was at university in 2009. She met a lot of opposition from people who felt a young woman should focus on getting a traditional job instead of founding a new organization. Despite that pressure, Vale worked with a group of friends to create a pro-bono video for a local nonprofit. News about Ikusi’s services spread quickly—Vale’s second client was UNICEF.
Over the next few years, Vale never had the funds to invest all of her time in Ikusi.
However, she did whatever she could to pursue her dream and increase Ikusi’s visibility. She was a TedX speaker, one of the first entrepreneurs to go through Socialab Uruguay’s incubator program, and attended events like the Global Engagement Summit in Chicago. One of the supporters in her network connected her with a full scholarship to complete Columbia University’s program for Latin American entrepreneurs. Throughout all of this, Vale met important mentors and invited them to join Ikusi’s board of advisors.
I’m focusing on this element of Vale’s story in order to illustrate something that is important for all entrepreneurs. Vale is confident and passionate when she describes her goals for Ikusi. She is not afraid or shy in talking about her dreams, or in asking for help in a way that is professional and respectful. That’s so valuable for anyone starting a new organization—it is not only acceptable, but important to grow your community of supporters.
“It was hard initially because some people would tell me to just volunteer on the weekend…to find a real job and forget about Ikusi. None of this would exist now if it weren’t for the family, friends, professors, and other advisors who helped me. The solution to my earliest challenge was to connect with people who understood the dream and offered to help me.”
After finishing studies at Columbia, Vale met an angel investor in 2015 who was willing to provide initial funding for Ikusi. For the first time since 2009, Vale is able to focus full-time on growing Ikusi and making it successful. Currently, she is working to secure additional funding so her creative director can also contribute on a full-time basis. 2016 is going to be a very exciting year for them. To borrow Vale’s words, “all of the cards are finally on the table, and we are able to start playing the game.” It took 6 six years of dedication to get to this point.
Words for the World
For those working to make a positive impact in the world, Vale would challenge you to consider the way you talk about the cause you are passionate about. Sometimes, social issues are distorted, dramatized, or exaggerated in the media. While that may increase fundraising or have political value, it can be disempowering for low-income and other socially vulnerable populations. From Vale’s perspective, it is critical to maintain the human element and respect the people we’re trying to help.
“It is important to tell the story as if it is our own story. I hope we can change the way social issues are told and spoken out. We need to be thoughtful about the words we choose and the tone we set when discussing an issue.”
If you are interested in developing a video for your nonprofit, providing funding to support video creation for a nonprofit you are passionate about, or offering seed funding to Ikusi overall, you may reach Vale at firstname.lastname@example.org or via LinkedIn.