By Alana Bianes, Bree Aronin, Darius Ansari

Guatemala was a whirlwind. Our team of 3 got to experience so much in just two weeks time. From operating rooms
to optical shops to volcanic lakes, it will be hard to forget our time in this incredible country. We were matched with a family owned company named Visualiza. Our company’s mission was to eradicate preventable blindness in Guatemala, with a specific social focus on helping underserved communities in rural regions. The company’s 25 years of operations resulted in a hub and spoke model with 3 hospitals and over 10+ vision centers spread across the country. We were tasked with developing a marketing strategy for future expansion. We began full force on Monday the 16th (of May) in Guatemala City, with a complete tour of the hospital. We got to observe their day to day operations and meet staff and patients. It was immediately clear that hadn’t we traveled on site, it would have been very difficult to fully understand the scale of their business.

The next day we traveled an hour to a vision center in Chimaltenango where we got to see a very different side of Visualiza, a vision center, not a hospital, in a very rural area. We were able to see just how different the people and communities were outside of the city. We did a site survey and walked around the markets, and luckily we were able to stop in historic Antigua on the way home.

Caption: Our first visit to a vision center - Chimaltenango
Our first visit to a vision center – Chimaltenango


Caption: Meeting with health promoters in the vision center in Chimaltenango.
Meeting with health promoters in the vision center in Chimaltenango.

Wednesday brought a whole other meaning to the business term “operation”, because we actually got to witness surgeries in the OR. Cataract surgery is the core of what this company does, so it only made sense to watch it. Though observing this brought on some queasiness, it was pretty incredible to see a quick operation that truly changes people’s lives.

Caption: Scrubbing in for the operation room
Scrubbing in for the operation room
Watching a cataract surgery
Watching a cataract surgery

The next day brought more insights into the company after speaking with the call center manager and an independent sales consultant. We continued talking to patients and conducting as many interviews as possible, for this was the best way to dig deeper and generate genuine insights. We definitely got better at Spanish!

On Friday morning, our team headed out to explore the country a bit. We left our hotel and began our drive towards Lake Atitlan, a must see destination in Guatemala. With the help of a tour guide, and a bit of a bumpy ride on the way, we arrived in Panajachel, our base town for the next two nights. The small village sits right by the lake and includes a vibrant town full of shops and restaurants to explore.

Taking some time to explore the pueblo San Pedro on Lake Atitlan.
Taking some time to explore the pueblo San Pedro on Lake Atitlan.

On Saturday, we hopped on a boat and began to explore the lake. To paint the picture a bit, Lake Atitlan is an ancient lake surrounded by multiple towering volcanoes. Speckled throughout the shore are smaller pueblos which can be visited and which all contain unique attributes of their own. We visited three such pueblos, and loved every part of the journey. We had the opportunity to get a taste of all that the lake has to offer, and learned about local practices and industries through private tours. After returning home from the tour, the team grabbed a delicious dinner of Papusas and recounted the wonderful day.

On Sunday, we headed out early to visit Chichicastenango, a city an hour outside of the lake which hosted an eclectic market and traditional Mayan religious grounds. We spend a few hours in the city before heading towards Quetzaltenango (Xela), our home base for the final week of the project! While we were sad to see the weekend end, we were really excited to move forward with our insights and learnings for the project.

After visiting the hospital in Xela on Monday, we began our back-to-back treks to the vision centers in the Western Highlands for the next three days. These vision centers were located in the departments of Totonicapan, San Marcos, and Huehuetenango. We had heard that each department needed a unique marketing strategy due to the difference in culture, linguistics, and economics, but we didn’t truly understand what they meant until we arrived.

Each day, we drove 1-3 hours on windy roads through the lush Guatemalan countryside to the vision centers. Our main priority in each vision center was to interview staff and patients in order to extract what the people living there valued and how Visualiza could position itself apart from competitors. Fortunately, we were also able to secure valuable interviews with important community leaders in a couple of the departments. Guatemalan community leaders play an important role in forming relationships with businesses that serve their communities and serving as a trusted liaison to their people.

Interviewing a community leader, who works with schools, in San Marcos
Interviewing a community leader, who works with schools, in San Marcos

One of the best parts of this second week was that we had a large squad with us the entire time, helping us translate between Spanish and English, jamming out to reggaeton in the car, and eating delicious Guatemalan breakfasts, which were never complete without frijolitos, plantains, and homemade tortillas.

Posing with our travel squad after visiting Totonicapan
Posing with our travel squad after visiting Totonicapan

Before we knew it, we were preparing our final presentation. Our marketing strategy looked completely different than when we arrived in-country. On top of developing new customer segments and recommendations, we also brainstormed a slew of regional (department) and operational efficiency recommendations.

During our presentation, we acknowledged that it might not be possible to execute all our recommendations. However, we felt that even if each person in the room latched onto just one recommendation, this could create a large ripple effect that could improve the company’s operations immensely. Our recommendations were well received, and we intend for our work to serve as a playbook for Visualiza’s further expansion into new regions of Guatemala. Our final day was bittersweet as we felt so lucky to have had the opportunity to see the amazing work that Visualiza is doing across the country and become a part of their greater mission. From this day on, we will always remember Visualiza’s internal motto: “Sé y Darás!” (Be and give!).


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