Written by Mark Angel, Robert Gutierrez, Megha Kansra, Tyler Saltiel and Sarah Evans
As soon as we landed, the humidity knocked us out. Walking off the airplane, we immediately felt our clothes stick to our bodies and walked through the still, thick air toward the open-air baggage claim. We had heard the Amazon was humid, but we were not expecting its immediacy. Despite the unprecedented heat and humidity, we couldn’t contain our excitement to begin the in-country portion of our project.
Our team is working with La Clinica Oftalmologica Divino Nino Jesus (DNJ), a non-profit eye clinic based in Lima, Peru, dedicated to eradicating curable blindness. We had just landed in Iquitos, the largest city in the world not connected by a road and the “gateway to the Amazon,” where DNJ had recently expanded. We were to spend the next three weeks working with DNJ’s team to provide strategic marketing recommendations: one week in Iquitos and two in Lima.
Alberto, the executive director of the clinic and our main client, picked us up the next morning in DNJ’s van to drive us to its clinic, 40 minutes outside of central Iquitos. After a brief pit stop to push the van out of wet sand, we arrived at the clinic.
We spent the morning with Diego, the Outreach Coordinator in Iquitos, touring the clinic and learning more about the operations of the Iquitos facility. We even got to see the inside of the operating room where DNJ ophthalmologists perform their life-changing surgeries.
Hot, sweaty, but extremely inspired by the facility, we returned to our hotel to prepare for a meeting with Alberto held in our conference room for the week – the outdoor hotel restaurant and bar. After a productive meeting with Alberto discussing the financial performance of DNJ, we returned to the clinic the next day. Diego and Alberto were eager to have us interview patients and family members accompanying them on their visits. We stationed ourselves in an unused triage room in the clinic, and two by two, patients and their companions sat down to chat with us (en español) about their experiences with the clinic. We were immediately struck by patients’ gratitude and openness. One older woman excitedly told us about her beloved garden, and how grateful she was for the free cataract surgery that would enable her to tend to her garden once again. She and her daughter talked about the excellent service they had received, noted some areas for improvement at the clinic, and finally – to our surprise – gave us an invitation to their home. Another older gentleman, stylishly dressed with a Canon camera slung around his neck, waxed poetic about how eager he was to photograph the people and traditions of the beautiful Loreto region again.
As we spent more days in Iquitos interviewing patients, we continued to hear similar stories. Patients described DNJ as a “gift” and “blessing,” praising the personal attention of the staff. In Iquitos, a city accustomed to seeing NGOs shuttle in and out on a temporary basis, DNJ’s gleaming new Iquitos facility and world class staff, seemingly here to stay and providing services for free, prompted awe and surprise. By the end of the week, we were all deeply moved by the immense difference DNJ was making, and we felt doubly determined to provide impactful recommendations.
After a final day in Iquitos – spent boating down the Amazon (the world’s widest river) and feeding piranhas, alligators, and adorable baby monkeys – we headed back to Lima. In Lima, we extensively interviewed DNJ staff members, collecting their stories, recommendations, and perspectives on patient experience and marketing. A highlight was getting the opportunity to scrub in and watch a live cataract surgery conducted by one of the top ophthalmologists in Latin America. The head nurse patiently explained each step of the process, from the medical checkups of patients just before surgery to the steady incisions and movements of the surgeon to the final, triumphant moment – a mere 10-20 minutes after the surgery began – when patients were helped up off their bed and walked out of the clinic. We were amazed that in under an hour, we had watched a man get back his sight…for free.
After a final push to crystallize our recommendations, we made a presentation to the DNJ board and senior management. We were touched that the board attentively and eagerly listened to our recommendations, and even brought us gifts – delicious alfajores! They were excited about the opportunities ahead and the path forward we charted for them.