In 2016 Viviana took part in the Entrepreneurship for Good Program organized by The DO School. She was one of the twenty-one young global leaders selected among hundreds of applications. Her enterprise idea together with her positive attitude made her win the 2nd price during the Pitch Night. The learning and experience gained in Berlin during the Program at The DO School encouraged her to start her business idea once back in Colombia.
Hugger Island was funded in Medellin by Viviana with the goal of producing emotional well-being through mindful design. They believe on the power of love to transform and upgrade wistful mindsets. The core of their enterprise is the hugger, a pedagogical plush toy with weights on its arms designed to resemble the thrill of a hug. They have produced 3,000 huggers on their first four months of enterprise and they are expecting to bring another 10,000 to life during 2017. There are four of them, each with a different personality, oriented to teach and raise diverse kinds of emotional comfort in regards of the profile of the receiver. These different characters feature the cultural and natural diversity of Colombia.
Involved in a post-conflict process, Colombia was not the most suitable scenario for bringing up a humanitarian initiative. This fact was far from scaring Viviana. After her studies on Design Engineering at the Eafit University of Medellin she moved to Argentina, where she started working for a multinational company. However, it did not take her long to realize she was not meant to invest her time on empowering mass consumption through her subtle design work. Therefore, she decided to search for another assignment where she could work towards improving people’s welfare.
She went back to Medellin University and worked as a teacher, where she also started researching about cognitive ergonomics, a field which had been widely developed in favor of fostering capitalism and consumerism. During six years, she worked with vulnerable communities from the shantytowns, studying the way design could improve their life standards instead of heightening an unreasonable consumerism model. Her studies moved around oxytocin, which has been dubbed as ‘the love/hug hormone’ for playing a key role on social bonding and sexual reproduction through provoking a well-being emotion that connects individuals.
The combination of passionate research and longing for a beloved person which was far away, triggered the inspiration which brought the hugger to life. It was born as a doll meant to fight distance, to bring up love emotions carved somewhere inside, however soon enough relatives and friends started asking Viviana for the hugger: they all wanted hugs. Immersed on a personal crisis, she applied to The School and it happened to be the lift she needed. She could reflect on herself from outside and gain on confidence, mostly by finding out what her real passion was and what was her professional goal in life. This meant a turning point on her career and from then on wards her project started to grow and her business model to get well established. Viviana gave up her academic career to focus on her dream.
DREAM FOR A CHANGE
She invested her 3,000USD savings on buying the first fabrics, cotton and inputs, which allowed eleven women who were misplaced by the war to start working. The learning of a profession has favored a spin on their morale through doing and drafting. By believing on themselves they have now re-learnt to love life, serving as lesson of fighting and overcoming poverty with positive attitude.
Due to the fair working conditions philosophy of Hugger Island, one of the women had her first holidays in 45 years. She took her four children and went to see the sea for the first time on her life. Once there, she phoned Viviana yelling, ‘Viviana, this water has no end!’
Another woman told Viviana how fascinated she was after seeing her child finally studying. The woman realized her little boy never felt like reading because their house had just one a space where six people had to live together. However she could finally build an extra decent space with the earnings from her work and now her son enjoys the comfort by working at home. Having the capacity to produce is reinforcing their self-esteem and improving their life conditions.
The Hugger is designed as environmentally friendly, the weights are seeds, carrying the tale of in case of dying it can be planted and rebirth into plants in the nature. The business model is based on solidary consumption, when you buy a Hugger at the website you have the option to donate another which goes to hospitalized children who not only receive a graceful doll but the encouraging messages of ‘we care about you’, ‘we want to see you recovered and smiling’. Delivery of donations is accompanied by workshops to raise confidence and self-respect. The hugger is not just a toy, but a tool meant to build emotional confort.
Now Viviana is working on developing new products and on opening her business enterprise to foreign markets. She aims to establish partnerships with at least three strong institutions in order to extend her social labor. Challenges to overcome are almost as big as her willpower. Viviana’s venture has just started, but she is confident on walking with the determination of knowing what her aim in life is, she lives hugging the dream of change.
Miguel Angel Cano Santizo
Storyteller of The DO School,
Filmmaker and Director of www.mrchallengefilms.com