Digital Accessibility for All, is a social enterprise, which for 10 years has been creating low- cost home-made and handicraft aids for people with disabilities, which allows promoting inclusion, overcoming the barriers of the high cost of commercial solutions, as well as eliminating the barriers of ignorance because through tutorials and training they teach how to prepare them with elements that are easily accessible in the local environment.
In the last RECON call, they were selected among the 60 best social entrepreneurship projects in the country. Its creator Felipe Betancur, is our social entrepreneur of the week and told us about his project.
RECON: Who is Felipe Betancour?
Felipe Betancur: I am a social entrepreneur, passionate about technology, wanting to contribute to change the world, they call me MacGyver paisa, I like to find solutions to real problems at low cost.
REC: How does digital accessibility arise?
FB: The project started 10 years ago, at a time in my life when I got tired of doing what I did, I worked with e-commerce, I imported goods from China and the United States and I sold them, but there was a void in me that nothing filled, no business did. The social work made me feel useful, to know the people and their needs, to know the real country.
Then I began to carry out social work, but they were activities of assistance and charity with vulnerable communities. By doing this kind of support the problems remained in the communities and we did not leave teachings, we were giving the fish and not teaching how to fish.
We weighed how to have a real impact that would really improve the quality of life. At that time, I thought about how electronic elements could serve someone and I asked myself who could need them, and I saw the population with disabilities as a group with difficulties that requires access to them, this is how Digital Accessibility for All was born.
The moment came when I no longer worked and only did social work, it was when I asked myself how to make it self-sustaining and achieved the model that we currently have.
REC: What is the model you use to be self-sustaining?
FB: We offer trainings and training workshops so that teachers, parents, community leaders learn to do and develop technological aids for people with disabilities that are created with day-to-day elements and at a low cost; with this we leave an installed capacity in the communities.
For that reason, our help has no cost, because we do not sell them, we teach them to make them. The trainings are financed by individuals, foundations, private companies and public entities. Only in very specific cases we deliver the aid.
REC: What does digital accessibility do for everyone?
FB: We facilitate the process of inclusion of people with disabilities in society, eliminating the barriers of ignorance and the high cost of traditional aid.
REC: How many helps have you made?
FB: There are already more than 100 and I have materials to create 185 more, it is just about getting down to work.
REC: Who makes up your work team?
FB: I work with my dad and sister, they are in charge of the administrative side, I am in charge of the creation, production of videos and production.
REC: How does the theme of the videos and tutorials work?
FB: When we develop a help and we see that it works, a tutorial is made on how to do it and it is published on YouTube, this way we guarantee that it is available to everyone and that it can be spread worldwide.
REC: Do those tutorials that are on YouTube generate some revenue?
FB: Yes, with tutorials on YouTube we are receiving an average of $400 per month. In addition, some companies in the United States send us technology articles and pay me for advertising, with that we get another $400 per month on average.
REC: What do you do with those resources?
FB: They are invested in the project, to make purchases of materials that allow us to develop more aids, tutorials and videos, and to maintain ourselves.
Workshops and conferences are not a fixed income, especially in this epoch that we are in Ley de Garantías and not hired by public entities for a while.
REC: What do you do when there are no workshops?
FB: We use that time to advance in the design of more aids and execute the ideas that are pending; we had 5 years of continuous workshops, which did not allow us to create new designs, this free time we use for that.
REC: Have you thought about marketing the products?
FB: Yes, our initial idea was teaching how to do the aids, but several people have sought us to ask us to sell them already created aids for various reasons, because they are not able to do them, or because the materials are common and low cost, but they require some tools for their preparation that they do not have, here we identify the possibility of starting to produce to market.
Our idea is to train people with disabilities so that they are the ones who create the aids and we can market them.
REC: When do you plan to go out with this business model?
FB: We are in that, re designing and perfecting the products to get them to high quality standards. We must define all the aids that we have developed which will be the products that we will market. I have already done tests and I have sold several articles in the free market. We must also work on design, packaging, logo, among other things to improve aesthetics.
REC: How will the issue of product quality reviews be so that they can be marketed?
FB: We do not do anything that is not within our reach. We cannot get away from our craft work, we want people to indicate their needs and make it personalized, homemade, not complex or with expensive engineering.
To guarantee the quality issue we are going to make alliances with engineering and design professionals so as not to affect the people who will use them, we seek advice on quality, resistance and use of materials.
Moreover, we will seek the support of a physical therapist, and professionals in occupational therapy, to develop a proper manual with directions for each aid.
REC: Are you thinking of selling only in Colombia or to other countries as well?
FB: We are thinking about starting here, but expanding to other countries, but we do not want to export, the idea is that we replicate our model, we want the aid to be made at
the local level in order to maintain the low costs that guarantee accessibility; if we sell them from Colombia costs will rise.
What we want is to identify markets where we can open branches or have franchises that allow us to provide employment to people with disabilities in the area, who are trained by us so that they can create the aids that will be commercialized. Already in Panama and Chile they asked for some articles, there is a market. That is the reality for many countries of Latin America and the world, they need solutions at better costs.
REC: What have you achieved with this project?
Personally, growth as a person and understanding what country I live in and understanding the difficulties of people in Colombia.
Professionally, we have positioned ourselves, we are a leader in low-cost items, they call us from other countries, and we were in Chile and Mexico, in August we are going to Peru, from Panama they contacted us to look for our services.
We have given more than 500 workshops, 100 conferences. In social networks the strength is impressive for a social process, we have 250,000 followers on Facebook and 190,000 on YouTube.
REC: How do you define social entrepreneurship?
FB: It is to start a business, but the benefit of the people is above the economic gain, there is logically an interest in self-sustainability and growth, but first there are the people.
REC: What advice would you give to other social entrepreneurs, from your experience?
FB: That they look for a real need, so that they contribute to something that people need, and put together a passion, talent or taste to help, that is a formula that does not fail