By Brenna Goldstein

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Valentina Quagliotti (right) in Chicago.

Valentina Quagliotti, or “ValeQ,” a 25 year old Uruguayan Global Undergraduate Exchange Program (Global UGRAD) alumna, is a passionate storyteller and positive thinker. She believes wholeheartedly in the power a simple shift in perspective can have on one’s own narrative, that a positive attitude can bring about significant change. This philosophy, along with a strong vision and desire to help others, has brought her around the globe and to great success.

Quagliotti remembers the first instance in which she felt the potential of positive storytelling. When Agustina, Quaglotti’s little sister, was born with Down syndrome, she noticed that people began to pity her, as they saw her sister’s condition in a negative light. Quaglotti did not understand why she would be on the receiving end of such sympathy, so she began to share her sister’s story, to help others see that she was as great and beautiful as any other child.

At the age of 15, Quagliotti realized she wanted to expand her reach, and began volunteering in her local community. She continued to explore her passion for storytelling and social advocacy while pursuing a communications degree in Uruguay. “I knew I wanted to do something with impact to change people’s lives,” Quagliotti said. But she felt torn between wanting to pursue her passion of storytelling, and continuing to effect change through her volunteering and nonprofit work.

The struggle to bridge her two passions followed her throughout her undergraduate studies in Uruguay, and while on a semester-long exchange to American University in Washington DC, which was facilitated through Global UGRAD, a program sponsored by the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs to bring global youth leaders to the United States to attend US education institutions.

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Quagliotti on a video shoot.

Years earlier, Quagliotti thought of the idea for an organization that could provide NGOs with the production tools so they could tell their own stories — but at the time, she said, her family and friends back home doubted its ability to succeed, and the venture seemed like an unattainable goal. When she began her studies, however, she found professors who were supportive of her vision for Ikusi, as it would be called, and were vital throughout the entire launching process. After finishing her studies at American University and cementing strong relationships with faculty members, Quagliotti returned to Uruguay with the drive and skills necessary to start Ikusi — this time, as something that would be more than just a dream.

Ikusi began as a nonprofit that helped fellow nonprofits and NGOs with video production, as well as telling stories of its own. “Ikusi will provide communication services to nonprofits to help share their message. The innovation is that Ikusi uses journalism tools, such as video, storytelling, photography, etc., to tell nonfiction stories about the nonprofits,” Quaglotti said. “It is not ‘advertising;’ it is telling true stories of real people.”

Each video Ikusi produces is meant to empower the storyteller, transmit the soul of the social cause, and positively inspire the viewer. Quaglotti’s vision for Ikusi has been met with great success: she was selected as one of the 15 International Delegates for the GES 2012 SUMMIT at Northwestern University. In 2013, she won a national innovation award in Uruguay on the Human Development category and she was invited as a speaker in TedxMontevideo.

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The Ikusi team.

But perhaps her most inspiring tale is how she came to attend Columbia University Business School — on a full scholarship, and with some free plane tickets (for good measure). In 2013, Quagliotti was offered a place in Columbia’s Entrepreneurship and Competitiveness in Latin America program, which was created by Columbia Business School to target entrepreneurs from midsized Latin American countries, so they can be given specialized training to compete in a global market. The admissions department had heard about Ikusi and offered her a full scholarship for the following academic year, which naturally Quaglotti wanted to accept, but there was just one problem: airfare. She knew there was no way she would be able to pay for flights to New York from Uruguay and continue working at Ikusi.

Quagliotti stopped at nothing to make this opportunity plausible, and believed if she could just get to New York by the start of classes in January 2014, it somehow could all work out.

On New Year’s Eve 2013, Quagliotti met a pilot who was flying to New York, and told her there was a possibility that he could get her on the plane. However, after he found out closer to the takeoff date that the flight was full, he bought her a ticket on the plane as a Christmas gift and told her to go follow her career.

Quagliotti graduated from Columbia earlier this year, and attributes it in part to the old adage, “if you ask, you shall receive.”

Ikuis recently became a social company, rather than a nonprofit. TECHO, UNICEF, the Inter-American Development Bank, and others want to work with Ikusi in the future, which is looking very bright for Quagliotti and her team. Quagliotti said “if it wasn’t for UGRAD I wouldn’t have had the opportunity and be as open” and reiterated, “opportunities exist, you have to believe in yourself”.

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