An Interview with WiF’s co-founder, Natalie Chen
Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with Natalie Chen, the cofounder of WiF about her experiences within WiF and her vision for WiF in the future.
What inspired you to found WiF?
That’s a great question! To provide a brief overview, I founded WiF in the summer of 2016 with one of my close friends Grace Wu. As high schoolers, we were eager to make an impact and both found ophthalmology, vision and global health to be really interesting and noteworthy topics.
For me personally, vision has always played a big role within my family. My paternal grandmother was diagnosed with glaucoma when I was in elementary school, and my maternal grandparents lost a close friend to suicide after she became blind. These series of events reminded me of the daily experiences sight illuminated and prompted me to learn more about optical care in a global context. I was shocked by the staggering disparities within healthcare that prevented individuals, especially those from developing countries, from accessing necessary vision care. Surprised by the lack of dialogue and action within our local community, I wanted to create a platform in which youth could learn more about the lack of global optical care and take action by raising funds to support related causes.
I was able to share these experiences with Grace, who was also deeply passionate about vision and healthcare. From there, we were able to recruit and lead a great team – resulting in the creation of WiF! Over the years, the WiF family has grown immensely, and it has been great to be a part of its journey.
What was the biggest challenge you faced when starting a non profit? Adding on to that, is there any advice you’d give someone who wanted to start a non profit too?
I think a big challenge when starting a nonprofit organization is really getting your footing. There are already so many amazing initiatives out there and so, you have to really think about what is unique to your organization and what it can offer. For me, I realized that while there were many important organizations that already worked to provide optical care to those in developing countries, many of my peers were often unaware of these organizations and the issues they advocated for. Therefore, WiF was an opportunity to make the topic of healthcare inequities within vision care more accessible to high school students and to create more discourse about an often under-discussed issue.
As a result, some advice I would give to anyone who wants to start a non-profit is to really ensure that you think about the issue you want to tackle and how your organization can help. Rather than rushing to launch an initiative, it’s important to consider how you can feasibly introduce change to ensure that it is long-lasting and sustainable! It also helps to set your organization apart from others, which is really valuable when speaking to potential sponsors and community partners.
In your opinion, what's the biggest “win” that WiF has achieved towards combating vision inequities? What area do you think we need to work towards more?
As I mentioned previously, one aspect that is central to WiF’s mission is raising awareness about the lack of optical care in developing countries and sparking more conversation about vision in general. To achieve this, we organized WiF’s international writing and art contest called In Focus to encourage youth to deeply think about the importance of vision and eyesight and provide them with an opportunity to creatively express their thoughts. Since its inception in 2017, In Focus has garnered hundreds of submissions from dozens of countries. It’s been so cool to see youth from all over the world critically think about vision-related topics and use their creativity to express their thoughts. I’d say that was a pretty big “win” in regards to raising awareness and creating more dialogue surrounding optical care amongst youth!
One area that we’ve been working hard on is engaging more youth during the pandemic. It’s been a pretty difficult year for everyone, and our goal is to still raise funds and awareness for this noteworthy cause. Our executive team has been doing amazing work this year from hosting a virtual Arts Night to creating a baking contest to releasing new blog posts, but we’re always working on expanding our impact to ensure that we can reach as many people as possible.
Finally, what are your goals for the future? How has WiF influenced these?
As someone who has always been passionate about medicine and global health, I’m looking forward to making an impact in related fields – whether that be as a clinician or a researcher! My experiences at WiF have only strengthened my passions, as it has allowed me to look more in-depth at various global health issues and understand the impact that individuals and organizations can make. For example, through partnering with the Himalayan Cataract Project, WiF was able to sponsor cataract surgeries for youth in developing countries; we were then able to learn about the stories of two children we’ve sponsored. This experience was extremely inspiring and motivating for me, as it really demonstrated the impact that volunteering and healthcare can make on somebody’s life. The shortened version of these stories can be found on our website, if anyone is interested in learning more!
In addition, WiF has also introduced me to so many talented individuals who are extremely passionate about making the world a better place. From working together to host fundraisers to simply learning about their aspirations, the people at WiF have continuously inspired me throughout the years – motivating me to work hard towards my goals!