Ignacio Rodriguez: Connecting people with the power of empathy

September 17, 2020

When Ignacio Rodriguez started Epix in late 2015, he was driven by a desire to tell human stories. He had previously worked in France at a company that combined education and technology. This was the beginning of his journey in social entrepreneurship. “I decided to follow my more social side and I quit my job,” says Rodriguez. Teaming up with a friend, he moved to Asia to pursue his storytelling. With one person working in the Philippines and the other in Nepal, the two would meet up in India, their ultimate goal being to create a network of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in the region.

It was in India that Rodriguez had an epiphany. He was working in Northern India when he came across a small family. The moment where he saw them helping each other to wash clothes in the Ganges River made him realize how inter-connected humans across the world are. He saw the values and principles he grew up in Venezuela reflected in that small family so far away from his home. “I realized that wow, this is something I really like doing.” At that moment, he decided to buy a ticket back to his hometown of Caracas, Venezuela.

“One of the reasons I wanted to go back to Venezuela was because of the crisis, which was already severe in 2015,” says Rodriguez. By 2015, Venezuela was in the middle of a deep recession, a recession that triggered social and political tensions within the country. Rodriguez witnessed these tensions firsthand when he returned home, and they inspired his decision to create Epix. A social enterprise based in Venezuela, Epix aims to change people’s mindsets and perspectives about others using the power of empathy to create connections. As Rodriguez himself puts it, Epix wants to “reconnect Venezuelans through stories.” Although focused mainly in Venezuela, Epix has started branching out to different countries worldwide. The social enterprise has had exhibitions in 18 countries, and Rodriguez hopes that in five to 10 years, Epix will be a global movement. He wants to tell the stories of entrepreneurs and innovators around the world working towards the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. “The human need to connect goes beyond the specific crisis my country is going through,” says Rodriguez. Despite national, social, and political differences, Rodriguez believes that the basic human need to connect and learn more about each other remains unchanged.

Rodriguez and the Epix team have run into challenges, specifically the challenges of running a business in Venezuela. With hyperinflation, political and social tensions, and water and power cuts, these are challenges beyond their control. However, Rodriguez remains optimistic. “The problems we’re facing are so difficult, but there’s also an opportunity to innovate in these times.” The purpose and focus of Epix remain unchanged by the current situation in Venezuela. In fact, it’s bolstered the desire to speak to and connect Venezuelans. “The political and economic situation isolates people. We’re giving hope to people who never thought they would be heard.”

Four years after creating Epix, Rodriguez has learned how to navigate the personal and emotional demands that come with being a social entrepreneur. His advice for anyone aspiring to start their own venture is to be resilient. “I wasn’t aware of how tough the issues (running a social enterprise) were. I wasn’t aware of how it would affect me,” he says, explaining that there are moments where the business and process of managing such a company will be overwhelming. Focusing on the reason behind it and its impact is necessary to overcome such moments. It’s something Rodriguez and the Epix team do to keep them invested in their work. “The only reason we keep doing it is the gratification of knowing that you’re moving forward.” As Epix looks to the future, Rodriguez wants to keep telling human stories and foster a culture of empathy across cultural, social, and political divides.

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