Catalina Escobar

Ashoka Fellow
Baranquilla, Colombia
Fellow Since 2011
Related TopicsHealth & Fitness, Health care


This profile was prepared when Catalina Escobar was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2011.
The New Idea
Under Catalina’s direction and vision, the Juan Felipe Gómez Escobar Foundation is providing integral healthcare services to the most tragic and disenfranchised communities in Cartagena. The foundation provides world-class care to impoverished young mothers, infants and children; sectors that are particularly vulnerable to health crises and do not have regular access to adequate healthcare, regardless of its quality, at public hospitals. Modeled after the award-winning neonatal units at hospitals in Anaheim, California, the foundation’s medical professionals and administrators care for patients with respect, dignity, professionalism, and quality treatment—a medical experience unlike any other available to them and establishing a new patient paradigm for healthcare in Colombia. In less than ten years, Catalina has lowered infant mortality rates in Cartagena from among the worst in the world, at 48 deaths per 1,000 births—twice the Colombian average—to a mere 8 per 1,000, a 79 percent reduction. To achieve these incredible results, she only spends US$300 per child, compared to US$1,500 per child spent by Colombian public hospitals.

Catalina can supply such world-class care by relying on an innovative three-way partnership among the public, private, and citizen sectors to sustain the foundation and facilitate its work in the public hospitals. The foundation is a social enterprise, and Catalina administers it with classic business techniques, methods and measures, which help her engage interested investors to bankroll the project. Recognizing the value of providing quality care to the base of the pyramid in Cartagena and detecting Catalina’s incredible impact, businesses have clamored to grant donations for corporate social responsibility and philanthropic ends and to invest capital into the foundation. Meanwhile, the public hospitals under strains of over-crowding and under-funding can send the foundation patients they cannot attend. These hospitals are also fast adopting the healthcare techniques that Catalina has brought to their own public clinics. The three-way partnerships have established a support network that gives the foundation the resources necessary to address the gravest public health challenges in Cartagena and Colombia.

Moreover, the partnerships that Catalina has coalesced have been crucial to scale the foundation’s impact. Originally tackling the high levels of infant mortality in Cartagena, Catalina has been able to expand her services to children as they grow older but remain at high risk, and to their young mothers. Through more private investment the foundation has instituted new integral healthcare outreach techniques to care for infant patients while also beginning to build other stand-alone facilities. Catalina has thus far been operating the foundation as a completely autonomous organization which operates inside the public hospitals. Her partnerships are successful case examples in Colombia of win-win collaborations between private and public entities for a social cause. Catalina hopes to replicate in other cities, considering the distinct health and social circumstances of each community to forge new partnerships that will nurture other foundation activities.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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