Francesc Ballbé, the Director of the Barraquer Foundation, joined the organization at the end of 2018 to lead a new phase focused on the development of local healthcare projects.
You studied Law and worked in various law firms, but you've been in the nonprofit sector for quite a few years now. What attracts you the most to this world?
Undoubtedly, the social value of our work is something truly special and distinct. Walking into the office each day and knowing that everything we do at the Barraquer Foundation will, to varying extents, contribute to improving the quality of life for others is genuinely gratifying. It's a profession filled with meaning. In the private sector, the primary goal of any activity is to generate profit, which is perfectly acceptable. However, I believe our purpose, our raison d'être, brings a set of intangibles at a human level that other professions lack. The feedback from patients after a successful surgery, for instance, is an invaluable emotional reward. When an individual who has regained a significant percentage of their vision visits the foundation to express gratitude — to both us and all the professionals at the Ophthalmology Center who treated them — it's a truly beautiful experience. These are the moments when you feel the utmost pride in your work.
What is your day-to-day like at the Barraquer Foundation?
My days are busy and, at times, stressful, but, above all, they are filled with joy. I genuinely love my job. The nature of the foundation's work requires daily interaction with various departments and professionals in the clinic, as well as with social entities, patients, volunteers, and collaborators. This constant interaction creates a rich tapestry of human relationships in my daily life, something I deeply value. Moreover, with Núria Delsors, the foundation's social worker, and our communication colleagues nearby, we manage to find moments during the day to share a few laughs. In my opinion, humour is an essential element for fostering a positive working atmosphere. While we all work diligently, we also embrace a sense of joy in our endeavours.
What are the main programs or initiatives that the foundation carries out to promote visual health among the population? Which one has brought you the greatest satisfaction?
The foundation is actively involved in various programs spanning training, research, prevention and awareness, and international cooperation. However, the central focus of our efforts is the "Mirem per tu" program, designed to streamline all local healthcare activities for residents in the national territory. This initiative, operating through the Barraquer Ophthalmology Centre, provides free ophthalmological treatments to individuals with limited resources upon successful completion of the admission process. Furthermore, General Optica stores, one of our key partners, offer prescription glasses at a significantly reduced price as part of the project. Launched in mid-2019, "Mirem per tu" embodies the board's commitment to local action, and I am pleased to note that the objectives have been more than fulfilled. Over the last four years, we have experienced a substantial increase in both the volume of activities and beneficiaries, ultimately enhancing the quality of life for many individuals. Reflecting on the transformative journey that the Barraquer Foundation has undergone since my arrival at the end of 2018 brings me a tremendous sense of satisfaction.
How does the foundation collaborate with other institutions or entities to maximize the impact of its efforts in improving ocular health?
A: Our project's cornerstone is networking. To effectively reach more individuals in vulnerable situations, expand the beneficiary base, and ultimately have a more substantial impact on society, collaboration with other social entities in the territory is indispensable. In recent years, the Barraquer Foundation has entered into more than thirty agreements with private foundations and associations in the province of Barcelona, extending ophthalmological assistance to their beneficiaries. Our initiatives have gained recognition from municipal social services, leading to an increasing number of requests for assistance from public administration workers. A forthcoming challenge is securing the engagement and collaboration of the administration in funding the treatments we provide for the growing number of individuals referred to us. The participation of public authorities in the project would undoubtedly amplify its scale and impact.
After the publication of "El círculo de las marmotas," are you still writing?
Writing is my passion. It's an activity that not only relaxes and distracts me but also intellectually enriches me, which is always rewarding. There are few feelings more satisfying than crafting a well-written paragraph, reading it again, and sensing that the words are perfectly arranged—the right verbs, the fitting adjectives, a harmonious sound, impeccable grammatical construction, and an aesthetically pleasing sentence. Unfortunately, this doesn't happen all the time; it's sporadic. If I possessed the ability to write continuously, akin to authors like Eduardo Mendoza, Luis Landero, or Lorenzo Silva, I could fully dedicate myself to writing. Presently, I engage in it during my free time, at night, and on weekends, fuelled by the enthusiasm of constant improvement and the imminent completion of my second novel.
As Stephen King aptly puts it, the key to writing well is twofold: reading extensively and writing prolifically. While my ability to engage in the former is somewhat limited due to work, family commitments, and other hobbies, I am making gradual progress within my constraints. The crucial aspect is the journey itself—advancing, evolving at one's own pace.
With such an absorbing job, what do you do to disconnect? Do you have other hobbies?
I find solace in the simple joys of being with my family; no extravagant activities are necessary. A Saturday pizza and movie session, strolling through Barcelona, a day at the beach, baking with the kids, or engaging in a game of Uno—these moments create the most lasting memories. The time invested with your children is the greatest legacy one can impart, the finest inheritance, and it's the singular thing they'll remember.
Beyond family and literature, I always carve out a space for music, an enduring passion in my life. With a level of skill I leave for others to judge, I've played the electric bass and guitar since my teenage years. Every Monday night, barring unforeseen events, I partake in a rehearsal with my band. We cover pop-rock classics and some contemporary tunes. While we may not rival Queen, we thoroughly enjoy ourselves, sharing laughs, and occasionally, we perform at private parties with friends. What more could one ask for?