Sofia Sees Hope Rebrands with an Eye to the Future

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Sofia Sees Hope this month unveiled a new name and logo — Hope in Focus
— as the organization sets its course for the next decade of work to benefit
the Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA) community.

Embracing and encompassing, Hope in Focus is our new name: Embracing because research advancements fuel hope and ease feelings of isolation that often accompany a rare-disease
diagnosis, and encompassing because our global advocacy reaches all of those living with LCA and other rare inherited retinal diseases (IRDs).

Our organizational namesake, Sofia, was a little girl with LCA in 2014. She has now come of age, and so have we. Throughout the last seven years, Sofia Sees Hope has transformed from a
small NPO into a robust, international organization, and that’s why we’ve taken the exciting step of evolving our name while keeping hope as its centerpiece.

“Hope is built on the bedrock of yearning; not an unrequited yearning, but the yearning for what we know can be,” President and Co-Founder Laura Manfre said. “Hope is fuel, driving us
to action. It binds us together and soothes our souls when darkness falls. Hope is our Polaris; the brightest star in the IRD constellation.”

Hope also is empowering and a strong motivator. It is the role of Hope in Focus to make sure we hear those voices of the patients, families, and community, and we help craft
compassionate, forward-thinking policy.

“Without hope there is not a chance you’re going to advance treatment,” Manfre said. “We cannot sit back and wait for it like manna from heaven because that’s just not going to work.”

As Sofia Sees Hope grew from its beginnings, so did its reach geographically and genetically with those living with LCA and IRDs. The development and 2017 federal approval of LUXTURNA®, a vision-restoring gene therapy, marked an incredible milestone in the rare retinal disease world.
Several factors powered the name change.

Sofia Sees Hope established steady grant funding and strong corporate partnerships
over the years to support advocacy programs, such as our LCA Family
Conferences, quarterly newsletter, and monthly webinars.

“We are grateful to our grantors and corporate partners, and, for the most
part, that funding has remained steady and that’s what we use for outreach and
for continuing to build a sustainable organization,” Manfre said.

Our advocacy group forged vital relationships with global organizations like
Foundation Fighting Blindness and Retina International and with pharmaceutical and
biotechnology companies, resulting in remarkable research advancements. These
include improved access to genetic testing and the development of more than 30
clinical trials into retinal disease research.

“We’ve reached this level of organizational maturity where we’re well-known enough
that we can manage a name change and continue to provide even better service to the community,” Manfre said. “We are well-positioned for the future and believe this name change will only help us to be more successful.”

Manfre said she didn’t necessarily want her daughter’s name attached to the
organization because from the beginning it was about so much more than her. After
Sofia received her confirmed genetic diagnosis of the gene causing her vision
loss — IQCB1 — her family was asked to fundraise.

“Every year I would step back and question it. Is it time to change our name? It was never about Sofia specifically,” she said. “Since our incorporation, we provided funding to support a variety of research initiatives, including My Retina Tracker® Program.”

But then the COVID-19 pandemic set in, giving an unintentional opportunity to
press the pause button for time to re-evaluate.

“COVID gave us time, although that’s not how we would have wanted to do it.”
The name Sofia Sees Hope served our organization well once we established we were
reaching out to people like Manfre’s daughter, Sofia, and people living with any one of
the 27 known forms of LCA and a host of IRDs.

Now in the eighth year since our founding, research has advanced exponentially, and
we wanted to be clear that we are there for the whole LCA and IRD community” she said.

“We are not changing who we are or what we do. We’re just changing the name.”
Manfre said the name change also relieves the pressure on Sofia that comes with
having her name be part of the organization. Sofia has supported at fundraisers,
educational events, and most recently by leading a book club for middle schoolers with LCA
and other visual impairments.

We had amazing help with finding the right name. Bonnie Southcott led the three-month project.
Southcott is former Director of Patient Engagement at Toolhouse, a digital marketing firm in the
life sciences sector, based in Washington state. Under her guidance, we developed a new name, Hope in Focus, a new tagline, “Seeing a cure for blindness,” and a new logo.

“I think it’s important to know that the organization itself hasn’t changed. The (new)
name is more reflective of the greatest audience that they serve and of their vision for the
future,” she said. “The other piece of it is that it takes away one of the
questions, and that question was ‘Who’s Sofia?’ ”

Sofia represented people with LCA, but some might not get that and think twice before reaching out to our organization, thinking, ‘I don’t know who Sofia is, the organization might not be right
for me.’

“That only has to happen once to have an impact,” Southcott said. “To take away that
question was key.”

She describes the essence of rebranding or renaming as carefully identifying a brand’s
DNA and then capturing it in the new words, look, and  feel of the name, the logo,
and the tagline. By involving representatives from each  stakeholder group and
planning a careful rollout, she said, the organization’s supporters, constituents, and
staff become champions of the reimagined brand.

“Hope: That was almost like a life raft that people jumped into. You have to focus on
hope. It is too central for what this organization stands for.”

The name also reflects the human connection the organization makes with the
LCA and IRD communities: “The warm embrace that Hope in Focus stands for.”
The name also differentiated our group nicely from others in the field and that’s important
for messaging, important for fundraising, and important for
growth, she said.

“Some do offer that sense of hope, but you don’t get that from the name. The new name
really had to convey that, and it had to underscore that the purpose is not only Sofia, but all the Sofias.
“The hope component — that sets us apart.”

Science and research comprised the other piece folding into the mix, thinking about microscopes and getting a clearer focus on treatments and cures, especially with one
gene therapy on the market and more developing research in clinical trials.

Southcott and her colleague Chance Martenson began with 40 possibilities for names and narrowed them to 12 after conversations with our founders, board members,
staff, donors, and the people we connect with in the LCA and IRD communities. From
there, they recommended three for consideration.

The name change or rebrand of our organization stood out among other projects she has
done. “It was more an evolution of what existed, as opposed to a revolution or the creation of
something brand new, where nothing existed before.”

Finding the right name also meant not disenfranchising people involved with our
advocacy group. “There is this real sense of dedication to the organization
and a yearning to protect it from anything else, Southcott said. At the end of the day, it had to serve the people that support it and use it.”

We at Hope in Focus will expand the reach in our advocacy efforts and continue
to grow as a small team doing big things, Manfre said. The vision for Hope in Focus
is far reaching, and we are developing exciting ways to engage our community
members and bring them together as we support them, and they support one another.

“We’ve been powered by a small team of part-time consultants and volunteers, and we’ve just recently
brought on board a full-time development and outreach director,” Manfre said. “To be
able to continue to expand to meet the needs and the demands of the LCA and IRD
communities, we need to keep growing. I view this as the first step in that growth.

“We’re checking all the boxes, working to fill unmet needs. This is much bigger than me
and much bigger than Sofia. We only began something that is going to continue to grow,
and we’re very excited about where it will go.”

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