The crisis in vision and the need for much more funding will be an all too familiar tale for many members of the IAPB. We have also seen the dramatic progress that has been made despite so many of the challenges. I was grateful to see this first hand in my last role as Chief Executive of The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust, particularly with its work on eliminating trachoma in Commonwealth countries.
During the Trust’s planned closure we convened Essilor, Standard Chartered Bank, UBS Optimus Foundation, The International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness, and philanthropist, James Chen to discuss what could we do differently and how we could create a vehicle capable of delivering vision care to 1 billion people by 2050. Could we raise an initial $1 billion in catalytic finance to fund national vision programmes? From this dream, The Vision Catalyst Fund (VCF) was born.
Powering Vision through Impact Investing and Funding Scale
The focus of the VCF is not only to raise the money differently but spend it differently as well. The Fund will aim to work at scale, through government-driven programmes.
The majority of these funds will be raised, not through traditional philanthropy, but through innovative financial mechanisms.
Our initial products under development include a development impact bond in India, Global Vision Bonds, akin to the Gavi ‘vaccine bond’ and ‘money-back guarantees’ on funding for work in Southeast Asia.
With all these products there is an emphasis on social returns across a broad spectrum of vision linked Sustainable Development Goals, not just vision of itself. Through this approach, we hope to unlock exponential growth in funding for the sector as a whole by galvanising non-traditional sources of support.
200 million Pairs of Lenses
Another early initiative of the VCF is lens donation partnerships, to begin using lenses from the 200 million pair commitment made by Essilor Luxottica.
The VCF will be awarding lenses to partners who put forward the most sustainable, scalable and replicable solutions to grow access to glasses in lower and middle-income countries. We will publish more information about how to apply for a lens donation partnership in the next couple of months.
The VCF will work alongside the grantees to ensure the lens donation is catalytic, giving impetus to further initiatives that get glasses on noses around the world. This includes bringing in additional funding for lens partners to support activities such as research to drive policy change and digital health solutions to improve data collection.
But what excites me most is that the VCF can play a role in aligning the measurement and evaluation across partnerships in diverse contexts to build a rich and transparent bank of learning and evidence.
We hope to make our first announcement of lens donation partners in the coming months.
The VCF is an organisation for the sector as a whole. It is an effort to bring different actors and new funding to support the great work the members of IAPB and their peers have been doing.
We are heartened to be joining the IAPB to begin more conversations with you all on how we might collaborate to accelerate the greatest mass action on the cause of vision in history.