Leading International Sight Organizations IAPB and Clearly Set to Merge in 2021

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LONDON—On Jan. 1, 2021, Clearly, the charity founded in 2016 by James Chen to raise the profile of vision among world leaders, will merge into the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness  (IAPB), a network of over 150 members working in international eye health and leading global advocacy body for the sight sector, according to an announcement Thursday. The coming together of the two groups is “a sign of the growing strength of the sector and progress that has been made on the issue over the last five years,” the announcement noted.

“The move is designed to combine the two organizations’ advocacy and campaigning expertise and bring renewed pressure on global actors and governments to end the vision crisis.”

At least 1 billion people worldwide have sight loss which could be prevented or addressed, the groups said.

Chen is a Hong Kong-based philanthropist and a proponent of the concept of catalytic philanthropy. He has dedicated the last 20 years to funding projects that create real world change. This includes tackling the world’s largest unmet disability: poor vision. As founder of Clearly in 2016, he has led the global campaign that aims to bring clear vision to the 2.5 billion global people who are denied it as quickly as possible.

He is the author of: “Clearly: How a 700 Year Old Invention Can Change the World Forever” which explains his mission to help the whole world see clearly, and identifies the barriers to delivering access to glasses for all. Chen also is the managing director of Legacy Advisors Ltd., a single family office based in Hong Kong, and founder of the Chen Yet-Sen Family Foundation. He has a degree in behavioral science from the University of Chicago.

In Thursday's joint announcement, Peter Holland, chief executive of the IAPB, and Chen said that this unprecedented move marks the “next exciting phase in the battle to deliver vision for everyone.” It combines the long-established efforts of the IAPB and its members to counter avoidable blindness and promote eye health with governments around the world with the successful campaigning work of Clearly to highlight the case for clear vision for all within organizations such as the United Nations and Commonwealth.

Clearly, which founded the UN Friends of Vision group, co-founded Vision for the Commonwealth coalition, and served as a driving force of the Power of Glasses research project, has been at the forefront of groundbreaking efforts to encourage a renewed focus on vision within the world’s corridors of power and demonstrate the impact of good vision on many of the Sustainable Development Goals, including those relating to productivity, education and road safety, the announcement noted.

Along with his ongoing interests as founder of Vision for a Nation and Adlens, Chen will play an even more active role in the vision sector following the merger as global ambassador for IAPB, making the case for concerted global action at scale.

IAPB is a global leader on eye health advocacy, amplifying the sector voice in the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations (UN) and coordinating major global campaigns such as World Sight Day. IAPB comes with a wealth of knowledge and thought leadership on policy and practice in eyecare.

Its members operate across the globe and are able to deliver action at a country level. For over two decades, IAPB jointly led the global initiative VISION 2020: the Right to Sight with the World Health Organization, significantly increasing the global profile of vision and avoidable blindness.

“IAPB have long been a leader in the vision sector,” Chen said in the announcement. “I am delighted that we will be able to combine their unprecedented authority and reach within the sector with our ground-breaking campaigning work—particularly on school eye health, work-based sight tests and the links between vision and delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals. This merger brings us a step further to my dream of helping the whole world see clearly.”

Added IAPB’s Holland, “This is a hugely important development for the sector and comes at a time when poor vision is rising across the world. Clearly has made massive strides forward in waking up the world to the scale of the vision crisis. This merger will provide the IAPB with renewed vigor and expertise in effective campaigning. It will enable us to make the case even more effectively about the urgency and value for money of tackling the global vision crisis.”

Dr. Caroline Harper, chief executive of Sightsavers, welcomed the merger. “Momentum is building for more concerted action by governments and international organizations, including both international NGOs and private sector organizations, on ensuring that everyone has the best vision they possibly can,” she said.

“It is now widely accepted that this issue affects billions of people, limiting human potential and damaging prosperity. This merger will give the IAPB, the network organization to which we all belong, an invigorated approach to campaigning on the issue and could not come at a more important moment.”