Feature Interview with Jane Ebbern

February 20, 2013 | Eye Care |

Sight can make the difference between a life of poverty and a life of opportunity. Optometry Giving Sight is a unique organization that helps make it happen.



How did your organization Optometry Giving Sight get started?


Optometry Giving Sight is the only global fundraising organization that specifically targets the prevention of blindness and impaired vision due to uncorrected refractive error – (URE).

670 million people are blind or vision impaired simply because they cannot get the glasses they need. Optometry Giving Sight funds the solution – an eye exam and a pair of glasses.

In 2003, the World Council of Optometry (WCO), the International Centre for Eyecare Education (ICEE) and the IAPB signed an agreement to create Optometry Giving Sight as a means of mobilizing resources from the global optometric community to help eliminate refractive error blindness and low vision.

The organization was launched in the UK in 2003, followed by Australia and the Netherlands in 2004, the United States and Canada in 2005, Italy in 2006 and Norway, Ireland and Singapore in 2009.

Optometry Giving Sight plays a major role in VISION 2020: The Right to Sight, an initiative of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB). VISION 2020 aims to eliminate avoidable blindness by the year 2020, in order to give all people in the world the right to sight.



Please give us some specific examples of how Optometry Giving Sight transforms lives around the world.


To date, more than $US5.5 million has been disbursed or allocated to projects in Africa, India, South East Asia, Eastern Europe, South America, Australia and China.


Kristian – A Life Transformed by the Gift of Vision


Six-year-old Kristian and her family were some of the lucky ones to benefit from the recent visit to their homeland of Sumba, West Timor, by a team of Australian optometrists, supported by Optometry Giving Sight. Team member and optometrist Peter Lewis from Victoria, Australia, tells the story of this visit.

Paediatric Optometrist Norm Russo was examining a six year old girl named Kristian and found her to refract to around -12.

At the same time, Peter Stewart was examining the little girl’s father, Lukas Deta, and he refracted to around -18.00D! …If not rewarding enough, the next day two young men, the uncles of this little girl arrived and they refracted to around -18.00 D as well! …These people had NEVER had spectacles before and the joy in their face and smiles was overwhelming to us all.



What are the major challenges your organization faces today and in the future?


A major challenge is how to cost effectively reach out to optometrists and through them to their patients, to raise funds for this great cause. We find that once we get an optometric practice on board, and help them integrate their support for Optometry Giving Sight into their marketing plan, we have a strong ongoing donor base.

Another challenge is finding ways to reach out to optometric companies and their employees. Once a company does the World Sight Day Challenge once, it tends to become an annual event and an important employee motivator.



What led you to your present status as country manager for Canada?


I left the corporate world after 22 years of marketing and retail operations, looking for more job satisfaction and better work life balance and I found both with Optometry Giving Sight. I also am totally aligned with Optometry Giving Sight’s emphasis on funding long term sustainable eye care. We concentrate on providing the tools and training so that people in the developing country can build eye care systems in their countries- the classic “we teach them how to fish”.



What has been the most rewarding aspect of your work?


Working with this motivated and highly talented Optometry Giving Sight global team and with Canadian optometrists and their staff has been a real highlight. Plus seeing the stories and numbers of people whose lives have been transformed through the gift of vision is very moving.



What do you do to unwind and alleviate some of the pressure you experience in your job?


I enjoy hiking and back country powder skiing. In addition I am a director of a fine wine society and am active in my church and in local politics.



What and when is World Sight Day?


World Sight Day is a global event that focuses on bringing attention on blindness and vision impairment. It is observed on the second Thursday of October each year and will be on October 11, 2012.

The World Sight Day Challenge, WSDC, is a major fundraising campaign in October coordinated by Optometry Giving Sight which is designed to raise funds for projects that provide vision care, local training and infrastructure support for people who are blind or vision impaired due to uncorrected refractive error – simply the need for an eye exam and a pair of glasses.



How can optometrists get involved in both World Sight Day and your organization?


There are many ways to get involved. Participating optometrists may donate a day of eye exam fees (on World Sight Day or any day in October), or a small amount from each pair of glasses sold throughout the month of October. You may also hold staff-led fundraising events, or invite patient donations throughout October. Optometry Giving Sight provides all the materials needed to make it a great practice and community event. Eighty-five percent of donations from optometrists and their patients and optometric employees go directly towards projects. See contact information at the end of the article.



Why is Philanthropy Good for an Optometry Practice?


These days we are all approached by many charities to provide support. Instead of just writing a cheque and getting a tax receipt, why not pick your charities strategically and integrate your philanthropy into your practice-marketing plan?

You may have thought that cause related marketing (CRM) was something only large corporations could do but our fundraising programs provide optometry practices with the opportunity to jump onto this very popular bandwagon.



How does this increase your bottom line?


1) Supporting a cause related to eye care can help a practice’s image and has the potential to generate significant free publicity.


2) CRM can help to build loyalty to your practice and provides a reason to ignore sales and promotions of similar organizations and to keep returning to you.


3) CRM is also a great staff retention device. Employees often cite their employer’s charitable giving as one of the reason’s they are proud to work there.



Bottom Line: This article offers Canadian optometrists the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of millions of people around the world. 


Jane Ebbern is originally from Winnipeg. She received science and business degrees from the University of Toronto and Harvard.  She has worked in international marketing for Procter & Gamble in Europe, Australia and Asia and in retail operations for Loblaws and consumer marketing for Direct Energy here in Canada. Jane left the corporate world to begin a non-profit career and became Country Manager for Optometry Giving Sight in Canada in June 2006. She can be contacted at her Calgary office at 1-800-585-8265 ext. 4 or at jane.ebbern@givingsight.org.