This is the story of why we decided to work with SEE International and the humanitarian impact that startups can make by giving back.
By Lawson Boothe, with assistance from Rachel Tennant, Chief Development Officer at SEE International.
I'm an entrepreneur and developer. Successful businesses must measure profitability, growth, KPIs and numerous other metrics. Yet, there is more to business and life than just making money.
The key metric for our company is human hours saved each month, because that's how our products actually make a difference at eye care practices.
Giving back and making a real, positive difference are foundational to who we are as a company, so it only made sense to partner with the best eye-related humanitarian organization we could find.
Now, every hour we give back to a team member at an ophthalmology or optometry practice will ultimately go toward life changing care — both in the practice and for those who can’t access or afford vision care around the world.
Let me tell you how we chose SEE International and about the truly life-changing work they're doing.
There are millions of charities in the world, and thousands of charities doing incredible work. Fortunately, websites like Charity Navigator provide rankings and scores for charities.
One of the most important aspects of an organization's score is the Program Expense Ratio, which reflects the percent of its total expenses a charity spends on the programs and services it exists to deliver.
Anything over 70% is considered excellent. Running a charity can be costly, but the more of the contributions that go toward charitable work, the better.
Along with responsible management and use of funds, we also wanted an organization that makes a lasting, dramatic impact on as many lives as possible.
SEE International is an international charity that provides life-changing eye care, including surgeries, around the world. Their Program Expense Ratio is 91%, meaning only 9% of their expenses go to fundraising and similar administrative costs.
According to the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB), of the 1.1 billion people worldwide living with blindness or visual impairment, 90% of cases are preventable or treatable.
That's 1.6 billion people whose lives could be improved in truly transformative ways. But about 90% of people with blindness live in low- and middle-income countries, which perpetuates the inequality of care.
SEE has developed several innovative methods to provide low-cost care to people who wouldn't otherwise receive it.
In their Direct Supply Support program, SEE and their partners provide clinics in resource-scarce regions with consumables (like intraocular lenses) and other supplies to enable surgeries on cataracts and other eye conditions.
By doing this, not only do individuals living with blindness receive surgery that usually reverses their condition permanently, but the local vision care infrastructure also grows, allowing for more local surgeries in the future.
The other approach involves ophthalmologists who fly in and donate their time at a local clinic, usually working 12 hours a day for 3-7 days. An experienced medical team can treat as many as 700 patients in just one week.
In the United States, cataracts are usually treated using a high-tech procedure called phacoemulsification, but SEE uses a less common method called Manual Small Incision Cataract Surgery (MSICS). The advantages of MSICS are that it doesn't require expensive equipment and it's a fast, safe, and effective method for trained ophthalmologists.
If you're an ophthalmologist who's interested in donating your time to a good cause, you can contact SEE's International Programs team to learn about volunteering at a clinic. They also offer MSICS Courses to train and onboard physicians who may not yet have experience with this relatively easy-to-learn procedure.
At Revival Health, we contribute a portion of all our revenue to SEE International. Most of our contributions fund cataract surgeries via the Direct Supply Support program.
So far, we've funded nearly 11,000 life-changing eye surgeries in India and Nepal, and dozens in El Salvador. These numbers will continue to increase as Revival grows and as SEE continues to use our most recent contributions.
Building an infrastructure for eye surgeries is a process that takes time. The eye clinics in India and Nepal are more established, which is why they're currently able to perform more surgeries.
As the El Salvador clinic matures, it will be able to provide a higher volume of surgeries, and donations also help to expand this infrastructure into other resource-scarce regions.
If you're a vision care professional who shares our values, we'd love to work together with you.
Living with blindness affects not only individuals, but also their families and communities. An individual with blindness usually relinquishes their independence, and often requires nearly constant care.
The impact of SEE's work extends beyond individuals and helps break what they call the cycle of hardship. Younger people can go to school or work to support their families, while older people can remain active in their communities and avoid the social isolation that often comes with blindness.
First, prospective patients receive screening to qualify them for cataract surgery. Many of them travel significant distances for this opportunity.
Once approved, doctors use topical anesthetic drops to numb the patient's affected eye (or, in the case of young children, general anesthesia). The MSICS surgery involves making a small incision to remove the clouded lens, then inserting an intraocular lens (IOL). In most cases, the incision is self-sealing, and doctors provide ophthalmic antibiotic drops and patch the eye.
Patients return to the clinic the next day so a doctor can examine the healing process. Sometimes patients need further medications or corrective techniques, but most often, their vision is restored — and often close to 20/20. Complications are rare.
Peer-reviewed studies suggest that MSICS procedures have an excellent safety profile, comparable to phacoemulsification and other cataract surgeries but with shorter operative times. According to current evidence, the visual outcomes are similar to phacoemulsification at up to 6 months' follow-up time.
These are the stories of two women from India who traveled to neighboring Nepal, to the nearest Direct Supply Support clinic, to receive MSICS.
Lukhiya Devi is a resident of Araria, a district located in the state of Bihar in the northeast of India. Coming from a relatively small family that depends on manual labor, basic needs are often difficult to fulfill.
Five months before her journey to the clinic, she began to notice low vision. But because her family members were busy working, she was unable to make hospital appointments. Unfortunately, her vision deteriorated rapidly.
She recalls that normal tasks like household chores, field work, and helping with her grandchildren became increasingly challenging.
When she heard about Biratnagar Eye Hospital across the border in Nepal, she arranged for her son to help her make the trip. Her eye examination revealed senile cataract, an age-related eye disease that makes the lens of the eye progressively cloudy over time.
The doctor recommended surgery following her examination. She underwent the MSICS procedure and when the time came to check her vision, the nurse told her to open her eye slowly.
In Lukhiya's words, "I can see! Now I will be able to perform all the work I wasn't able to do for these last few months."
Mira Devi is a resident of Bhagalpur, India, another district in Bihar state. Her small family of five depends on agricultural work for their livelihood.
For three months before visiting Biratnagar Eye Hospital, she had been noticing problems with one of her eyes. As a result, her ability to work and perform other daily activities was diminished. She was unable to walk outside without risking falling, and one of her family members had to remain by her side each day to assist her.
After hearing about cataract surgeries at the hospital, she visited with her son. The diagnosis from her examination was senile cataract. In her words, "I'm so sad because I can't help my family members."
Following her cataract surgery, Mira said, "I can see. I can live a new life now, without support from family members, while performing household work as well as fieldwork. I won’t fall down and also I can go here and there without any support."
Quotations from patients' stories have been lightly edited for clarity after being translated to English.
Treating blindness has an enormous generational and community impact. While not all blindness is treatable, and people with blindness can still live fulfilling lives, there are often fewer accommodations for visual impairment in areas that lack resources.
You can participate directly in these surgeries and other procedures that prevent or treat blindness by giving a gift to SEE International today. You can also make recurring monthly donations of any amount.
Check out the Revival Health Youtube Channel for exclusive content made just for you.