The Council on Foundations, a Washington, DC-based association of more than 2,000 grantmaking foundations and corporations, has chosen Seva Foundation as one of five organizations to receive a Critical Impact Award.
Seva is being honored for "revolutionizing the ability of community based eye care programs to restore eyesight for poor people affected by cataract blindness..." through our work in helping to create Aurolab, the manufacturing division of Aravind Eye Hospital, in Madurai, India.
"This is like winning a lifetime achievement award at the Oscars," says Dr. Suzanne Gilbert, Director of Seva's Center for Innovation in Eye Care. "The Council on Foundations is the most distinguished association of its kind, and their new Critical Impact Award is a very prestigious honor. We're delighted to be among the first to receive it.”
Enhancing the Common Good
This is the inaugural year for the award, which was created to "recognize those who truly make a difference in their grantmaking while sharing with the public examples of how philanthropy seeks to enhance the common good."
In a statement announcing the winners, Steve Gunderson, President and CEO of the Council on Foundations, said, "These foundations have demonstrated the commitment and vision needed to address the important issues affecting society and are helping to advance the common good, not only in our local communities but throughout the world."
Aurolab: The Ultimate in "Sustainable Solutions"
Seva was the lead partner helping Aravind Eye Hospital in launching Aurolab during the early 1990s. In addition to $250,000 of start-up funds, Seva also provided technical expertise and operational support.
Seva worked with Aurolab in pioneering new methods of manufacturing high quality, low cost intraocular lenses (IOLs), which are essential to fully restore vision after cataract surgery. Previously, IOLs had been too expensive for use in public health eye care programs in developing countries.
Today, Aurolab IOLs sell for about $5 each, compared to $100 - $150 at typical market prices. These low-cost IOLs make it possible for millions of poor people around the world to enjoy excellent vision following cataract surgery.
"Back when we were getting started," Suzanne explains, "the prevailing opinion was that IOLs were too 'high tech' and required surgical techniques that couldn't be done affordably in developing countries. But our work with Aravind helped prove that IOLs were in fact viable and effective in public health settings. That changed everything, and opened the way to create Aurolab."
Aurolab continues to thrive, carrying on its own research and development work and selling a variety of medical products in most countries of the world. Although Aurolab no longer requires funding from Seva, there continues to be a rich collaboration through Seva volunteer advisers on marketing, new technologies and other needs.
"This is really a great example of what we mean when we talk about Seva building sustainable solutions," says Suzanne. "And it's a great example of how our network of Seva supporters can make a critical impact."
Here are excerpts from letters nominating Seva for the Critical Impact Award:
"Seva has been a pioneer in catalyzing an entirely new business model that combines access and equity with quality and cost efficiency. Seva is a testament to the catalytic role that foundations worldwide can have on supporting innovation and tolerating a level of risk that no business or government is willing to undertake."
Pamela Hartigan, Executive Director
Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship
"...one of the most important breakthroughs in international ophthalmology in recent decades."
Dr. Bruce Spivey, President
International Council of Ophthalmology
"The relationship between Seva and Aravind clearly goes far beyond the act of grantmaking and into the realm of true global partnership. This grant exemplifies the highest goals of poverty alleviation, improvement of public health, and development of a new paradigm for international collaboration and innovation."
Gregory Miller, Managing Director