Story by Chandler Lewis. Photos by Jan Osborn.
The OneSight EssilorLuxottica Foundation is an organization committed to creating solutions and raising awareness for unaddressed vision impairment around the world. Their mission is to help people see more and be more, and they truly believe in the intimate connection between those two ends. We sat down with Kristan Gross, their Global Head of Knowledge: Advocacy & Partnerships, to talk about what OneSight EssilorLuxottica is doing to create this change.
Gross has worked in the vision industry for a while, but it was after a realization in her personal life that she became more passionate about the importance of vision.
“When I started in the vision industry in 2007, I began doing communications for Essilor,” Gross said. “ I was in that role for eight years, but I was also a single mom of three boys. It was the first time I ever realized that a child needs an eye exam beyond the actual screening from the schools or at the pediatrician. I had perfect vision, so I didn’t really think about it. My three boys went to the eye doctor and every one of them needed glasses, and it was a shock,” Gross said.
Though it wasn’t just realizing that her children needed glasses that inspired Gross..
“One of my children just couldn’t behave, and it was because he couldn’t see. He couldn’t focus. We fixed that, and we fixed a problem in school, which was huge. So for me, it did become personal. For sure.”
Seeing what corrected vision did for her children got Gross thinking.
“It became a personal crusade to say: I’m an educated woman. I’m a really good mother. I try to do all the right things for my kids, but I didn’t know this.’ So, if I don’t know this, who else doesn’t know?”
When Gross had the opportunity to advocate for vision correction by moving to Essilor’s non-profit advocacy entity – the Vision Impact Institute – eight years into her role, she took it.
“The Vision Impact Institute was designed to curate the research that existed around the impact of uncorrected vision and why that impact mattered to the world,” Gross explained. “So, we launched this organization to curate a plethora of evidence, but we couldn’t stop there. We had to also advocate for healthy vision in the places where it could potentially make the most impact.”
Recently, the Vision Impact Institute joined the OneSight EssilorLuxottica Foundation. These days, they’re even more focused on awareness, advocacy and partnership building – at every level from grassroots education, to empowering governments and others – to address the consequences of poor vision.
“Over the past five years or so, our work shifted towards advocacy and awareness – though everything we do remains steeped in the evidence,” Gross said. “When our team focuses on awareness, we focus on how to ensure the change-makers, policymakers, and governments understand that vision health should be prioritized in healthcare strategies.”
The foundation is working to create awareness across the world. To do so, they must access and educate world leaders and take the issue of vision beyond just the eye care sector.
“We recently published a paper about the power of advocacy in eye care to affect the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals,” Gross said.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a collection of seventeen global goals designed to be a “shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future.”
Vision impacts many of the sustainable development goals like poverty, education, gender bias, safe roads, and worker productivity. These are all goals that the world’s governments are working toward,” Gross explained. “Vision affects so many of these seventeen goals and we’ve put that stake in the ground to say, ‘by prioritizing and correcting vision, you could also improve these other areas,’” Gross said.
The impact of vision on the SDGs manifests in a variety of ways. One such way is the impact it has on road safety.
“We’ve done a tremendous amount of work on road safety in India. When you look at the number of large trucks on the road in India, those numbers continue to increase, but the number of people with vision correction continues to decrease. So, you have accident rates that are the highest in the world in India,” Gross explained. “So, going to the government in India, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways…we’ve worked directly with them to say, ‘we need to address commercial driving licenses.’ An eye exam should be (part of the) minimal requirements to get a commercial license.”
The Foundation also clearly understands the relationship between vision problems and poverty.
“In my case I didn’t need glasses until I was post-forty, but I needed them to see up close. If I lived in a country where I couldn’t get a pair, I may be forced to leave the workforce because I lacked good vision,” Gross said.
Another big advocacy focus at the foundation is how stigmas contribute to vision issues for women and girls in many places.
“In some parts of the world, say there’s an older grandparent or someone who can’t see to work, we often see the little girl in the family leave their schooling to be the eyes for that family member’s work,” Gross explained. “We also see stigmas come into play. In some cultures little girls are told that if they wear eyeglasses, it shows a defect, and nobody will want to marry them.”
Gross and the OneSight EssilorLuxottica Foundation are connecting the dots to prove just how crucial our vision can be. Their work has the potential to not only make the city of Dallas more prosperous, but the ripple effect will continue to improve communities all around the globe.
So, what does doing good mean to Kristan Gross?
“My mantra is ‘love God, love people, the end.’ I think that doing good in any capacity is about kindness. It’s about meeting people where they are and helping them become a better version of themselves. At the same time, it’s about becoming a better version of myself through doing good for others! Serving others is one of the greatest gifts we can both give and receive.”
To read impact stories and for more information on how the OneSight EssilorLuxottica Foundation is working to change lives through good vision you can visit their website.