Joining a mission
I joined Standard Chartered Bank as a summer intern at just 18. When I joined as a graduate, I settled into the fast-paced world of capital markets sales. Four years in, I made a leap to pursue a mission-driven career in Sustainable Finance, where I now lead a team that focuses on new product innovation. I have been lucky enough to be involved in the Bank’s sustainability work for the past 8 years, notably its landmark contribution to preventable blindness, Seeing is Believing. With my inspirational friend and ex-colleague David Fein as Chair, surrounded by an amazing team, between 2003 to 2020, my colleagues raised over US$104 million to prevent and cure blindness for 250 million people across our footprint.
A problem in plain sight
Investing in eye health is one of the most effective and proven solutions for unlocking human potential. Over 1 billion people live with poor vision that could be corrected today. Poor vision is linked to lower educational attainment, lower general health and wellbeing, higher numbers of road traffic accidents, and lower productivity. These can all be fixed by something as simple as a pair of glasses, and this can really unlock people’s future potential.
The case for support for eye health is clear. It is also clear that philanthropy alone cannot solve the need. That is why my Standard Chartered is dedicating time to developing products that not only fund solutions to eye health, and other global issues, but provide financial returns to investors.
A new approach
Off the back of Seeing is Believing and the incredible work of the The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust, the Vision Catalyst Fund (VCF) was established. Standard Chartered is a founding partner alongside other leading actors including EssilorLuxottica.
The Vision Catalyst Fund’s aim is to raise millions of dollars of new money to provide permanent access to eye health for all, bringing together the private sector, governments, NGOs and non-eye health actors to achieve scale. We will use finance differently, raising new resources through co-investment and innovative financial tools.
Social Impact Guarantee
The first example of this innovation at work is the Vision Catalyst Fund’s partnership with Tri-Sector Associates, the London School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene and Santen Pharmaceuticals to develop a new financial product – an eye health Social Impact Guarantee to raise $25 million for eye health programmes in Asia and Africa.
A Social Impact Guarantee operates like insurance. Donors pay premiums to a Guarantor who backs investment should the outcomes of the programme not be met. We will launch multiple Social Impact Guarantees, pooling the premiums to fund additional programmes.
The pilot will focus on a school-based eye health programme in Vietnam, with Santen as a founding guarantor. As a Trustee, I bring Standard Chartered’s technical expertise to the project.
Be part of the movement
I think it is important to say, social finance is a means to an end, with the goal being to bring vision to over 1 billion people within a generation. The Social Impact Guarantee and other similar products only have value if they can improve the lives of as many people as possible through access to vision care.
The ambition of the VCF is also to provide another proof point for the role of social finance in solving the world’s biggest problems. This means being dedicated to learning, not as an end itself but to give impetus to behaviour change in the entire sustainability ecosystem.
The challenge of achieving universal eye health calls for wide-ranging expertise and perspectives. This includes non-traditional participants. If you think you could be part of this, we welcome your collaboration.