Associating donations to aid the visually impaired with sport can be an effective fund-raising strategy. For example, at a unique event held at the Wimbledon tennis tournament in London on Sunday, June 23, Walter F. Hester III, founder and chief executive of Maui Jim Sunglasses, handed over a check for £1,430 (€1,658-$2,128m) to Optometry Giving Sight (OGS) at the the Wimbledon Club. The company had pledged to donate £65 (€75-$97) to the international charity for every empty canister of tennis balls knocked down by David Ferrer, Benoît Paire and other tennis champions sponsored by the well-known American brand of sunglasses. Members of the sports media were invited by Maui Jim to engage in friendly matches with the champions.

This was one of several interesting events that have been organized recently by eyewear companies and their associations in Europe to raise funds for numerous projects co-funded by OGS to support the establishment of sustainable and affordable eye care services in poor communities around the world. The events are coordinated by Donna Power, a charming English lady who left Rodenstock in the U.K. three years ago, where she had been national sales manager, to run the European office of OGS in London.

More funds will be raised at a golf tournament in Ireland in September. In the sport of cycling, a group of 20 British  optometrists raised  £3,300 (€3,828-$4,913) for OGS last year from fellow students at three universities in a 12-day bike ride between Glasgow and Cardiff to raise funds for OGS. The idea came from an initiative taken in 2011 by three optometry students at Bradford University who raised £2,875 (€3,336-$4,282) in this way. The program, which is called Optoms Cycling for Sight, is going global this year, aiming to raise £25,000 (€29,006-$37,235) in donations between Aug. 15 and 25 from optometrists all over the world registering on a dedicated website, www.oc4s.co.uk, and riding a combined 25,000 miles, equivalent to the circumference of the earth.

At the English Optrafair trade shows in 2011 and earlier this year, optometrists and other visitors were encouraged to ride a stationary bicycle over a long distance, similarly collecting donations of £1 per mile for OGS. A similar challenge was organized by CooperVision (CVI) and Topcon at the more recent convention of the British Contact Lens Association (BCLA), and OGS is now going global with this initiative.

Many optical professionals and optical companies in the U.K. and all over the world, along with friends and members of their families, have already registered to take part in the cycling challenge. Both Topcon and CVI in the U.K. are currently organizing events on static bikes or organized rides to involve employees.

CVI has been going much further in its support of OGS. The company recently encouraged customers in the U.S. to donate some or all the discounts that they were getting by purchasing its contact lenses through its website. CVI also involves all its employees around the world in a fund-raising program during World Sight Day, an annual event organized by the World Health Organization and the Agency to Prevent Blindness that will take place this year on Oct. 10. In connection with World Sight Day, Transitions donated 25 U.S. cents for each of the 176,000 photos that were collected for the world's largest mosaic in Florida last year.

Through its ‘World Sight Day Challenge,' OGS is attracting more and more sponsors from the eyewear industry, generally at the national level. For example, Essilor has been organizing such challenges in individual countries such as the U.K., the U.S., Canada, Italy and Australia, matching employees' donations. Maui Jim also does so in the U.S. VSP and its subsidiary Marchon has been doing that in the U.S. Maui Jim regularly takes part in the World Sight Day Challenge in the U.K. and Australia. In Germany, students at the Fielmann Academy in Plön participate in World Sight Day every year by baking and selling waffles to raise money for OGS.

For this year's World Sight Day Challenge, which will run from Sept. 1 through Oct. 10, OGS is launching a colorful new logo and materials as part of a global fund-raising campaign. OGS proposes the distribution of new “people power” wristbands to company employees throughout the eyewear industry, optometry students and end customers for a donation and to encourage others to make one on or before World Sight Day. OGS is asking them all to pledge their donation or to register their intention to raise funds on its website, givingsight.org.

This year's World Sight Day will mark the launch of a new Action Plan by the World Health Organization on the prevention of avoidable blindness and visual impairment for the 2014-19 period. In keeping with the main thrust of this new action plan, the theme for World Sight Day 2013 will be “Universal Eye Health.”

OGS has also been able to get support from the Norwegian Association of Optometrists, but in Europe, most of the action around OGS is still taking place in the U.K. because the European office of this U.S.-based non-profit association has been in the U.K. for ten years. Donna Power and Georgina Wollfrey, marketing communications managers, are the only European-based people on OGS' staff of 14 full-time and part-time employees around the world.

However, Donna Power has been recently talking to companies in Continental Europe, and in the last few months she has also started getting help from a part-time assistant in Italy. The new Italian representative of OGS, Francesco Cerasi, is an optician who started off as a volunteer a year ago. In the past few weeks, he has installed donation boxes in about 20 optical stores around Italy as a prelude to a possible nationwide initiative that may be promoted by Federottica, the Italian association of optical retailers.

In the last five years, OGS has received donations totaling US$8 million from the industry, optometrists, their staff and patients, of which more than 80 percent has been used to fund 67 projects in 38 countries including China, India, Moldova and Haiti. In 2013, the donations will fund 43 projects in 27 different countries. The goal is to train local eye care professionals, to establish vision centers and deliver low-cost eye care services.

With its support, the first locally trained optometrists were certified last year in Malawi and Mozambique. One of OGS' current programs involves the training of teachers in Tanzania's schools to perform eye screening on 100,000 children aged 7-12 years. CVI is supporting this program through a major fund-raising campaign called ‘One Bright Vision,' making a contribution for each pack of Biofinity contact lenses sold.

OGS has been supporting a non-profit organization in El Salvador, Fudem, that screened 64,000 children from very poor communities and distributed glasses to them last year. In India, OGS is carrying out a more long-term project intended to raise the number of optometrists with four years of training to 110,000 by 2030 from an existing base of 44,000 who have between two and four years of education.

As a result of OGS' actions, more than 5,000 new eye care professionals have been trained in under-served communities around the world to detect refractive error, giving some four million people access to eye screening through locally staffed vision centers and clinics. OGS is supporting a project by the Brien Holden Vision Institute and VPSH International to invite people in North America with a four-year doctorate in optometry to serve as lecturers or program development assistants in new optometric institutions in emerging countries.

Optometry Giving Sight is a joint initiative of the World Council of Optometry, the Brien Holden Vision Institute and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness. It was established in 2003 to mobilize resources from the global optical community to help eliminate the backlog of uncorrected refractive error. In some cases, OGS works with other organizations and other charities, such as Sightsavers for example.

 Besides CVI and Essilor, other industry sponsors include Alcon, Carl Zeiss Vision, Cecop, General Optical, Hoya, Johnson & Johnson, Nikon, Ocuco, Replay Learning, TLC Laser Eye Centers, Transitions, Westgroupe and VSP. Many of them sponsor OGS only at the national level. As it became a platinum sponsor of OGS for two years at the beginning of 2012, CVI has the right to mention OGS in its communication around World Sight Day and other programs.

At the annual convention of the European Sunglass Association in Portugal last May, Donna Power encouraged more companies to select OGS as their “charity of choice,” noting that efforts to reduce avoidable blindness have been paying off. There are still 600 million people around the world who are blind or vision impaired because they haven't had access to affordable eye care, but in the last ten years, the number of vision-impaired people has declined by 10 percent, in spite of an 18 percent increase in the global population, and the number of blind people has decreased by 13 percent, according to the World Health Organization.