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What I Learned at SwitchPoint

At the end of April I had the opportunity to join more than 400 global health experts, technologists, and social impact professionals at SwitchPoint. The conference was designed to highlight the latest global health and humanitarian innovations, and the innovators making a difference for communities around the world.

A restored cotton mill in the small riverside town of Saxahapaw, North Carolina, served as the venue – fitting for a conference for individuals who transform complex problems into sustainable solutions every day.

While every minute was filled with insightful thoughts and ideas, these are the ones that inspired me and can apply to our work prioritizing good vision:

Health is a human right. This sentiment was echoed throughout the two days. If health is a human right then by definition good vision, as part of health, should be a human right. At the Vision Impact Institute, that’s our belief, and we’re working with partners to use evidence to advocate for access and policy so we all have the best chance for good vision. Good vision is a baseline for a productive and healthy society. When a tailor can see well, she can do her best work and support her family. When a truck driver can see behind the wheel, he creates a safer road environment for all. When a child can see clearly, she’s more likely to succeed in school.

“Get closer. Pass the mic.” These were the words of PRI International’s, Marco Werman, in his keynote address. As a journalist, he knows the value of getting closer to the people he’s interviewing, either to get to the root of a story or take a better picture. For us, in the vision space, I think this phrase can encourage us to get closer to the people we’re trying to impact, whether it’s understanding the need of a government or a policymaker who can enact a law to help constituents. Pass the mic means allowing those on the ground to be part of the solution. We’ve seen this play out in India where the government has taken research from a VII-sponsored study and is using it to make significant policy changes when it comes to commercial drivers and their vision.

Barriers can be broken. Several speakers touched on the role that gender equity plays in healthcare. In the vision space, the same holds true, and there’s more work to be done. We see stigmas existing around the world for women and girls who wear glasses – a stigma that impacts their education and future success. With so many studies indicating an improvement in grades when students can see, we all must do more to ensure that girls have this opportunity.

During one of the many art breaks at the conference, a group of actors illustrated what the world could look like if we all noticed the problems around us and played our part in the solution. They did this by tying hundreds of cardboard boxes to their bodies and dragging them down the center aisle of the room, encouraging the audience to help. A slide with the words “leaving impossible things unattended” appeared on the screen, reminding us not to leave seemingly impossible problems unattended.

Prioritizing good vision around the world is possible. It’s not always an easy process and can sometimes seem impossible. What SwitchPoint  has reminded me is that together, with those both inside and outside of the vision space, we must not and cannot leave “impossible things unattended.” Good vision can be a possibility for all.