James Chen, a philanthropist committed to solving the “global epidemic” in poor vision, has been awarded an honorary degree from the University of Bath.
The founder of charity Vision for a Nation, which has helped Rwanda to become the first low-income country to make eye-care universally accessible, and of the Clearly campaign to promote universal access to glasses, received an honorary doctorate of law on Tuesday.
James was part of a delegation that secured a commitment from the 53 Commonwealth nations to make affordable eye care available to all in 2018. He was also involved in creating the United Nations’ first working group on eye health issues.
Dr Michael Proulx, from the University of Bath’s department of psychology, who delivered the oration on James’s award, said: “James Chen is an uncommon person – one who has not only seen a global problem but has done something about it.
“He saw first-hand that many people in developing nations did not have glasses. Given that the solution, corrective lenses, has existed for so long, and is something many of us in wealthy countries take for granted, there was clearly a need for action.”
James is based in Hong Kong and was an early proponent in Asia of venture philanthropy – the practice of applying the concepts of venture capital to achieve social good.
Ahead of the ceremony, he explained why he decided to tackle this issue: “Poor vision is the largest unmet disability in the world today. Around one third of the world’s population, 2.5 billion people, suffer from poor vision because they don’t have access to a simple pair of glasses.
“This is a huge waste of the potential of people across the developing world. Improving people’s vision has been shown to reduce poverty, deliver quality education, create work opportunities and improve road safety.”
On receiving his award, James reflected on early financial failure in his career, saying: “With the benefit of hindsight, that early experience of failure reminds me of the phrase – ‘what does not kill you makes you stronger’. It has given me an invaluable life lesson, which has paid dividends in having the mental resilience to persevere through the many challenges I have faced.
He added, “I hope you now understand my deep gratitude to the University of Bath for awarding me with this honorary doctorate. It implicitly recognises that the risk I took so many years ago, was ultimately a good choice.”
Seven Hills has worked with James Chen since 2016.