Focusing Philanthropy + Seva Foundation

Working with our implementing partner, the Seva Foundation, we provide medically underserved people in Asia, Africa, and Latin America basic eye care and sight-restoring surgery. Most blindness is reversible. Cataracts, the leading cause of vision loss, are treatable through a simple 15-minute procedure delivered for only ~$50 in the developing world, making it one of the most cost-effective life-changing medical interventions. These surgeries, performed free by teams of local specialists often trained by Seva or with Seva’s support, take place at temporary eye camps, clinics, and hospitals. Each time the bandages are removed the day following surgery and a formerly blind person can see again, it is a small miracle. And often, the blind person is looking at a child or grandchild who has been responsible for the care of his or her relative. Not only can the person with renewed sight resume a productive life, but the caregiver can return to school or work. Thus, each procedure changes the lives of at least two people.

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90% of all blindness occurs in the developing world.

75% of blindness is preventable or treatable.

Half of the world’s blindness is caused by cataracts.

Cataract surgery is one of the most cost-effective, life-changing medical interventions; the challenge is to make it widely available.

Our Response

79,300+ people can see again who were blind before our funding of sight-restoring surgeries at temporary eye camps, clinics, and hospitals in 16 developing countries. We have also provided diagnostic and surgical equipment to meet pressing needs in four countries and funded the construction and equipping of an eye hospital and satellite eye clinic in Nepal. $5.9 million has been invested to achieve these results.

Why Seva Foundation

We know of no philanthropic investment that achieves a greater life-changing impact per dollar than cataract surgeries. With this starting point, we considered the handful of experienced nonprofits active globally in delivering this medical service. Seva appealed to us because, for 35 years, they have been building in-country capacity—the only way to address the prevalence of blindness and impaired vision in the developing world at scale and on a sustained basis—and then leveraging that local capability to fund free care to the poorest people. They asserted that they could consistently deliver cataract surgeries for ~$50 across diverse geographies. Our detailed cost-buildup showed that their actual numbers were even better, about $47 per adult surgery (though somewhat higher for pediatric surgeries because they require general anesthetic). Our site visits to observe their work in Cambodia, Guatemala, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Peru give us confidence that they maintain program fidelity, strong cost management and reporting, and respectful interactions with both local medical providers and, most importantly, patients served.

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