Symbiotic and Strategic: Why Businesses Should Embrace Nonprofit Partnerships
Imagine losing your sight. Now imagine losing your sight in one of the poorest regions in the world. Where would you turn to for help? With few quality eye doctors, hospitals or clinics, your chances of getting the right kind of care would be small. As your sight got worse, your chances of getting an education or earning a steady income would slowly evaporate.
This is the obstacle Derly, age 9, faced in Peru earlier this year. Before a volunteer doctor examined her eye, it didn’t appear that she had any trouble with her vision beyond a drooping lid. However, her mother, Norma, had always felt something was wrong. Yet she and her husband, who works daily at a remote coffee farm, were under the impression that seeking treatment would be an expense they could never afford.
It wasn’t until March 2018 when a physician told her about the Regional Institute of Ophthalmology (IRO) that Derly was able to be screened, and was determined to be nearly blind in one eye. This not only put her at a higher risk for injuries like falling or running into objects, it also prevented her from doing simple chores, reading and writing.
Derly was treated by a volunteer doctor at Orbis, where I serve as CEO. The doctor performed surgery on our Flying Eye Hospital, a state-of-the-art teaching hospital onboard an MD-10 aircraft, while local IRO doctors learned additional techniques and provided hands-on assistance. One month later, IRO surgeons performed a follow-up surgery, which allowed Derly to have a wider visual field.
With her improved vision, doing chores in her household kitchen are no longer a threat to her safety; rather, they are an invitation to spend quality time cooking meals with her mother. Her favorite activities—drawing, painting and volleyball—now take on a whole new life.
This is the reality facing the 253 million people with visual impairment around the world today, and not everyone has the same positive outcome as Derly. Even more shocking is the fact that over 75 percent of all visual impairment is avoidable, meaning it can be prevented or treated. Approximately 30 million adults and children would be able to see today if they had received surgery or glasses as soon as symptoms occurred—the kind of care that many others take for granted.
Supporters around the world – from hospitals to local governments – help Orbis transform lives like Derly’s by mentoring, training and inspiring local eye care teams so they can save sight in their communities. Thanks to that large coalition of experts in the blindness prevention community, the prevalence of visual impairment has dropped from 4.58 percent in the 1990s to 3.38 percent today. That said, experts now predict global blindness will triple by 2050, ensuring a long way to go in the fight to end avoidable blindness altogether – and it will take thoughtful private sector support to do so.
How Your Business Can Make an Impact
Corporate and for-profit partners are one of the key reasons Orbis will be able to scale up our programs to confront this oncoming hurdle. Aside from funds, they provide long-term, sometimes invaluable benefits needed to make a dent in our goals: access to an extended network, increased global visibility and trust by association. So, how can a company get into the business of philanthropy with a nonprofit like ours?
In my experience, it starts with a strategic and symbiotic relationship where a business is aligned with a nonprofit that’s a perfect fit with their own company goals and values.
One such partnership is the one between Orbis and UTC Aerospace Systems. UTC designs, manufactures and services integrated systems and components for the aerospace and defense industries, and their partnership with Orbis not only aligns with their mission, but transforms how they make an impact on the world and engage with their constituents. Stacey MacNeil, their vice president of communications, recently told me that they seek out nonprofits to support when strong brand alignment (UTC’s tagline happens to be “ideas born to fly”) is married with the ability to commit to long-term collective impact.
So, just as pilots learned to fly using simulation training over the past 40 years, Orbis has adopted a similar approach to medical training. As part of their continued commitment to helping others access advanced technology, UTC Aerospace Systems made a three-year contribution to establish the world’s first ophthalmic Mobile Simulation Center designed to be hosted on an aircraft, specifically for our Flying Eye Hospital. The center and curricula allows us to combine the latest in simulation technology, virtual reality and medical knowledge so that eye care teams can learn complex skills in a controlled environment before operating on a patient.
Benefits to Your Business in Return
We know that corporate partners have been working with nonprofits for years, and I am heartened that meaningful CSR programs continue to grow and draw attention to the issues that we need to solve as a global community. In addition to feeling good about engaging in this important work, there are a few key ways that the right nonprofit partner can benefit your business and social enterprise goals.
- Authentically build up leadership skills and recognition: Partnerships like ours allow decision-makers to become invested in and educated about a cause so that they themselves can spread the word. In our case, UTC leadership traveled to Peru with the Flying Eye Hospital for the Mobile Simulation Center’s debut, and got to see the work Orbis volunteers and staff accomplish in just one week of simulation training. Those leaders have since been able to join Orbis for panels and other events to tell the story of the work they saw firsthand, gaining visibility as thought leaders for social good.
- Inspire and engage employees and customers: Working together can provide diverse opportunities to share impact stories, whether via internal employee networks, external newsletters and/or social media, increasing motivation to stay engaged and attracting new relationships to the business. From elevating World Sight Day with Orbis, to #GivingTuesday, to the year-end giving period, the UTC team now has new content to share with their audiences since we formed our partnership—both personal stories of individuals whose lives have been changed by UTC’s involvement, and closely-tracked data.
- Expand your corporate reputation as not just a leader for one cause, but in social responsibility as a whole: Preventing and treating blindness isn’t just a question of eyesight and health, it’s also an issue of economic freedom, gender equity and mobility. Eliminating avoidable blindness is one of the most cost-effective ways of fighting poverty. For every $1 invested in blindness prevention, more than $4 is returned in economic terms. Understanding that health links directly to global development—and being able to highlight these causes in their marketing and events—allows UTC to be a part of something bigger than just restoring vision.
Whether with Orbis or one of the many other great organizations in the nonprofit sector, there are more opportunities today than ever before to ensure that one more partnership means one less obstacle for a girl like Derly, who now hopes to give back and be a doctor when she grows up. In other words, partnering with a nonprofit doesn’t just make for a good image—it makes good economic and business sense.
Bob Ranck is CEO of Orbis.
The Orbis Flying Eye Hospital Program in Trujillo, Peru. Image courtesy of Orbis.
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