Putting Glasses on Noses


James Brown was known as the Hardest Working Man in Show Business. James Chen might be the Hardest Working Man in the Optical Business, at least the non-profit sector of the optical business.

Chen is the driving force behind Clearly, a three year-old non-profit organization whose goal is eliminating poor vision throughout the world. The group’s mission is “Putting Glasses on Noses” of everyone who needs a pair, no matter who they are or where they live.

A philanthropist who has been pursuing this goal for more than a decade, Chen is also the founder of Vision for a Nation, an NGO that has provided eyeglasses to many people in Rwanda. He knows that in order to be effective you need government support, and that requires lots of data. Toward that end, Clearly is launching what Chen called “the world’s biggest research program on the power of glasses. “We want to show how poor vision impacts workers’ productivity. We’re also launching research linking clear vision to educational outcomes,” he told me recently. “We’re trying to shift the thinking out of the health silo into broader areas. We’re addressing things that governments say they want to do for their people. Improving productivity leads to higher income, and governments can’t do that if millions of people don’t have access to clear vision.”

Clearly is also studying the relationship of poor vision to road safety. “Road safety is not an Sustainable Development Goal, yet 1.4 million people die each year in road accidents, mostly in the developing world, said Chen. “We should test the vision of truck drivers. We have to quantify the connection between road safety and vision.”

Chen said Clearly will bring the results of its research not only to health ministries, but also finance ministries. “We’ll show them how much vision impairment will impact the economy.”

Chen believes ECPs in the developed world can help Clearly by lending their financial and moral support. “ECPs understand fundamentally the impact of poor vision. They can really play a big role in the public awareness category,” he asserted.

To learn more about Clearly and its programs, visit their website, and read Chen’s book, “Clearly: How a 700 Year Old Invention Can Change the World Forever.”

Click here to learn about Clearly's recent Sightgeist conference.

This article originally ran in the March, 2019 issue of 20/20 magazine.