By Stephanie Godward, Director of Marketing and Communications, RestoringVision
RestoringVision is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2023. As part of our celebration, we present a new blog series honoring and recognizing our board members, partners, and leaders who have helped to advance our mission to empower millions of people across the globe annually with clear vision. This is the first in our new series: 20 Years of Clear Vision.
Ambassador Mary Ann Peters, a dynamic global leader who has served as diplomat, CEO of The Carter Center, provost of the U.S. Naval War College, and in other prestigious positions, now brings her depth of expertise to her role as a board member at RestoringVision, whose focus is on solving uncorrected refractive error for people in need across the globe.
A poignant phrase that inspires Mary Ann was shared with her by a former Carter Center colleague: “The meaning of life is to plant trees whose shade you’ll never enjoy.” “I believe it is important to “plant trees,” – to invest in people’s futures – even if we never personally see the results of our efforts,” she says.
Mary Ann joined RestoringVision’s board of directors in 2021, driven by her respect for fellow board member Reade Fahs, CEO of National Vision, Inc. Her decision to join was solidified after meeting the rest of the board and leadership team and seeing their personal drive to solve the global vision crisis, which leaves 1 billion people around the world with a vision impairment that could be prevented or corrected. Of those people, 81% only need reading glasses to see clearly.
“What excites me is the leadership role RestoringVision is taking in bringing this issue to the attention of the world, working with organizations that can help do something about it, such as the United Nations and World Health Organization. RestoringVision’s message is that the vision crisis is a solvable global health problem and solving it will bring immense benefits in terms of well-being and prosperity.” As Mary Ann says, “With commitment and cooperation, we can actually put this big global problem behind us— that is RestoringVision’s inspiring message.”
Mary Ann sees similarities between RestoringVision’s work in solving the vision crisis and the work of The Carter Center on river blindness and blinding trachoma. River blindness can be eliminated — and has been eliminated in many parts of the world—and blinding trachoma can be eliminated as a public health concern. “One of my Carter Center colleagues, the great epidemiologist Dr. Frank Richards, used to say that solving a problem once and for all – as you do when you eradicate or eliminate a disease – is a quintessential human aspiration.”
“Solving the vision crisis is a high mountain to climb but it can be done. We can ensure access to eyeglasses for all the people who need them to see better, to work better, and to live better. Once you give people the ability to see clearly, they can get jobs, keep jobs, make more money, solve their own problems – and then they can help to solve global problems.”
This is precisely why it is so important to ensure that vision health is on the global agenda, especially at the level of the United Nations, World Health Organization, and World Bank.
“Since 2019 when the WHO issued the World Report on Vision, people have recognized this as a global public health issue. That’s important first because it is true. It is a public health issue. When any other part of the body works imperfectly, it is considered a health issue – and that is true for our eyes as well,” Mary Ann says. “It is also imperative to recognize that this is a development issue. When clear vision is restored, people are better able to earn a living or go back to school. That has a demonstrable impact in achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.”
“The links between prioritizing vision health and achieving 8 of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals are clear, especially when it comes to advancing education, work, and equality,” Mary Ann says. And, she stresses the importance of clear vision for women across the globe who are still struggling for equity at all levels of their lives.
Because women are more likely to suffer from vision loss – just as they are more likely to be illiterate or poor – they are already behind the starting line when it comes to achieving equality. “We know that empowering women and allowing them to contribute as much as they can to their communities, their families, and the world, is good for all of us,” says Mary Ann. “As is often true, the right thing to do– empowering women – is also the smart thing to do. Treating women fairly, bringing them into public life, giving them access to education and to work– these things are also good for men and boys.”
“The statistics on this are clear– greater equality for women is associated with better education and health, higher per capita income and faster and more inclusive economic growth, benefits that accrue to everyone. Bringing more women into the workplace contributes substantially to economic development. And in most jobs today, you cannot work if you cannot see clearly.”
As part of Mary Ann’s determination to plant seeds of progress across the globe, she is deeply committed to helping to solve one of the world’s most solvable problems by bringing her experience and wisdom to RestoringVision’s commitment to solving the global vision crisis.
“I have had the privilege of seeing a lot of the world in my life. I have seen some wonderful things, and I have seen some very sad sights that I wish I could erase. And I’ve seen how people all over the world can solve their own problems with just a little help.”