James Chen, a philanthropist committed to solving global problems associated with vision and eye care, has been awarded an honorary degree from the University of Bath.
He received his honorary LLD (Doctor of Laws) degree at the Assembly Rooms, Bath, on Tuesday 10 December (12:15pm).
In 2011 James founded the Vision for a Nation charity, which has helped Rwanda to become the first low-income country to make eye care universally accessible to all of its 12 million citizens.
His efforts to promote good eye care and make glasses available to everyone who needs them has also resulted in the Clearly campaign, which was founded in 2016.
In 2018, with Clearly, James was part of a delegation that secured a commitment from the 53 Commonwealth nations to make affordable eye care available to all. He was also involved in creating the UN Friends of Vision, the United Nation’s first working group on eye health issues.
Ahead of the ceremony, James explained why he decided to tackle vision problems on a global scale. He said: “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.”
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. He is also the chairman of the Chen Yet-Sen Family Foundation, which focuses on improving childhood literacy, and of Wahum Group Holdings, a family-owned manufacturing business.
Helle Thorning-Schmidt, CEO of Save the Children International and former Prime Minister of Denmark, has praised James’s charitable efforts. During the launch of his book Clearly, she said: “I admire James Chen’s mission to help the billions of people on our planet with poor vision. In a world where we have made unprecedented progress, it is unforgivable that so many still struggle to see clearly. This time for the whole world to see has come.”
Dr Michael Proulx, Reader in the 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.
“He shows that it is possible to not only see the problems in the world, but to know how to fix them.”
You can read the full oration here.