Applying new philanthropy to blindness prevention

Applying new philanthropy to blindness prevention

Many ophthalmologists are applying new principles to philanthropy, according to Lawrence B. Brilliant, MD, MPH, executive director of Google.org, the umbrella organization for Google's philanthropic activities.

"It's so wonderful to be among a profession which has made prevention an international [priority]," said Dr. Brilliant in a blindness prevention symposium during the opening session Sunday morning. "I don't know of any other clinical profession in medicine which has taken into its bosom and its essence that kind of commitment."

Dr. Brilliant discussed recent changes occurring in philanthropy. There are many paradoxes, including cure versus prevention; the business of blindness versus the business of charity; and old philanthropy versus new philanthropy.

A question that may arise is where to focus: hospitals, doctors, surgical instruments, and training; outcomes; eye-care systems; or frameworks, for instance. The challenge is to understand whether one is working in a mature market or an underserved market, he said. Underserved markets can become mature by adopting practices of a good business model, such as efficiency, sustainability, quality, patient focus, service, and scalability.

The old philanthropy had its focus on charity on the local level, whereas the new philanthropy is becoming more businesslike.

The focus is global. We think of the work that we do as investments and not grants, he said. "We always ask before we write the check: 'Will this change the world?' "

Ophthalmologists can take steps to draw the new philanthropy into eye programs by adopting a social entrepreneurial approach; employing non-eye-care technology; automating patient and medical records; and using Web software, he suggested.