Last month we announced that Kashinath Bhoosnurmath would be transitioning from overseeing our international programs to leading Operation Eyesight as president and CEO. We wanted to give our supporters a chance to learn more about him and our plans for 2021.
Having just stepped into your new role as CEO, what are you looking forward to most?
When I first joined Operation Eyesight 11 years ago, I was overcome with inspiration to pursue our mission to prevent blindness and restore sight. Operation Eyesight soon became an important part of my identity. This strong inspiration continues to drive me today, and I’m very excited to lead this team as we continue to pursue our vision of the elimination of avoidable blindness.
With my impending move to Calgary, I’m very excited to be able to meet and work with our donors. Operation Eyesight has had longstanding donors that span decades of giving – that kind of passion and belief in our cause is commendable. We also have many donors who have recently discovered our work and are equally committed to it. I am excited to meet our donors and hear from them directly, especially as I’ve been fortunate to see and meet our beneficiaries in the field. I hope I can share these stories on what has inspired me to take on this new role.
What motivates you about your new role?
With my own home country of India known as the “blind capital of the world”, I have seen firsthand the suffering of children, men and women. I have also seen the incredible impact Operation Eyesight has made among vulnerable populations. I have seen entire villages declared free of avoidable blindness, thanks to our donors and the diligent efforts of our passionate employees and partners. As president and CEO, I’m excited to have the opportunity to build on our past success and expand our work to help even more people.
True inspiration comes with challenges. As I look to the future of Operation Eyesight, I am motivated to continue to deliver our important work to those who are needlessly suffering. That motivation comes from the latest IAPB Vision Atlas report stating that over 1 billion people are living with vision loss because they do not have access to basic eye care services, yet a staggering 90 percent of all vision loss is preventable or treatable.
What is your vision for Operation Eyesight as you take on this role?
I believe, because of all that we have been doing collectively, Operation Eyesight has become a key player in the global eye health sector. We have a very strong team of dedicated employees who have worked together to make this happen. After decades of success using our community eye health model, we have been invited by ministries of health to present it as a proven way to address gaps in current eye health offerings. We provide input on governments’ national eye health strategies, advocating for them to include eye health as part of universal health coverage. A healthy, resilient population is a productive and vibrant population. We are showing governments and ministries of health that investing in eye health creates sustainable change in communities. Our model is designed to create change that will last, by incorporating health education and empowering communities to take control over their own eye health.
As we move into the future of Operation Eyesight, we will continue to focus on creating access to eye health care for marginalized populations. We will be bringing eye health care directly to the people who need it the most – through building and strengthening vision centres right in the communities where they’re needed; through technological solutions to bring screening and diagnosis capabilities directly to people where they live; and through other ways of reaching people where they are, such as mobile eye units. I’m very excited to see the change that will happen in people’s lives as a result of these new projects.
I’m eager for us to identify new growth opportunities and build on our successes to deepen and expand the impact of what we have already been doing successfully, so we can help even more people. We have a great opportunity to expand to new markets and contribute to the global achievement of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
Throughout our history as an organization, collaborations have been vital to our continued success, and I am looking at new initiatives and partnerships with new governments and international organizations.
Can you share a story that has had a great impact on you in your time with Operation Eyesight?
Our community health workers show incredible dedication to helping people who have lived helplessly with blindness, feeling like there is no solution. They often live in the communities where they work, and they become trusted and respected members of their communities. It can be hard work, but they consistently go above and beyond, knowing the profound difference they can make in the lives of the people who need their help the most.
I once spoke with a community health worker who knocked on a door during a routine door-to-door survey and no one answered. She thought she heard something inside and she carefully walked in, not wanting to invade anyone’s privacy, but she had a gut feeling that someone in the shelter needed her help. She found an elderly woman who was blind from cataracts; she had been left alone and was completely helpless. The woman had been alone in the dingy hut for days, completely starved and too weak to move. The community health worker helped the woman bathe, fed her and she knew the woman was sick enough that she needed medical attention to survive. Without any mode of transportation, the community health worker carried the woman many kilometres to the nearest health facility. The exceptional compassion demonstrated by this community health worker and the impact it had on the life of the woman she saved is something I will never forget. She saved this woman’s sight and her life.
While our sight-saving programs have been ramping up, COVID-19 still presents challenges. What are you looking forward to in a world where life is more normal?
I have had the privilege to live in one of the countries where we work (India), and make many visits to our other countries of operation. I have seen an elderly woman walk into our clinic in the morning completely unable to see due to untreated cataracts, and by the next morning, she can walk home and see her grandchild’s face for the very first time. Meeting the people who have been helped by our programs and seeing this transformation take place in their lives firsthand is incredibly moving and has had a profound effect on my life.
Knowing that our donors are equally passionate and committed to the work we do, I am looking forward to the opportunity to bring some of our donors to our countries of operation so they can see our programs at work and meet some of the people whose lives have been transformed by their generosity.
What would you like to say to Operation Eyesight supporters?
I can never thank you enough for being part of the Operation Eyesight family, and for your continued support. With your dedication to our mission, I am confident that we will continue the success of our programs and continue to make a difference in the lives of people who desperately need it. I look forward to seeing where our journey takes us together.
Through your generosity, we are able to strengthen the capacity of our partner hospitals and empower our target communities, leading to the elimination of avoidable blindness in these communities for years to come. You should be incredibly proud of the impact you are making. Thank you for your passion and commitment to our cause.
Now that you’ve shared with us your experiences and vision for the organization, we’d like to get to know you a little better.
Can you tell us more about your family?
I have been married to my wife, Sujata, for 35 years, and we have two sons. Sujata is a talented artist. Hemant, our oldest son, is an aeronautical engineer and lives in France. Rajat, our younger son, is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in program management in Hong Kong. I am grateful to all of them, as they had to make several adjustments and sacrifices to support the nature of my work, which involved a huge amount of travel.
Growing up, how did your family shape the person you are today?
My parents, both no longer with us, have shaped my values, personality and behaviour. My father was a professor of physics and a well-known writer. He was considered the “father of science fiction” in Kannada (my mother tongue). My mother was a writer, too. Her best story that I read when I was 10 or 11 years old was titled, “First win your family and then the society”. I am proud of my parents and grateful that I am their child.
It sounds like you have had the opportunity to travel a lot. How many countries have you visited?
I am basically a wanderer. I must have visited over 40 countries so far. I regret that I have done very little sightseeing in these countries. I have worked on three different continents (Asia, Africa and Europe) and in locations where temperatures ranged between +50 degrees Celsius and -40 degrees Celsius.
What do you like to do in your leisure time?
I read books. Philosophy, history and spirituality interest me the most. I also love travelling with family and friends.