Seeing Eye to Eye

February 28, 2017

It’s been over three months since election day, and one month into a new administration in Washington, D.C., but in some ways, the political climate feels every bit as intense as it did leading up to November 8th. No matter which side of the aisle you come from, you don’t have to look far to find cynicism and uncertainty still lingering. I admit that some days it’s difficult to imagine everyone coming back from their respective corners and accomplishing some good together again. But when I look a little closer, I’m reminded that there’s a deep well of great people on both sides who still want to reach out and solve problems together. 

I don’t believe government can or should solve every problem, and neither can the private sector, but they can surely inspire each other to tackle big challenges. This year marks the 20th anniversary of one such challenge that VSP took on along with many others. In April of 1997, VSP’s second CEO, Roger Valine, traveled to Philadelphia for the America’s Promise Alliance Summit. Founded by General Colin Powell, America’s Promise Alliance brought together the largest network of national organizations and Presidents Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford and First Lady Nancy Reagan, all marching towards the common goal of improving the lives of America’s youth. 

Giving back has always been a part of VSP’s DNA, and Roger went to the summit in that spirit to commit $7 million for eye care for low income, uninsured, and underinsured children across the country. Fast forward two decades, and that initial commitment evolved into VSP’s Sight for Students Program, one of many Eyes of Hope initiatives that have helped more than 1.3 million people in need see. Sight for Students has changed the lives of more than 724,000 students who received a no-cost eye exam and glasses with the help of community partners and our network of 37,000 independent eye doctors. More than 70% of the students are referred by school-based partners, ensuring children can see well to succeed in class. Without responding to the challenge from America’s Promise Alliance, a sense of urgency and collaboration to formalize a program wouldn’t have been created and many of these students would have struggled in school longer, all because of a simple lack of access to eye care was going unaddressed. 

While this is one example of business and government coming together to help those in need, we can’t overlook quicker paths to solutions when possible. Business leaders can and should step up and do the right thing without waiting for a cue from government. Take gender pay equity as an example: The business community shouldn’t be waiting for silver bullet legislation that will solve this problem. Much of the problem can be solved if business leaders institute "equal pay for equal work" within their organizations, while also advocating for it publicly and bringing more awareness and dialogue around the issue.

It’s easy to think that in such polarizing times, we’re headed for more gridlock and nothing getting done. But we have to resist that thinking and start talking with those around us again to find common purpose. There will always be different perspectives on issues, but there are so many in which we can see eye to eye. There’s a greater impact waiting to be made if we come together to solve our challenges.

As F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” 

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