Business Travel

Visionary businessman wants to cure blindness

James Chen‭, ‬founder of eye-care campaign Clearly‭, ‬on helping the world see and the changing role of philanthropy‭ ‬

Tell us about your day-to-day life.

My day job is to run my family office operation, Legacy Advisors Ltd. I call it my day job, but I prefer to spend my time in the realm of philanthropy and social investing. That’s my real passion.

What’s the role of philanthropy today?

In every society you have social issues. Most people think these are government responsibilities, but it’s against their nature to be change agents. Businesspeople, however, have the mindset, so being able to apply that to philanthropy makes a lot of sense. Also, for wealthy families, the risk is ours. This means we can back something innovative but risky. I hope more wealthy families can take the lead to fund these types of projects at the outset, and then governments can scale them up.

The Clearly campaign is your biggest philanthropic project. What’s it about?

Clearly is structured around one question: how can the whole world see? Poor vision is the number one unaddressed disability in the world. There are 250 million people globally with poor vision but with no access to correction. So our goal is to have the whole world seeing by 2035. If Elon Musk can put a man on Mars by then, we must have the capability to help the world to see it.

What does the campaign involve?

We launched the Clearly Vision Prize, with a US$250,000 prize pot for ideas to solve the problem at hand. The winners spanned remote diagnostics and open-source eye-screening tools, innovations I’m convinced will revolutionise eye care, particularly in the developing world. We are also holding international Clearly Labs, a forum designed to bring the best minds in the world together to try and solve this problem.

Hong Kong philanthropist James Chen
Credit: Gary Ng, Common Studio

Outside the realm of philanthropy, what else is exciting you?

Fintech. I don’t think the average person realises how game-changing it can be. People think about bitcoin, but blockchain can change the way everyone manages their money. It could be very disruptive to the banking industry and work for the developing world, too.

You’re a frequent flyer. Do you have any tips on the art of travel?

I’m always looking for that magic potion that will cure jetlag. Now there’s a business opportunity! I’m currently testing carrot juice and bananas – very low tech.

What’s the best advice you’ve received?

Don’t ask for permission; it’s better to ask for forgiveness. It’s something I think is very relevant to any entrepreneur.

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