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Improve people’s lives by improving their sight

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In the light of Essilor’s mission “improve people’s lives by improving their sight”, Jayanth Bhuvaraghan, Chief Mission Officer of Essilor International and Chairman of the Essilor Social Impact Fund, lays out how the eyewear manufacturer steers each of its actions in order to achieve it. Inspiring interview as part of our Responsible Way #8.

How did the idea of formulating a mission come about? Why did you decide to go down this route and who made the decision?

Since the company’s origins in 1849, our mission has essentially been the same: to improve people’s lives by improving their sight through technological innovation, superior products and geographic expansion. Despite our relentless efforts and the progress we have made, we knew a large number of people were still living without vision correction. In 2012 Essilor commissioned a study to better understand the problem; the findings showed that over 4 billion people needed vision correction, out of which 2.5 billion – or a third of the world’s population – still didn’t have the vision correction they needed.

Faced with these staggering figures, our Chairman and CEO decided to create the role of Chief Mission Officer and to dedicate specific resources to increasing awareness of the importance of good vision and accelerating access to vision care solutions for everyone, everywhere. I was named Chief Mission Officer, reporting directly to the Chairman, to lead the global deployment of the Group’s Mission and step up our efforts to reach the 2.5 billion living without vision correction. My appointment was just one of many steps the company has taken - and continues to take - towards eradicating poor vision.

Can you explain these steps?

Every action at Essilor contributes to our mission. For example, through innovation we continue to bring ever better products to the 2 billion people who already correct their sight. We also work to help people protect their vision from the sun. Finally, with the increased use of digital devices, there is also a growing need to help people protect their vision against the harmful effects
of blue light.

To reach the 2.5 billion living without vision correction we focus on two main areas of action: creating access and raising awareness on the importance of vision care. To create access, we develop new inclusive business models and non-profit initiatives. As part of this effort, we are creating new approaches in terms of product development, pricing and distribution. We have also developed programs to train and empower individuals as primary vision care providers to bring eye care to their respective and often remote communities. We have created more than 5,400 active primary vision care providers to date in countries like India, China, Indonesia and Brazil, to name a few. We also work with local partners such as hospital groups or non-profit organizations to create infrastructure such as vision clinics and mobile vision vans that bring eye care to the doorsteps of people in remote locations.

In addition, we continuously work to raise awareness and make the case for healthy vision, notably through the Vision Impact Institute, a non-profit organization founded by Essilor that curates and communicates scientific data related to the impact of uncorrected poor vision and works with vision advocacy groups to encourage policy change.

We focus on two main areas of action: creating access and raising awareness on the importance of vision care

Through this comprehensive approach, our goal is to ultimately correct and protect the vision of everyone, everywhere in the world.

Who carries the mission at Essilor? How has the company made it its own?

The mission is deeply integrated into our strategy and day-to-day actions. It defines who we are as a business. Starting with a technician in a laboratory creating prescription lenses, to an employee volunteering with the Essilor Vision Foundation to screen disadvantaged people to our teams working in remote areas to create sustainable access to vision care, each of our 64,000 employees contributes to the mission.

Employee engagement and connection to the mission is critical to our success. For instance, we have integrated the mission into our compensation structure for senior leaders and developed an interactive communication tool to inform and engage all employees about the problem and consequences of poor vision and how – together – we are working to improve the lives of 7.4 billion people in the world.

Lab Essilor

What are the consequences of the existence of the mission on relationships with stakeholders: suppliers, customers, employees, investors?

Our mission is clearly a huge differentiator for our stakeholders, as it creates value for all. It strengthens commercial relationships and partnerships, enabling us to work even more closely with professionals in the optical industry; it helps us connect with consumers and differentiates us from our competitors; it generates
new consumers and opens up new markets.

Essilor Vision

It also helps us attract, engage and retain the best talent and foster pride for all our 64,000 employees. Likewise for investors, particularly socially responsible investors, the Essilor mission is an appealing differentiator. As such, the mission doesn’t just benefit one group of stakeholders – it’s beneficial across the value chain.

How are these stakeholders associated with achieving the mission?

As I mentioned earlier, each and every one of our employees directly or indirectly contributes to advancing our mission through their work at Essilor. Some of them even go the extra mile, by supporting the mission outside of their daily job, through actions like volunteering, donating or spreading the word on the importance of good vision among family and friends.

Shop Essilor

When it comes to suppliers, they are increasingly involved in the fulfillment of our mission. On World Sight Day (WSD) for instance, which takes place in October every year, they help us spread the message to raise awareness of the importance of good vision, among their employees or on social networks. More than 50 suppliers participated in WSD in 2017, in 15 countries worldwide and in various fields such as transport, IT, infrastructure management, travel agencies or catering services. It is great to be able to work with them hand in hand to advance our cause.

And then of course there’s our customers and consumers, who are helping us carry out our mission by choosing our products. More than 1 billion people around the world are already wearing Essilor Group products today and that’s something we are very proud of – but we want this number to grow further as more people need vision correction or protection.

How is the mission evaluated?

We measure the number of people we equip with our vision correction and protection solutions each year.

We also determine how many people have been equipped for the first time through our inclusive business and philanthropic activities; this number has grown from 100,000 in 2013 to over 4 million in 2017, or cumulatively 12 million over the past 4 years. Our target is to reach 50 million by 2020.

From this year, we are also planning to measure the role mission plays in employee engagement.

How does the mission serve the performance, and vice versa?

In our case, it’s simple: everything starts and ends with our mission. By continuously innovating, we ensure more and more people are able to buy the products they need, wherever they are in the world. To reach the 2.5 billion who live with uncorrected poor vision, 90% of whom are in the developing world, we use our inclusive business programmes to create sustainable vision care delivery models and new wearers in the most underdeveloped areas and to make a positive social and economic impact on society through better vision. Through this holistic approach, we are able to retain satisfied customers and find new ones to drive our future growth. The financial strength it provides in return allows us to further invest in our mission.

More than 1bn people around the world are already wearing essilor group products today and that’s something we are very proud of – but we want this number to grow

Do you think all companies could or should have a mission?

All companies have a mission of some kind. What’s important is ensuring it aligns to your business strategy and objectives, your values, your employees and all other stakeholders. When this is in harmony it creates success and the rewards create value for all.

At Essilor, we all feel very fortunate to be part of a company with a powerful mission that motivates all our stakeholders and truly helps people live better lives through our products. I think it is important for all companies to discover their true ‘raison d’être’ and embed it into their strategy and day-to-day operations.

Essilor Lab glasses

Download our Responsible Way #8 by clicking here

Jayanth Bhuvaraghan has over 33 years of experience in leadership and business development positions in the chemical engineering, automobile and ophthalmic optics industries. Mr. Bhuvaraghan joined Essilor in India in 1998, where he was responsible for successfully launching the company’s business across the sub-continent. In 2007 he was appointed President South Asia, ASEAN, Emerging Brands, Lab Operations & IT for the AMERA region, based out of Essilor’s regional HQ in Singapore.

He served on the Essilor International executive committee from January 2010 and is today a member of the Essilor International Management Committee. In March 2013, Jayanth was appointed Chief Mission Officer of Essilor International. He is also the Chairman of the Essilor Social Impact fund that is dedicated to creating social impact through vision care globally.

The opinions and estimates constitute our judgment and are subject to change without notice. We believe that the information provided in these pages is reliable, but it should not be considered exhaustive. These data, graphics or extracts were calculated or made on the basis of public information we believe to be reliable but which nevertheless have not been subject to independent verification on our part.

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