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Home The Lions Blog LCIF Celebrates SightFirst Program’s 30th Anniversary

LCIF Celebrates SightFirst Program’s 30th Anniversary

Andrea Small and Caryn Lerner October 05, 2020

Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF) proudly empowers Lions’ service by offering unique and impactful initiatives, programs, and grants. As 20/20 is synonymous with eyesight, it is serendipitous that the year 2020 marks the 30th anniversary of SightFirst, one of LCIF’s most impactful grant programs.

Lions everywhere are proud of the immense impact we have made in vision around the world.

Established in 1990, the program aims to strengthen eye care systems in underserved communities, enabling them to fight blindness and vision loss and assist those who are blind or visually impaired. Through SightFirst, Lions, in cooperation with healthcare providers and partner organizations, have impacted sight for millions of people around the world.

It has been an amazing three decades, and it is just the start!

In the beginning
The year is 1925, and Lions – committed to vision initiatives since shortly after Lions Clubs International’s 1917 founding – are gathered at their annual international convention. Little do they know they are about to experience a transformative moment through a poignant appeal from Helen Keller. In her keynote convention address, Keller implores Lions to be “knights of the blind in the crusade against darkness.”

Lions hear her call loud and clear and embrace the responsibility and challenge. For more than a century, Lions’ efforts in sight have increased steadily day after day, year after year, decade after decade.

Fast forward to 1990. LCIF is in its 22nd year, and makes a landmark decision solidifying Lions’ leadership role in vision. With its 1990 launch of Campaign SightFirst, LCIF is on the cusp of empowering Lions to do even more to save sight and prevent blindness on a global scale. Through the inaugural SightFirst campaign and the subsequent Campaign SightFirst II, Lions’ Vision for All, launched in 2005, more than US$415 million have been raised to support efforts of Lions and partners through LCIF SightFirst grants.

The first SightFirst grants were awarded for projects to treat unoperated cataracts in Mexico and several countries in South America. Efforts have since expanded, with life-changing funding reaching Lions’ projects in 112 countries. LCIF SightFirst grants have empowered Lions to restore and improve vision for millions by aiding in delivering eye care services, training eye care professionals, upgrading existing eye care system infrastructure, and improving access to eye health education and rehabilitation for people who are blind or visually impaired.

Leveraging expertise
When you know more, you can do more. LCIF and Lions knew leveraging the expertise of eye care professionals could dramatically compound their impact. Increased knowledge could mean more children see their mothers for the first time, more families could achieve economic stability with a parent’s sight improved and the ability to earn a living restored, more elderly could see the world’s beauty clearly.

Thus, LCIF convened the first SightFirst Steering Committee – now the SightFirst Advisory Committee (SAC) – meeting in 1990. Since then, the committee, comprised of global blindness prevention experts and Lions leaders, has convened twice a year, every year. Discussions are lively, timely, and always relevant to communities Lions serve and challenges they encounter. Each meeting’s agenda also finds committee members examining Lions’ grant requests for vision-targeted service, ensuring LCIF funding is allocated to projects promising impactful results and meeting humanitarian needs.

With SAC project approval, Lions’ work “on the ground” begins, managing day-to-day project work, raising funds, providing advocacy, and coordinating outreach events and publicity. There with Lions, and backed by LCIF funding, are key SightFirst project partners, such as local health authorities, eye care professionals, and other non-governmental organizations.

SightFirst by the numbers
To date, more than US$370 million in SightFirst grants have been approved for over 1,330 projects in 112 countries. Through these initiatives, more than:

  • 9 million cataract surgeries have been performed.
  • 2 million professional eye care and community health workers have been trained.
  • 1,350 eye centers have been built, expanded, or equipped.
  • 185 million doses of medication have been distributed to control the painful eye infection trachoma found in communities lacking access to clean water and sanitation and that can lead to irreversible blindness.
  • 310 million doses of medication have been distributed to halt progression of river blindness, an infection spread by infected flies that can cause eye disease and permanent blindness.

“Lions everywhere are proud of the immense impact we have made in vision around the world,” said LCIF Chairperson Gudrun Yngvadottir. “With SightFirst funding from LCIF, we’ve heeded Helen Keller’s 1925 call to be knights of the blind. We’ve done so much in SightFirst’s initial 30 years. With continued funding from Lions and partners, we’ll continue the SightFirst legacy and create more historic changes in vision,” she said.

I Will Continue the SightFirst Legacy

Continue reading the SightFirst story below. Or, start at the beginning to hear how it all began.

Stronger together
LCIF and its SightFirst initiatives are no doubt powerful forces for the global good. Adding to that strength are world-renowned strategic partners.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is one such entity, and has provided strategic advice and direction to the SightFirst program since its early stages. Through SightFirst funding, one notable effort with WHO, the Project for the Elimination of Avoidable Childhood Blindness, has established 54 needs-based Lions eye care centers in 30 countries globally, delivering critical preventive, therapeutic, and rehabilitative eye care services. LCIF and the WHO have further partnered to develop a tool to assess management of both diabetes and diabetic retinopathy and to estimate the level of cooperation and synergy between these two branches of health care.

A child in Ethiopia receives treatment as part of the Lions Clubs International Foundation Childhood Blindness Project, offered in partnership with the World Health Organization.

Since 1994, through its partnership with The Carter Center, LCIF has invested SightFirst funds in Lions’ efforts to improve and restore vision through treatments for river blindness and trachoma, surgeries to reverse advanced trachoma, and build millions of latrines to reduce infection transmission. This partnership is among the world’s most ambitious and successful sight initiatives and has led to measurable change throughout Africa and the Americas.

Successful SightFirst programming also inspired additional 21st century partnerships that have exponentially increased Lions’ impact on vision around the world.

The Opening Eyes program, established through a partnership between Lions Clubs International and Special Olympics, began in 2001. Through Opening Eyes, Lions worldwide volunteer at Special Olympics games and conduct vision screenings and fit eyeglasses for athletes. The partnership also helps train vision care specialists how to provide better care. Since the program's inception, more than 400,000 athletes have been screened and prescription eyewear provided to more than 175,000 athletes.

A child in Ghana completes a school eye screening.

For nearly 20 years, LCIF has also partnered with Johnson & Johnson Vision, establishing Sight For Kids in 2002, a school-based eye health program that mobilizes Lions to provide eye health education, high-quality vision examinations, and referral access to professional eye care and treatment. To date, global Sight For Kids initiatives have screened more than 30 million students and provided treatment to more than 575,000; delivered over 500,000 pairs of eyeglasses to children in need, and educated over 190,000 teachers, volunteers, and Lions on eye health and equipped them with the proper materials to inform, assess, and refer students accordingly.

I’m Ready to Create Vision History

Celebrate success and…
Reflect on LCIF’s SightFirst impact over the past 30 years and you see tremendous evolution, unprecedented progress, the power of partnerships and millions worldwide healthier, happier, and more productive members of society. There is indeed much to celebrate.

As we look back, we must also look forward. In doing so, we see millions more are in need. The WHO reports that globally at least 2.2 billion people have vision impairment or blindness.

“LCIF’s and Lions’ efforts in vision, especially during the last 30 years through the Foundation’s SightFirst program, change lives around the world,” said Yngvadottir. “We are grateful LCIF continues to support Lions service, and I encourage Lions and others to continue supporting LCIF and SightFirst so we can continue to meet this important need.”

Support Vision, Support SightFirst

Learn more about the global impact of the SightFirst program. Or, start at the beginning to hear how it all began.


Andrea Small is senior marketing and public relations specialist for Lions Clubs International Foundation. Caryn Lerner is senior content specialist for Lions Clubs International Foundation.

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