Social Purpose

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It’s been 50 years since the renowned economist Milton Friedman published his signature 1970 essay, “The Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase its Profits,” in The New York Times. The world has certainly changed over the past five decades, as has the view of the role business should play in a more socially conscious, consumer-empowered world. But one thing has remained fairly consistent: businesses are powerful. Indeed, perhaps more powerful than ever, according to a Kantar Consulting report, “Purpose 2020 – Inspiring Purpose-Led Growth.”

However, people today expect companies to use this power responsibly, the Kantar report stated, adding that 61 percent of millennials and 53 percent of middle-age Americans like brands that “have a point of view and stand for something.”

Or as BlackRock chief executive officer Larry Fink wrote in one of his recent annual letters on corporate governance, “Without a sense of purpose, no company, either public or private, can achieve its full potential. It will ultimately lose the license to operate from key stakeholders.”

This requirement for operating with a “sense of purpose” has not gone unnoticed by optical companies, eyecare professionals, opticians and others in the optical community. For example, many opticians and ODs volunteer their time to participate in mission trips to far-off places where eye exams are not a routine event, or to support their vendor partners in programs that take vision care to the places and people most in need. But a range of optical companies across the U.S. play a leading role in the effort to address vision care and to emphasize environmental and social issues at home.

“I have always thought it is important for every organization to consciously address the question, ‘In what way are we uniquely qualified to contribute to the greater good of the world?’” National Vision chief executive Reade Fahs said. “National Vision is all about making eyecare and eyewear more affordable and accessible.”

The Essilor Vision Foundation also is a leader in working to eliminate poor vision and to provide underprivileged people the opportunity to live a better life through better sight. The Foundation, a public, nonprofit organization based in Dallas, has provided more than 1 million pairs of eyeglasses to individuals in need since its debut in 2007. The goal of eliminating poor vision from the world by 2050 will require an investment of $14 billion over the next 30 years, according to Essilor’s groundbreaking report “Eliminating Poor Vision in a Generation.”

VSP Global’s Eyes of Hope initiative has a similar mission, and the program provides access to eyecare, eyewear and disaster relief where they’re needed most. Working with VSP network doctors, Eyes of Hope has provided access to no-cost eyecare and eyewear for more than 2 million people.

Independent non-profit OneSight started small in 1988 with an idea to give away 25 pairs of glasses to local kids who couldn’t afford them, and now has grown to a program that has impacted 21 million people in 49 countries. Its goal is “to eradicate the vision care crisis for good.”

Indeed, for optical companies, demonstrating commitment to programs that extend access to eyecare and eyewear to the areas of the world where they are in need—along with other socially responsible initiatives—is more the rule rather than the exception. This special section highlights some of the optical companies taking the lead in these programs – from Alcon and Bausch + Lomb to Marcolin and Kering – and the ways in which the optical community has come together to work toward a greater good.

A New View of the Corporation
The growing importance of corporate responsibility was further demonstrated in August, when the Business Roundtable issued an updated “Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation.” Since 1978, the Roundtable group has been issuing guidance on corporate governance, but typically they have endorsed principles of shareholder primacy. However, with the August update, the CEO group outlined a modern standard for corporate responsibility, a standard that commits companies to operate for the benefit of “all stakeholders,” including customers, employees, suppliers and communities—not just the shareholders.

Among the updates is a commitment to support the communities in which the companies operate. “We respect the people in our communities and protect the environment by embracing sustainable practices across our businesses,” the Roundtable’s updated statement noted.

Johnson & Johnson chairman and chief executive Alex Gorsky said he believes the organization’s new governance statement better reflects the way corporations should operate today. “It affirms the essential role corporations can play in improving our society when CEOs are truly committed to meeting the needs of all stakeholders.” (Gorsky chairs the Roundtable’s corporate governance committee.)

This month, Vision Monday for its December issue has compiled a rundown of a few of the optical community’s businesses that are demonstrating commitment and action toward social purpose. These programs are highlighted in the following pages and reflect the ways in which companies believe socially responsible actions may play a more important role in their future success.