Moonshot Philanthropy

James Chen

The DRIVE trials are part funded by the Chen Yet Sen Family Foundation, led by philanthropist James Chen.

His father, Robert Yet-Sen Chen, overcame war, poverty and famine to establish an international business enterprise, ultimately building schools, hospitals and funding much-needed public works in his hometown of Qidong, China.

He felt that philanthropy was about far more than writing cheques – it was hands-on and about demonstrating a passion and commitment to the causes he cared for. This spirit and audacious approach inspired James, leading him to seek out issues that he could tackle impactfully.

Vision Correction

For James, that issue was vision correction. He found that almost 2.2 billion people around the world struggle with uncorrected poor vision and wondered why a very simple, 700-year-old technology – glasses – were not universally accessible.

Over almost two decades since, James has funded or founded numerous projects and built domain expertise in vision correction. With policy commitment from the Commonwealth Heads of Government and the United Nations to prioritise vision for all through his Clearly campaign, he has now chosen to fund DRIVE, in order to prove the effectiveness of eyecare as a golden thread to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

Moonshot Philanthropy

James named his audacious approach ‘Moonshot Philanthropy’, a bold vision of leadership, thinking and investment inspired by John F. Kennedy’s 1962 Rice University address, committing to putting a man on the moon by the end of that decade.

Kennedy recognised in his speech that all great and honourable actions are accompanied with great difficulties, and both must be enterprised and overcome with answerable courage, that we choose to take on the greatest challenges not because they are easy, but because they are hard.

For James Chen, his moonshot is universal access to vision correction. But beyond this one sector, he sees a need for the same high-risk/high-reward innovations and acquired expertise that defined the original moonshot, as well as his own philanthropic journey, to drive global health, equity, peace and sustainability for tomorrow’s world.

Addressing these challenges promises high costs and hardships, but the rewards for success will be far greater for those risks. And it is philanthropists who are perfectly equipped to take them. With the capital they can put into early-stage, innovative ideas, high net worth individuals have the capacity to privatise their failures and socialise their successes for the good of all.

DRIVE looks to prove not only the effectiveness of vision correction on the Sustainable Development Goals themselves, but that investing long-term patient capital is the enlightened approach that philanthropists should operate with to bring about systemic change.