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'Flying eye' a welcome sight

Published on Friday, 30 Nov 2012
Darren How, manager of branding and communications and head of corporate social responsibility, Jebsen
Photo: Berton Chang

When Jebsen Group staff visited a remote part of China’s Gansu province in May this year to witness eye-care work funded by their company, they got to ride on the only “flying eye” hospital in the world.

The hospital, owned by nonprofit organisation Orbis International, was carrying eye-care professionals and ophthalmic training equipment to treat patients in the province.

“Sight is something most people take for granted, but in some places, good eye care is not enjoyed due to limited resources and awareness,” says Darren How, Shanghai-based manager of branding and communications and head of corporate social responsibility (CSR) at Jebsen.

“Orbis’ mission is to go to Gansu and perform surgery on people who need it. With their flying eye hospital, we can say ‘if you’re not able to come to us, we’ll come to you.’”

The trip was part of Project Morning Star, a five-year partnership between Jebsen and Orbis which aims to train local doctors and deliver eye-care services to poor people in rural China. Jebsen has committed 5 million yuan (HK$6.2 million) to the project.

“We’ve seen a lot of growth in our business in China so we had a desire to give back to society there. We especially wanted to help underprivileged people in remote parts,” How says.

“Orbis is a recognisable name. They’ve been established for a long time. Their flying eye hospital is a concept that you won’t see anywhere else and is in line with what we want to do.”

When the partnership was formed, Orbis was also relatively new in China and was searching for a large organisation to help fund its programmes. “It’s a mutually satisfying partnership. We wanted to do something on a bigger scale, and they wanted to work with a bigger partner to get more funding. That’s how our partnership was forged,” How says.

Jebsen’s CSR team ensured that every employee had a fair chance of joining the field trip. The 10 randomly selected staff members who went to Gansu represented a cross section of Jebsen’s different business units in Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.

Though trips offer a few days off from work, How and his team abstain from promoting Project Morning Star as a holiday. “We don’t want to sell it that way. The appeal is the good work itself. Our message to employees is to come and join us to do something meaningful and witness how Jebsen and Orbis are making a difference in the lives of the underprivileged,” he says.

Over a five-year period, an estimated 10 per cent of Jebsen’s employees are expected to be involved in field trips. The next batch of volunteers is scheduled to visit another of Orbis’ project sites in Gansu in November.

Though only a few employees can join at a time, Jebsen also tries to involve those left behind. A donation drive carried out prior to May’s visit collected about 7,000 household items, including stationery, toys and clothes. “This was successful beyond our expectations,” How says.

As part of their four-day trip, Jebsen’s volunteers visited local schools where they met children scheduled for surgery. The experience also created a bond of friendship among the participants.

Jennifer Kho, general manager of Jebsen Beer, urged her co-volunteers to “not let go of what we experienced in Gansu” and to continue to “extend our support beyond the group”.

After their return, participants continued to exchange ideas on various ways to help. One suggested, for instance, that instead of buying the usual gifts for the company’s annual Lunar New Year dinner, items should be purchased to donate to Orbis instead.

“They came back as ambassadors for the programme, promoting it and giving recommendations on what future volunteers can do,” How says.

One volunteer wrote to a child she met in Gansu to check on her progress. The child replied: “I used to have very little confidence ... and wonder why life was so unfair. When I was in pain, you held my hands and encouraged me. Thanks to you, I have started a new page in my life. My eyes have now fully recovered. Your love and care for me will propel me forward as I continue to learn.”

How says Jebsen’s core value is to enrich people’s lives. “The products and services that we distribute represent our aim to make a difference. Through this programme we’re actually extending this core value,” he says.

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