The Observatory

Q&A with John Jeffries OAM

Vision 2020 Australia talks to John Jeffries, former National Director of CBM Australia and Founding Board member of Vision 2020 Australia, as he reflects on his career in the eye health, vision care and disability sectors, and the lives he has impacted along the way.

John with the Vision 2002 Australia Board Members in 2014

  • John, you have been working in the eye health and vision care sector for 33 years. What are some of the changes you have seen during this time?

The biggest change is also the most fantastic change – after centuries of the number of blind people increasing year by year, we are finally seeing a decrease in the number of blind people in the world. This has been greatly influenced by Vision 2020.

  • You spoke recently about the progress being made towards the elimination of avoidable blindness, what do you believe the key achievements in this area have been so far?

The biggest achievement is gaining the support and collaboration of governments and agencies around the world to join together to systematically implement programmes that address avoidable and preventable blindness. Without these programmes there would be tens of millions more blind people today.

  • In a world where there are so many conflicting priorities, why is think collaboration important?

CBM’s by-line is “Together We Can Do More” and this is more than a cute phrase – it speaks to the ability of people to achieve more when they act in unity.

  • You are a Founding Board member of Vision 2020 Australia, what was it about the Vision 2020 initiative that attracted you to this role?

In the mid 90’s I, and many others, faced head-on the stark reality that global blindness was increasing, and yet we had the techniques and medicines to counter many blinding conditions. We can now add to this a cadre of trained personnel around the world who are using such techniques and medicines to address blinding conditions.

  • Last year, you were awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for your tireless work to improve the quality of life of the world’s poorest people with disabilities. Could you share a story of someone whose life was improved through CBM Australia’s work?

Recently I met Kumi in Goroka PNG – he had been blind for 15 years and had walked 7 hours to seek treatment for bilateral cataract. He was somewhat surprised that the CBM doctor did a surgical procedure on him – he was expecting that the doctor would take out his eyes and give them a polish! He can now see again

  • What would you like to see happen in eye health and vision care in the next 10-20 years?

We need to keep making the techniques and medicines accessible to those in the hardest to reach, and poorest places in the world.

  • Finally, what is in store for you in the next phase of your career?

My wife and I will use our long-service leave to reflect and consider what we may do next – hopefully with less travel!

  • John, on behalf of the Vision 2020 Australia Board and staff, thank you for your contributions to both Vision 2020 Australia  and the broader sector. We wish you all the best for the future. 
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About the Author

John Jeffries OAM

Former Chief Executive Officer, CBM Australia; Member, Australian Institute of Company Directors; Graduate, Institute of Strategic Leadership. John has served with CBM Australia since 1982, the past 19 years as CEO. During this time John has contributed to the worldwide growth of CBM into the largest organisation working with and for people with disabilities in the developing world. His international commitments have included service on the Boards of CBMI Switzerland, CBM USA, and also the key strategy development bodies of the global CBM Family. He chairs the CBM National Director's Committee. John has also served on the boards of the Centre for Eye Research Australia, Servants Community Housing and Optometry Giving Sight.View author's posts
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