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Focus on People

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that of the approximately 2.2 billion people globally with vision impairment, nearly half should have been preventable, or have yet to be addressed. In children, vision impairment can delay learning and development; in adults, it can lower workforce participation and productivity. The WHO calculates an annual loss of productivity of $411 billion due to vision impairment, as compared to a cost gap of $25 billion that it would take to address these cases.

Alcon calls itself “the largest eye care device company in the world.” Focused on both surgical and vision care segments, Alcon pioneered soft contact lenses that need less frequent replacement, and created the modern “droptainer” for dispensing eyedrops. More recently, the company has rapidly grown its device offerings through acquisitions and development. Today, Alcon serves patients in more than 140 countries, with headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.

Given the shortfalls in vision care identified by the WHO, Alcon’s global footprint represents an opportunity—especially for a company that traces its history of supporting medical missions back to 1964. In 2021 alone, Alcon responded to this opportunity by supporting 73 medical missions, which in turn provided more than 11,000 surgeries and treated more than 40,000 patients. The same year, the company’s four-decade partnership with non-profit Orbis International “helped train more than 680 eye care professionals in 75 countries, who performed 3.6 million eye screenings and examinations and 38,000 surgeries in Ethiopia, Bangladesh, India, China, Mongolia, Vietnam, Zambia, Ghana, Peru, Nepal, Guyana, Bolivia and South Africa.” Another charitable initiative has progressed halfway to the company’s goal of donating 100 phaco machines (the standard of care for treatment of cataracts) to hospitals in underserved areas, selected based on Alcon’s criteria for knowledge of local health systems and ability to report back on progress. And the company says its Phaco Development program reached an additional 540 doctors in 2021, who provided approximately 1.4 million vision procedures.

Taken together, Alcon is targeting charitable vision improvements for 5 million cataract-afflicted people by 2025, including 1 million who are considered cataract-blind. Such scale will only be possible with a strategic focus on training and equipment; by targeting local professionals and hospitals, the company can vastly amplify its impact, as compared to attempting to reach individual patients on its own.

Alcon’s focus on people applies close to home as well. Certified as a “Great Place to Work” based on employee surveys and other measures, the company’s workforce is 48% women, and it conducts annual pay equity analyses per Swiss law to ensure gender pay parity. Alcon also reports 47% ethnic diversity in its US workforce, with US manager-level ethnic diversity at 32% and global manager-level gender diversity at 34%. The company has been recognized as a “Best Place to Work for LGBTQ Equality” in 2022, with a perfect score of 100 from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). And its 11 employee resource groups and special interest groups, which include African Ancestry Cultivating Excellence, Alcon Chinese Association, Open Professional Employee Network (LGBTQ+ and allies) and Women Innovating Now, represent a best practice for inclusion and belonging.

Like any company, Alcon has areas for improvement. While the company tracks emissions, it should report to CDP and establish more ambitious, net zero goals for carbon reduction. The company has also simply suspended new investments and clinical trial enrollment in Russia, while keeping the rest of its business operating there despite Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But even in this, as a medical company Alcon can plausibly claim a charitable side to its motives. The company has also donated ophthalmic surgical supplies to Ukraine, along with making donations to the Red Cross there, even as it continues to serve Russian people with vision impairment. In keeping with its core business, Alcon remains singularly focused on people.