In conversation with Nick Martin director of Fred Hollows Foundation

By Manju Mittal

The Fred Hollows Foundation was established in 1992 by eye surgeon Professor Fred Hollows. The foundation has helped treat and prevent avoidable blindness and other vision problems for more than two million people in Australia and 25 countries around the world.

As a writer and working in the disabilities services Industry, Fred Hollows Foundation motivated me to share the history of this charitable organisation, perhaps, to explore my own concerns about eye health care. Nick has been involved in the Fred Hollows Foundation since 2014.  Now that Fred Hollows Foundation has spread its wings and work in India by involving Amitabh Bachchan as an ambassador who is promoting eye health in India, I approached Nick Martin, director of Public Affairs for The Fred Hollows Foundation for a chit chat in Sydney:

Nick, Can you tell us your background and your transition from Politics to Fred Hollows Foundation and also your role involved in Foundation?

Well, It’s been a great exciting journey. I would say it was a fantastic move from politics to Fred Hollows Foundation. The Foundation is a wonderful place to work and it’s an amazing mission and cause. After working in politics for a long time you see a lot of the highs and lows of public life, and you get to make big changes and influence big decisions. For me it was about finding the ability to influence and change people’s lives on the ground.

The Fred Hollows Foundation does incredible work on the ground, where for mere $25 and with a 20 minute surgery you can give someone back their sight, and I couldn’t think of more inspiring or important work. When someone can see again it unlocks an entire life. They are able to go back to work, engage with their community and their family, and contribute to their local society.    

 As the director of Public Affairs, my role spans communications and media, including digital media, through to fundraising as well as government relations. Most importantly, we are not just an Australian based organisation; we are now truly global NGO. We work in 25 countries around the world and that means we also have communications staff based around the world, going out into the field, recording the surgeries, capturing stories and sharing them through our social media platforms and communication channels.

 The Fred Hollows Foundation has been restoring sight and bringing joy to the lives of people around the world for the past 23 years, we have delivered more than two million ”˜Fred Moments; giving people back their sight, all thanks to the generosity of Australians.  I have a fantastic rewarding job with the Foundation because it involves both telling stories about our work and raising funds to support our efforts. We are also now operating much more strongly in the Asia Pacific. So we are making sure that we are able to get people from centres around the world on board to help end avoidable blindness.

Shri Amitabh Bachchan spreading the word on the importance of eye health in India, how do you feel about it?

The Fred Hollows Foundation is honoured to have Shri Amitabh Bachchan spreading the word on the importance of eye health in India which ranks second in the world for blindness and vision impairment. It’s very exciting for us as well respected Icon of Indian Film Industry Mr Bachchan’s involvement is very powerful in Fred Hollows Foundation. Mr Bachchan’s voice is one that is listened to by people across the country. He has a long history of supporting campaigns for health issues in the country. We are getting overwhelming response and positive feedback from people. Mr Bachchan is urging people to go and get their vision checked at government approved quality eye care services.

Under the Foundation’s SEE NOW campaign, which launched in Uttar Pradesh recently, Mr Bachchan has an urgent but simple message for tens of millions of Indians-go and get your vision checked. The message will reach people in five key districts – Unnao, Lucknow, Raebareli, Lakhimpur Kheri and Sitapur, using radio, television, print, social media to provide information on eye health issues, local services, and how to access them.

In his campaign message, Mr Bachchan said, “Vision problems are extremely common in India. Currently about 550 million Indians have serious vision problems which affect their families, their work and their quality of life.” The SEE NOW campaign is funded by The Fred Hollows Foundation and in part by Essilor Vision Foundation, and in partnership with Sight savers India and Vision 2020 India among others.

In what ways can our readers contribute to Fred Hollows Foundation?

Most importantly connecting the local communities; create awareness to provide better eye care to Indigenous Australians. Take Mr Bachchan’s message to Social Media and let people know about campaign. We have full faith in people’s ability to contribute towards the eye health, whether it is through volunteering your time or financial contributions. Your donation will go to eye operations, training surgeons and sustainable eye health.

What is hardest part of running an NGO, like what are the daily obstacles that you need to combat to keep Fred Hollows afloat?

Yes, I have felt challenged countless times but the hardest part of dealing daily with lack of awareness and understanding. One of the common misconception in India is having eye surgery in summer that they might get eye infection because of humidity or hot weather but it’s not the case in modern age, you get eye drops, antibiotics and proper after care when the surgery is done. Cost of surgery it’s a big barrier for Indians; this is often compounded by numerous additional gendered barriers to access including lack of education, poor access to financial resources, inability to travel to a surgical facility.

What plans do you have for the future?

Our plan is working all around 25 countries at the moment, we are deeply involved working in all twenty five countries including India. The Fred Hollows Foundation has released ”˜Fred Moments’, a campaign is part of a drive to encourage donations to continue the late doctor’s work.

The campaign marks the 25th anniversary of Fred Hollows being named Australian of the year, and aims to directly link Fred Hollows with his international efforts to end avoidable blindness. Our new ”˜Fred Moments’ campaign simply captures the life-changing joy that a donation brings.

Nick, it is evident that you have experienced a successful and tremendous growth since the inception of Fred Hollows, What is the key ingredient that led to this? And also share your memorable project so far.

Joel Edgerton visited an eye camp conducted by The Foundation’s Nepalese partner organisation

I think one of the very important thing in charity is trust and every one knows how Fred Hollows works as we do work as we say, our donation goes to meaningful people and we are very trusted organisation. That’s the reason people are being very generous and very supportive for so many years. We are doing more and more and talking to people globally. Fred Hollows Foundation is a special organisation with a team I am very proud of with several offices around the globe.

My memorable projects are many but yes we have been very lucky to get support from wonderful people especially Mr Bachchan is incredible and one of his co star of ”˜Great Gatsby’ movie Joel Edgerton as they worked together in Hollywood. Joel has been a wonderful support of many years in foundation, he helped us raising funds more than half a million dollars for us in USA. We travelled together to Nepal and then took trips to regional Australia and had a look at the work they were doing.

 Any other message you would want to provide or talk about?

 I just encourage all your readers to spare small donation to Fred Hollows Foundation. Fred Hollows has always been a cherished icon in Australian culture. We are delighted and honoured that so many inspirational Australians of the year gave up their time to help us spread the work about Fred’s work. All of these people are leaders in their fields and were so generous in sharing their support for Fred’s vision to avoidable blindness. Fred’s legacy lives on through the support of hundreds of thousands of Australian each year who hear our compelling message for social change.

 It was pleasure interviewing Nick. We as educated citizens need to widen our perspective, get more awareness and get involved in the Fred Hollows Foundation and advocate the right cause that would benefit a larger population than a narrow segment of society. Make a secure tax deductible donation today, become a volunteer, your little support can go a long way and make a huge difference in people’s lives with their vision. Or promote Fred Hollows Foundation’s work through your social network. Every little gesture helps.

Short URL: