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Our story

Sightsavers’ vision is of a world where no one is blind from avoidable causes and where people with disabilities participate equally in society.

A women looking deep in thought.

We prevent avoidable blindness by carrying out eye examinations and referring people for treatment to prevent blindness and restore sight. We also work with our partners to treat and prevent debilitating neglected tropical diseases.

We support equality for people with disabilities by training teaching staff and supplying specialist learning tools. We educate communities to reduce the stigma around disability, and empower people with disabilities so they can participate fully in society.

We campaign and advocate for change by working with governments to tackle problems at the root of avoidable blindness, such as access to clean water and education. We aim to make changes for the long term, to support the people who need it most.

Meet our founders, Sir John and Lady Jean Wilson

Read their story

Sightsavers through the years

A black and white photo of Oxford University.

1931

Schoolboy John Wilson is blinded by an explosion during a school chemistry lesson. In the next decade, he goes on to study law at Oxford University and gets a job at the National Institute for the Blind.

A young boy in India in the 1940s.

1946

A young boy in India in the 1940s.

John embarks on a nine-month tour of Africa and the Middle East, and is shocked at the scale of blindness and the conditions in which he finds blind people living. He returns to the UK determined to do something about it.

A photo exhibition from the 1950s showing Sightsavers' original name, the British Empire Society for the Blind.

1950

Sir John founds the British Empire Society for the Blind – the original name for Sightsavers. In its first year, the society forms national organisations for blind people in six countries, concentrating on education, rehabilitation and welfare.

A doctor examines a girl's eyes in India in the 1950s.

1957

A doctor examines a girl's eyes in India in the 1950s.

The organisation changes its name to the Commonwealth Society for the Blind and is given royal status by the Queen a year later, becoming the Royal Commonwealth Society for the Blind (RCSB).

A team of climbers with visual impairments rest after reaching the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in 1969.

1969

A team from the RCSB climbs Mount Kilimanjaro, accompanied by seven blind men from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. The aim is to encourage blind children to go to school by demonstrating what they can achieve, and marks Sightsavers’ first inclusive education project.

The Queen visiting Sightsavers' office in 1971.

1971

The Queen visiting Sightsavers' office in 1971.

The organisation moves from London to a new head office in Haywards Heath, West Sussex. The Queen attends the ceremony and officially opens the new building, named Commonwealth House.

Blue Peter's Sight Savers appeal.

1986

Children’s TV programme Blue Peter launches its ‘Sight Savers’ appeal, raising more than £2 million for eye care across Africa. The Royal Commonwealth Society for the Blind subsequently adopts the title Sightsavers.

A mobile phone being used to collect data.

2012

A mobile phone being used to collect data.

Sightsavers leads a consortium to set up the Global Trachoma Mapping Project (GTMP), which uses mobile phones to collect and transmit data about the spread of trachoma. The project was completed in 2015.

Sightsavers CEO Caroline Harper with Under Secretary of State Lynne Featherstone and Paralympian Ben Quilter.

2013

Sightsavers launches its first policy campaign, Put Us in the Picture, calling for global development to be inclusive of people with disabilities. Successes include a 20,000-signature petition being delivered to 10 Downing Street, and a photo exhibition being displayed in London, Dublin and New York.

A community worker from Sightsavers' NTDs campaign.

2017

A community worker from Sightsavers' NTDs campaign.

In December, Sightsavers aims to celebrate its one billionth treatment for neglected tropical diseases. On average, 4.59 treatments are distributed every second.

Want to find out more about our work?

Sightsavers and eye health