Class Note: A New Vision for Charity
“The best charity work is when the locals are doing it,” Jackson says. “It’s not when the foreigners come in to do it; they just come and go. If you don’t set up the locals so they can do it and sustain themselves, you are just putting a Band-Aid on the problem. The solution has to be them.”
CharityVision was started thirty years ago by Jackson’s father, a medical doctor, with the mission to enable other surgeons around the world to become humanitarians in their own backyards. Building on his father’s work, Jackson brought the charity into twenty-five countries, recently narrowing its focus to reversing unnecessary blindness caused by untreated eye trauma or cataracts. Last year CharityVision performed forty thousand eye surgeries and is on track this year to bump it up to sixty thousand.
Jackson coined the term “humanicapitalism” to describe the secret to CharityVision’s growth. The organization gives state-of-the-art equipment to third-world doctors with the time, interest, and skill to serve. These doctors are free to use the equipment in their private practices, says Jackson, as long as they “pay” CharityVision back by also using it for charity work—providing life-changing surgeries that restore sight to people who can’t afford it. In just a matter of minutes, these surgeries remove barriers to employment or education that keep individuals and families in poverty.
“We combine capitalism and entrepreneurialism with humanitarian work,” says Jackson. “It’s amazing because our doctors find out almost immediately that the more humanitarian work they do in their community, the stronger their private practice becomes”—even enabling them to purchase their own equipment and become sustainable.
Charity has been a way of life for Jackson literally since the day he was born. He was born in Algeria, where his father, fresh out of medical school, was doing humanitarian work. As a child Jackson spent summers overseas with his family, helping in the operating room.
In 1988 Jackson graduated from BYU with a BS in finance, adding a MAcc from BYU in 1992. After graduation Jackson was hired by Arthur Andersen but didn’t stay long: “I’ve always been one to do my own thing,” he says. He bought, managed, and grew dental offices in the Southwest. Then about fifteen years ago his father asked him to take over the nonprofit, which was growing too fast for him to manage.
Never big into marketing, CharityVision found itself in mainstream media this May thanks to a fundraiser—one pitting Mitt Romney against world heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield in the boxing ring. The Romney family has been involved with CharityVision for several years; Ann Romney sits on the board of directors, and Josh Romney volunteers his time to help run the organization. Jackson recalls Mitt perched atop a filing cabinet in the corner at a board meeting, piping up in a discussion of potential fundraisers like auctions and banquets: “Those are boring. Let’s do something fun, like a boxing match.”
“We needed somebody to box,” Jackson says—and so they turned to the man who suggested the idea in the first place. The event, held in Salt Lake City, brought $1 million in donations—and, with each eye surgery costing about twenty-five dollars, a lot of power to change more lives around the world.
Jackson’s family is still heavily involved with CharityVision: his father travels to check up on clinics, and Jackson’s oldest son oversees four hospitals owned by the organization in the Philippines.
Jackson played soccer for BYU and now enjoys coaching his children’s teams. He and his wife, Sharon, have six children and three grandchildren, and they find every excuse they can to travel. “It’s usually to visit clinics,” Jackson says. “My wife is still waiting for a trip to Hawaii. I keep telling her the beaches are nicer in the Philippines and Indonesia.”