INTRODUCING DOUG EARLE, PRESIDENT AND CEO OF THE FOUNDATION FIGHTING BLINDNESS
With more than 30 years of professional fundraising experience, Doug Earle has worked with some of Canada’s leading health charities, including Diabetes Canada, the Canadian Hemophilia Society, the Canadian Cancer Society and the Arthritis Society. He has helped raise $1.2 billion for social, educational and health causes around the world.
In January, we sat down with Doug to welcome him to the Foundation Fighting Blindness, and to talk about his goals as President and CEO.
Q: On behalf of our community, welcome to the Foundation Fighting Blindness! What was it about the organization that drew your interest?
We are at a unique moment in history where medical discoveries in vision research are moving out of the lab and into clinical care facilities across the country. Advances in technology and medical science mean that people living with vision loss can be helped in real, tangible ways, and the FFB has a vital role to play in bringing those discoveries to Canadians.
I’m passionate about working with people in health organizations to change lives through research discovery. I look forward to helping the FFB make a real difference in the lives of people living with vision loss.
Q: Tell us a bit about yourself. How does your professional experience align with the FFB?
I became a professional fundraiser in my first week as a university student. I’ve fundraised for four health charities, two hospitals and two universities, and blindness often hovered at the edges of the work I was helping to fund. When I was at the Diabetes Canada, I became quite familiar with Diabetic Retinopathy, one of the leading causes of blindness in Canada. At the University Health Network, I raised funds for vision research at the Donald K. Johnson Eye Institute as part of UHN’s brain campaign. Those experiences sparked my interest in eye diseases, and so when the opportunity with the FFB arose I knew it was a great cause.
I’ve also had two tears in my retina and have worn glasses since I was a child, so vision issues have been a part of my life. I’m fortunate that these experiences have been relatively minor, but they’ve made me aware of the challenges facing people with vision loss.
Q: What makes vision loss such an important issue for Canadians?
Five and a half million Canadians are living with eye conditions that put them at risk of vision loss, and the number of people living with blindness is expected to double in the next fifteen years. To me, that signals a looming public health crisis, but hardly anyone is sounding the alarm. It’s important for the vision loss community to speak out and make blindness prevention a critical health issue.
That’s where the FFB comes in. We can fund the research that’s critical to improving diagnostics to treat vision loss earlier and discover new treatments to restore sight. We can improve access to treatments and reduce the number of people living with vision loss.
Q: What has surprised you about the FFB so far?
The amazing passion, engagement and dedication of our board, volunteers and donors, and the incredible drive of the researchers. With the support of this remarkable community, we can fund research that will lead to treatments and cures.
Q: Where do you see the organization going over the next five years?
We’re at an exciting moment in the evolution of our organization, where the research we’re funding has begun to translate into clinical care that is preventing vision loss. Over the next five years, we need to build that momentum by engaging with Canadians affected by vision loss to raise awareness and fund research that will further improve treatment and care.
Q: How do you see the organization evolving over the next twenty years?
Over the past twenty years, a lot of the successes in scientific discovery were based on the impact of gene therapy. Now, artificial intelligence and bioinformatics are helping to improve our understanding of the interrelationships between genes and other factors.
Over the next twenty years, we will see the growth of increasingly personalized diagnostic treatments, where we use data to understand, diagnose and provide treatment options that are targeted to people on an individual basis. For the FFB, this holds incredible potential for improving vision health. With the support of our donors, we can accelerate these discoveries for people living with eye diseases and make sure Canadians are at the cutting edge in receiving precision clinical care.
Q: What do you hope will be your most important contribution to the FFB?
I plan to be instrumental in mobilizing the community of people living with eye diseases so that we can fund the research that will enable Canadians to access new treatments, faster.
Q: What message would you like to give to the FFB community?
We’re on the cusp of a new era in the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of blinding eye diseases, and we’re here because of the incredible support of our community of donors. The research we fund moving forward will transform lives. I encourage you to share our story with others so that we can accelerate our ability to make meaningful change, faster.