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About James

Philanthropy has been a cornerstone of James Chen’s family for three generations.

His father, Robert Yet-Sen Chen, overcame war, poverty and famine to establish an international business enterprise, ultimately building schools, hospitals and funding much-needed public works in his hometown of Qidong, China.

He felt that philanthropy was about far more than writing cheques – it was hands-on and about demonstrating a passion and commitment to the causes he cared for. This spirit and audacious approach inspired James, leading him to seek out issues that he could tackle impactfully.

Standing in a dimly lit school library financed by his father, James realised the first of these issues. He knew that his father would have wanted something different – a place that would excite students to read. With this motivation, James set out with his family foundation to nurture a new reading culture across Greater China.

Philanthropists are able to privatise their failures by absorbing the risks and socialising their successes for the greater public good.

Alongside his work in early childhood literacy, James was struck from his time in Africa and Asia that very few people in the developing world wore glasses. He wondered if it was because they don’t need them or because they don’t have access to them.

The answer, he discovered, was that almost 2.2 billion people around the world struggle with uncorrected poor vision – almost one-third of the global population.

James wondered, if the world has the technological prowess and the political will to put someone on Mars then they should be able to harness the power of a pair of glasses – a very simple, 700-year-old technology. And if the extraordinary achievement of putting a person on Mars is ever reached, everyone should be able to see it.

Over almost two decades, James has funded or founded numerous projects and built domain expertise in vision correction. Today, his sustained effort is paying off with incredible progress in multilateral political support for delivering affordable eyecare to people around the world.