Profiles > Philanthropy > Helen Keller International
Helen Keller International
Founded by Helen Keller and George Kessler in 1915, Helen Keller International (HKI) is among the oldest international nonprofit organizations devoted to fighting and treating preventable blindness and malnutrition. The mission of HKI is to save the sight and lives of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged. HKI builds local capacity by establishing sustainable programs. It provides scientific and technical assistance and data to governments and international, regional, national, and local organizations around the world. HKI programs combat malnutrition, cataract, trachoma, onchocerciasis (river blindness) and refractive error. Kathy Spahn is currently the President and CEO of HKI.
HKI operates in three regions (Africa, Asia, and America) comprising 22 countries -- 13 in Africa, 8 in Asia Pacific, and the US. The
organization has its headquarters in New York City. Working with health ministries, non-governmental agencies, and local health workers, HKI provides expertise, training, technical assistance, and other resources to establish evidence-based programs in health and eye care within the existing healthcare systems of host countries.
HKI works with a number of partners as equals, where each partner has a clear understanding of shared and respective roles. Each partner, through their tremendous efforts, adds something essential to nourish families, prevent needless blindness, and give children the chance to lead a full and healthy life. In the developing world, where blindness and malnutrition remain deeply rooted in complex circumstances, no organization can go it alone. As Helen Keller herself once said -- Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much
Founded 1915
Founder Helen Keller
Headquarters New York, USA
Type International
Recent Year Revenue $51,900,000
Charity Navigator 64.91 / 70.00
BBB Accredited 20/20
Services and Programs of HKI operate in a set of values that are intended to guide their work with vulnerable populations and promote strong internal and external work relationships. They build programs based on state-of-the-art scientific knowledge and local situational analyses, and rely on ongoing program evaluation to maximize their impact and further develop new scientific and programmatic knowledge. Its key program includes Eye Health and Malnutrition.
Eye Health -- Although 80% of blindness is preventable, there are still more than 285 million people who are blind or visually impaired across the world. HKI’s eye health programs focus on the major causes of preventable blindness in the world. HKI programs address cataracts (the most common cause of blindness), refractive errors (including nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism), diabetic retinopathy, and trachoma and river blindness (both blinding neglected tropical diseases).
  • Diabetic Retinopathy is a growing crisis in developing nations. Often, diabetes patients don’t realize that their vision loss is connected to diabetes, therefore it is critical for organizations such as HKI to raise awareness and provide access to screenings and treatment.
  • Trachoma -- HKI has been heading the fight against Trachoma in Africa for many years. Thanks to the tireless efforts of HKI staff and their partners across the globe, HKI is on track to eliminate trachoma in Mali and Niger by 2015 and in several other countries by 2020.
  • HKI's ChildSight program targets schools across the US, providing free vision screening, refraction by a licensed optometrist, distribution of correctly prescribed glasses, and referrals for further assessment as and when needed. During 2011-2012, ChildSight United States provided vision screening to 95,310 children and delivered 20,466 pairs of free eyeglasses to children in need. Building on this success, HKI replicated its ChildSight program in Vietnam and Indonesia as well, piloting new programs that allows the organization to provide the gift of clear vision to children all over the world.
  • HKI is also a member of Vision 2020, the Right to Sight, which aims to eradicate preventable blindness by 2020. As a member, HKI promotes the development of integrated systems of eye care, which includes the identification and treatment of basic eye disorders and, as required, proper referral and management of more complex eye health needs.
Nutrition and Vitamin A Supplementation -- Nearly two billion people suffer from malnutrition either because their diet lacks essential nutrients or they simply do not have enough to eat. HKI’s nutrition programs give disadvantaged communities access to the vitamins and minerals they need to survive and live a healthy life. Its nutrition programs include vitamin A, iron, and zinc supplementation to fight micro-nutrient deficiencies; fortification of staple foods with essential vitamins and minerals; promotion of nutrient-rich foods through home gardening programs; health education, including infant and young child feeding practices; and prevention and treatment of severe malnutrition.
•   HKI’s Vitamin A Supplementation program has helped reverse the devastation caused by vitamin A deficiency. Vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of childhood blindness, and is also essential for the health of a child’s immune system and for growing bodies and minds. By delivering vitamin A capsules to children in 13 African countries, HKI has been able to protect the sight and health of 42.6 million children under the age of five in the first half of 2012 alone -- all for less than $1 per child. HKI has also established community-wide Child Health Days. These free events are held twice a year, allowing health professionals to efficiently and effectively deliver a package of high-impact treatment to children. Along with vitamin A, children are also given de-worming medications and key vaccinations that are essential for their growth and health.
•   HKI’s Homestead Food Production (HFP) program – has helped more than 30,000 families in Africa and Asia create nutritional self-sufficiency for small communities through the establishment of thousands of women-tended Homestead Food Production gardens. However, it has been found that in addition to healthy produce, the inclusion of animal protein greatly improves the health of growing children. In many countries where HKI has Homestead Food Production (HFP) programs, it provides chickens to families to eat and sell the eggs, which are high in protein.
•   HKI’s nutrition programs operate within the Essential Nutrition Actions (ENA) framework, which is designed to deliver an integrated package of cost-effective nutrition actions proven to reduce mother and child under-nutrition and associated mortality and morbidity
Operations and Accomplishments at a glance -- HKI works around the globe to address the urgent needs of those whose vision and health are at risk. The results are dramatic and wide-ranging -- school children in disadvantaged communities in urban and rural US can now see the blackboard and be successful in school; children in Africa regularly wash their faces to prevent trachoma; neglected tropical diseases are taken care of through partnerships with national health agencies, and much more. HKI perpetuates the indomitable spirit of Helen Keller, whose words-- the welfare of each is bound up in the welfare of all -- continue to frame its values and guide them even today.
  • On February 2014, HKI was honored with the ninth annual Henry R. Kravis Prize in leadership. The Kravis prize carries a $250,000 award and recognizes extraordinary leadership in the non-profit sector.
In 2012, 84% of donations and grants received by HKI were directly used for the primary purpose of working worldwide to prevent blindness and reduce malnutrition.
  • HKI’s ChildSight Program has taken an initiative to provide free vision screenings to 14,000 primary and secondary students in the Kon Tum province and, if needed, free quality eyeglasses in 2013. In addition to screenings and eyeglass distribution, the project will train private optic shops in Kon Tum city and eight districts on ways to produce quality eyeglasses. This is the first initiative of its kind in Vietnam and it will continue through March 2014, expanding HKI’s school-based eye care activities from 44 to 83 schools in Kon Tum city and two surrounding districts.
  • In 2013, HKI was been given a "four-star" rating from Charity Navigator -- the country’s premier charity evaluator -- ranking it among the top 2% of all US charities in terms of financial health, accountability, and transparency. HKI was also listed as a Global Journal Top 100 non-governmental organization.
  • HKI empowers women by training them to cultivate home gardens to nourish their families.
  • HKI has trained nearly 70,000 health workers, who provided vitamin A capsules to more than 1.5 million new mothers and 40 million children.

Preventing vision loss in Bangladesh and beyond: A new model tried and tested in 2013

Bangladesh has one of the world’s largest diabetic population, but its healthcare system lacks appropriate screening and treatment models for diabetic retinopathy (DR) -- a widespread complication of diabetes and a significant cause of preventable blindness. Early detection requires regular screening and treatment, which can reduce the risk of severe vision loss by more than 90% in DR patients. However, this treatment preserves vision rather than improves it. Therefore, individuals rarely notice an immediate benefit and do not continue to follow up. To address this challenge, HKI has developed a new intensive case management (ICM) model to promote regular examinations and improve compliance with recommended treatments. With the support of sight-savers, HKI and its team in Bangladesh are currently conducting a randomized control trial to evaluate the model’s potential as a replicable and sustainable approach to prevent unnecessary vision loss in low resource settings.
How one can help
In the past year alone, HKI touched the lives of 195 million people through their sight- and life-saving programs. Such a number can be difficult to achieve, but it is the supporters who make this possible. It is because of their firm dedication and commitment that HKI is able to provide critical support and services to those in need all over the world. These are the qualities that define HKI, but none of them is possible without the help from donors. Support from the masses makes possible science-based innovations and common-sense solutions that enable HKI to gain ground against complex challenges every year.
HKI, founded in 1915, will soon complete 100 years of saving sight and lives around the world. Helen Keller once said -- The unselfish effort to bring cheer to others will be the beginning of a happier life for ourselves
Every minute, 72 children living in poverty benefit from HKI’s programs. HKI relies on the financial generosity of individuals, corporations, foundations, and governments to help them continue the legacy established by Helen Keller. There are also a number of other ways through which one can help. People can join the “Visions for the Future Legacy Society” by naming HKI in their will or as a beneficiary of their life insurance policy or remaining IRA funds. People can also help by purchasing eyewear from TOMS where a portion of the proceeds from the sale benefits ChildSight.