Our passions tend to find us early. Becky Palm, for example, unearthed her love for philanthropy when, as a child, her father took her to the annual Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon, where she’d play behind the scenes with the children directly benefiting from donations.
“My parents were very mindful of how we can help others,” she says, noting that she was raised with the adage that “gifts you receive should be given.”
It was an ideal pairing, then, when Palm found herself working first as a corporate counsel and, eventually, a senior counsel at Essilor, the multinational eyeglass lens manufacturer. The company, which boasts a massive footprint and an annual revenue of $7 billion, takes its charitable work seriously, providing, among other things, its employees with days off to volunteer their time at the Essilor Vision Foundation. The organization’s mission is simple yet multifaceted: break down the barriers that prevent those in need of eye care from getting the help they require. Since 2007, it has distributed more than 750,000 pairs of glasses to those in need in the US, partnering along the way with 500 eye-care professionals, more than 140 nonprofits, and a large number of schools, which recently kicked off a collaborative program with Scholastic.
“I was immediately struck by the commitment to Essilor’s mission of improving lives by improving sight,” Palm says. “I really appreciated that it encouraged employees to learn about how its products can correct, protect, and/or prevent vision impairment, and I respected how the company was helping others better their lives as a result. Because it’s important to Essilor, it became important to each of us.”
In 2018, Palm began her transition from Essilor’s legal team to a new role serving as the head of the foundation’s US arm. It’s been a natural fit; Palm, after all, has been heavily involved with the organization since she started in 2012. Her devotion to it crystalized during a mission trip to India on the foundation’s behalf, and she’s since continued to do mission work while also donating her legal expertise. Today, in her full-time position, she’s working to develop more sustainable models that will directly address what the foundation refers to as the “large gap between the need for and access to vision care.”
“Finding a sustainable model is very important to me,” Palm says. “I want to make sure parents and educators put vision in the same space as hunger, dental care, and physical health because vision is the largest disability that goes undetected. Vision is not self-detected with children. Children will tell you if their stomachs are growling, but they don’t tell you if they can’t see the chalkboard at school. We develop our programs to overcome these barriers to vision care so that there are fewer and fewer children who slip through those cracks.”
The Scholastic program, called “Your Amazing Eyes,” is one of the sustainable-model initiatives. Launched in 2018, the program delivers educational kits with information for both students and parents to strategically targeted leaders, who can then disseminate them to the appropriate parties. The hope, Palm says, is to create a self-sustaining, self-detecting community resource.
There’s also Changing Life through Lenses, a new program enabling eye doctors to give back in their own communities. “This program empowers philanthropic eye doctors and nonprofits to help those in need with a complete pair of glasses, including no-cost lenses, lab services, and frames,” Palm explains. “Changing Life through Lenses provides free eyeglasses to patients who are at or below the poverty level and do not have insurance for the pair of glasses they receive through the program.”
The program has seen hundreds of adopters since it launched in the middle of 2018, and Palm says the challenge is in how to “strategically source and scale it.” “It’s really allowed us to have a lean internal team and leverage local resources and community engagement,” she adds.
The move from being an individual contributor to managing an entire operation has been a huge development opportunity for Palm, and her passion for the foundation’s mission, her legal expertise, and her background working with nonprofits are certainly strengths she leverages when tackling new challenges in her new role. Also, it helps that she has a company as robust as Essilor backing her up. “It’s nice to be in a role where, directly or indirectly, you have an entire organization of huge magnitude that is making a point to support and celebrate what you’re doing,” she says. “That’s a pretty powerful message.”