Business magnate and philanthropist Tej Kohli has helped cure 1,512 people of sight problems in remote areas of Nepal during the first two weeks of a new project to tackle ‘poverty blindness’ in one of the least developed countries in the world.
Kohli’s mission to combat blindness started in 2010, when a hospital in India invited him to fund corneal transplants. Seeing the first patient cured of the condition thanks to his funding was a life-changing moment for the businessman. It prompted Kohli to dedicate his philanthropic efforts to combating blindness.
Now he has vowed to help cure at least another 300,000 people of cataracts by 2026 in a new collaboration with Dr Sanduk Ruit, a world leading eye surgeon who has helped halve Nepal’s blindness in 30 years.
“Second chances matter,” said Kohli. “When you cure someone of blindness you give them a second chance at life. They can be economically active. They can enjoy and look after their family. Yet millions of people in the world remain blind because they do not have access to treatment. This alliance with Sanduk Ruit means that we focus on potentially helping over a million people in need.”
By 2015 the philanthropist was funding so many corneal transplants in India that a bigger facility was required to accommodate them all. Later, the Tej Kohli Cornea Institute was born, through which the philanthropist has invested millions in research to achieve breakthroughs in treatment and cures for corneal disease.
Stories of success
Among those to benefit from the project in Nepal, is Soorya Mani Rai, a woman who one day was in her kitchen when she suddenly felt a piercing pain in her eyes. Tears rolled down her cheeks as her vision became blurred. Initially Soorya thought that her sudden sight loss was due to her tears and that she would be able to see clearly the following morning.
However, her vision didn’t return the next day, nor the day after that, not until the Tej Kohli and Ruit Foundation travelled to the remote part of Solukhumbu where she lived and identified her case in early 2021.
Dr Ruit operated on her eyes, and after her bandages were removed the next day, she lifted her lids to see the doctor smiling back at her.
Also in Nepal’s Solukhumbu District, Dolma Tamang had lost all hope of retrieving her sight and was unable to walk unassisted. She would just sit at home and listen to the sounds of nature around her home.
Like Soorya, she was diagnosed with cataracts and operated upon by Dr Ruit, so that finally, after at least two years of sight loss, she opened her eyes to look upon her daughter, anxiously awaiting her recovery.
Sights set on tackling poverty
The Tej Kohli Foundation launched in 2005 when Tej Kohli and his wife Wendy offered support to disabled children in Costa Rica. They built a network of free canteens to feed children before and after school, ensuring they receive their required daily nutritional intake. Sixteen years later, the canteens continue to carry out this mission and have fed tens of thousands of children.
Today the foundation is best known for its mission to combat curable blindness in communities struggling due to poverty and inequality. Over 90 per cent of people with blindness live in low-and-middle income countries. The WHO estimates that 80 per cent of these people could be cured, or could have avoided blindness, if affordable treatment was available.
The foundation is funded by Tej Kohli, who built his fortune upon a series of companies based on online payments made throughout the dot com boom of the late 1990s and early 2000s. His wealth has grown through investments in real estate, deep tech, esports, biotechnology, e-commerce and cryptocurrency.
Rather than giving to charities, Kohli prefers to fund grassroots activities directly. Aged 62, he is no stranger to mistakes. In his twenties he got on the wrong side of the law in the USA and lost everything. Today he says he draws from this experience of having to rebuild himself from nothing as a source of motivation for rebuilding communities around the world.
The Tej Kohli Foundation is 100 per cent funded by Tej Kohli, mostly from the proceeds of his Zibel Real Estate Portfolio. All funding goes directly to grassroots activities to support vulnerable and disadvantaged people.
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