Fast Company

A Year in the Life of an Advisory Board Member

In early January I was asked to join the Advisory Board for the Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind in Washington, DC.  The Lighthouse provides services to the blind and visually impaired, as well as their families and friends. September 2009, I profiled their President and CEO, Tony Cancelosi, in my Fast Co post, CEO applies Business Acumen, Transforming Nonprofit into Powerhouse for Change.

As an Advisory Board member I support the Board and staff of the Lighthouse by providing my expertise to key issues they are taking on in 2010. These include the establishment of a Medical Mobile Clinic, a van that will travel the city providing exams, patient education, and access for the handicapped.

The Lighthouse is an up and coming nonprofit, even though it is 110 years old!  It has recently acquired federal grants to provide job training to veterans with visual impairment, and designated to receive funds from the DC Department of Health to provide eye exams and education for DC patients with visual impairment.

Of course, I said yes to this invitation. In addition to supporting the cause, it will give me an inside look at how a nonprofit grows and engages the metro area to serve the people who need it most.  That’s what I’ll be reporting on in this column, how the Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind leads change in Washington, DC.

I have a personal connection to this work which figures prominently in my decision to support the Lighthouse. My mother, Diana Kahan, no longer alive, earned her PhD studying the cognitive development of blind children. I grew up around the blind, and spent a lot of time on the campus of the Texas State School for the Blind in Austin.  This work connects me to my mother’s spirit.

There are approximately 57,000 people living in the Washington metro region and about 138,000 in the Va-Md-DC region who are blind or visually impaired. These people will have access to the Lighthouse’s services.

Every seven minutes someone in the US becomes blind or visually impaired.  One in three American children born in 2000 will develop diabetes, according to a US government report.  Diabetes can result in vision loss.  

8,000 people are turning 60 every day.  Age-related macular degeneration may become one of the primary diseases of the future. Macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness for adults over the age of 50.

So, it’s clear this is important work.  Blindness correlates closely to independence. An overwhelming number of adults with blindness stay home and isolate themselves.   The Lighthouse is dedicated to providing these people with the opportunity for continued independence and social engagement.

As part of my experience with the Advisory Board I have the chance to work closely with DC business leaders. I will be reporting on my experience in the months ahead, highighting how the Lighthouse and its partners are leading change in DC.

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Seth Kahan (Seth@VisionaryLeadership.com) is a Change Leadership specialist. He has consulted with CEOs and executives in over 50 world-class organizations that include Shell, World Bank, Peace Corps, Marriott, Prudential, American Society of Association Executives, Project Management Institute, and NASA. His website is VisionaryLeadership.com.

 

Seth's book, Getting Change Right: How Leaders Transform Organizations from the Inside Out, will be published in May by Jossey-Bass. Order it now from AmazonBorders, or Barnes and Noble.

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