Imagine summiting the world’s highest peaks and curing blindness around the world at the same time. Santa Barbaran Andy Doraiswamy has, and to bring his vision to fruition, he founded Summit for Cure! — an S.B.-based nonprofit that combines adventure with fundraising.
Doraiswamy, the director of research and development at Advanced Vision Science Inc., heads a research group whose focus is on artificial intraocular lenses, developed to replace the natural lens of the eye as it deteriorates with age, a condition we know as a cataract. It’s the number-one cause of blindness in the world and yet is so easily treated. “One of the reasons people do not get treatment is poor access to health care,” Doraiswamy explained. “To us in the developed world, this is unbelievable. We forgot that people literally go blind [from cataracts]. … I wanted to do something about it.”
Already an avid climber, Doraiswamy challenged himself to scale the seven highest peaks in the world, with an altruistic slant. “I would [climb] regardless because it’s a personal goal,” he said, “so why not do it with a company and make it worthwhile for others?” For each peak scaled, Doraiswamy and his core crew of six close friends “scattered around the globe” chose a target goal of one dollar per meter, all of which would be donated to a charity of their choice.
The crew started in 2011 with Uhuru Peak on Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, hoping to raise $5,895 — equivalent to the elevation in meters. However, Summit for Cure! raised $140,884 and received 2,687 intraocular lenses from donors worldwide. The money and the lenses went to the Himalayan Cataract Project. The bulk of the donations came from corporate sponsors. “This is incredible brand marketing for companies,” Doraiswamy said, literally a flag on the top of each continent.
For 2012, Doraiswamy and his team have decided to make their target goal equivalent to the height in feet of the mountain. Aconcagua, in Argentina, at 22,841 feet is the highest peak in South America. Summit for Cure! will be partnering with Goleta-based nonprofit Surgical Eye Expeditions (SEE) to raise awareness about both the work SEE does (all their surgeons are volunteer) and the need for their services. Funds raised will be used to make the SEE model more self-sufficient.
Although the focus of Summit for Cure! has been on blindness, Doraiswamy hopes to move on to other issues, as well, heart disease, diet, and obesity intervention among them.
In 2016, Summit for Cure! plans on climbing Mount Everest, which, in addition to being the highest peak in the world, is a very technical climb and will require some “serious preparation.” Doraiswamy hopes by then to have raised enough awareness about Summit for Cure! “to do the big one [partnered] with a really mighty cause.”
His advice for the budding entrepreneurial fundraiser? “The most important thing is to go and get it done and don’t give up; keep the fire in the belly, as I like to say!” For more information, visit summitforcure.org.