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Social Impact Heroes: “How Maud Zeller-Tillai of OneSight is helping to provide access to eye care to more than a billion people”

I had the pleasure of interviewing, Maud Zeller-Tillai a senior manager of OneSight, a global non-profit that helps provide access to eye care to 1.1 billion people. She has travelled and worked all over the world and she believes a true leader is someone who challenges the system. Maud is also an emlyon business school graduate.

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Thank you for speaking with us! Can you tell us about your background and your career up until now?

Iwas born in France but grew up spending most of my life abroad between the Czech Republic, Singapore and China. I came back to my home country to graduate from High School, and to continue grad studies.

I joined the University La Sorbonne and obtained a Bachelor degree in Economics. I was always fascinated by this broad topic and wanted to understand how it was regulating the world we live in. Then I joined emlyon Business school to do a master in management and learn more about marketing. I wanted to join emlyon because I was interested in entrepreneurship and also wanted to be in the city where I was born (Lyon), but that I knew so little about.

After graduating from emlyon, I moved to Singapore with my boyfriend, now my husband. We both wanted to go back to Asia, try to start our career there and see where that journey would take us. I first joined Unilever as an Assistant brand manager in the personal care category.

Soon after, I joined Luxottica. Still based in Singapore, I worked as a business brand manager to help develop and craft the strategy for the premium & Luxury portfolio of eyewear brands in the region. That implied directly working with optician and independent chains, building the portfolio strategy and working closely with marketing in implementing this.

As I joined Luxottica, I found out about OneSight — which is a global non-profit that helps provide access to eye care to the 1.1 billion people who don’t have access.

How has your education benefited your career path afterwards?

My education helped me see what was possible.

At emlyon Business school we were empowered to select and craft our own academic journey. Apart from the mandatory courses that cover the fundamental of how a company works (finance, operations, marketing etc..) we had to be accountable to select what we wanted to learn and why. That put me in a position to be more proactive about what I want and to think about what I wanted to achieve. Before joining emlyon, business entrepreneurship was a fascinating world to me but I didn’t really understand what it meant.

But I learnt that everyone is an entrepreneur. That it doesn’t necessarily mean creating a company, but it’s more an attitude and a way of seeing the world, taking risks, trying new things and having the courage to do so. I was surrounded by people eager to take risks and try. It gave me the drive to think big and take new directions and not be scared to fail and try again. When joining the optical industry this attitude helped me a lot to make decisions without the full information available, build a vision and adjust along the way based on what is changing.

Can you tell us a bit about your role your current job role and what this entails?

I am now a senior manager for Regional Program Development for OneSight for Middle East, Europe and South East Asia. This involves crafting strategies to that will increase access to eye care in selected countries, build, implement and measure results of these programs. This involves implementing and leading a mission to see on average 3000 patients in a week who will receive an eye exam and a free pair of glasses, across countries like Thailand, India, Bangladesh, Russia and Jordan.

I also build engagement and awareness about the cause through an ambassador program in other organisations where passionate people can help Onesight lead local initiatives. As part of this role I also identify fundraising opportunities to fuel the long-term strategies and project implications for the countries I work for. Now, OneSight operates in 50 countries, helping 22 million people have access to eye care — something I’m proud to be a part of.

What were your reasons behind leaving a corporate role, to work in a social project?

I had the chance to join a mission in Thailand which opened my eyes and I was truly impressed by the excellence and professionalism of OneSight in running programs and projects and how they managed to engage everyone. I knew I had to join.

Can you tell us what empowers and motivates you to work in role like this?

– The impact of a pair of glasses on someone who has always seen a blurry world. I have witnessed people seeing for the first time in their life including being able to look at their loved ones and the world. It’s incredible to witness how their behaviour changes and how it makes them want to achieve more in life.

– The impact of the cause and the mission on our volunteers. They are part of the mission and all have a clear and significant role to play. Each mission is based on the number of patients we want to serve and on how many volunteers we have, to make sure everyone has a key role to play. The team is empowered to make a difference, it comes back with a strong sense of purpose and a new energy level to take more challenges and be part of making our world better for everyone.

– The culture of the organisation. I work with a strong and passionate team that has mentored me since day one.It is a team that is open to new ideas, lets me try to test and learn. I can think big, be creative, operational and strategic at the same time.

– Passion for the job. Every day I wake up excited about what will happen today and how many lives can I contribute to help. To me, it doesn’t feel like work.

Tell us about the most incredible experience you have had in your current role?

For me, it was crafting the plans to bring access to eye care to 200,000 displaced people along the border of Thailand and Myanmar.

We worked with the International Rescue Committee to plan a charitable mission in refugee camps and empower the local community to help, showing them that anyone can learn a new skill, providing hope, and empowering them not give up.

Can you give us a piece of advice for young people wanting to work in a social enterprise?

Make sure you make you move at the right time.

I believe that many people want and are eager to work in companies that do social good. I also believe that sometimes you have to be patient. If I hadn’t had the journey I had before joining OneSight, I don’t think I would have been able to contribute as much to this cause. What I have learnt in my previous roles from a management and core skills point of view has helped me to find my own structure in an environment that doesn’t necessarily have one. It meant I already knew what success should like and has effected how I define my own set of performance indicators.

Do you think future leaders have to have a greater focus on society, sustainability and the environment?

I believe every leader now (not in the future) needs to take the responsibility and the urgency to focus on society, sustainability and the environment. It’s a collective job and every organisation must take this direction whether it is helping others outside the organisation or looking at their internal structure and understanding how they can reduce their impact on the environment.

A leader is someone who wants to do help the wider social good and at the same time accepts they have to challenge the system and processes. They have to accept they need to add new KPIs which preserve the planet for its future generations. A leader is someone that will consume responsibly and will build this culture into their organisation.

What do you want to achieve in your career, and in life, in the next ten years?

I don’t yet where this journey is going to take me, but I think it will be an exciting one and I truly believe that I’ve made the right career change to a social-focused company.

I want to continue to learn and work with strong passion, and hope to inspire others to challenge the status-quo and think outside the box within their organisation. As well as being more socially responsible with a real integrated strategy which every employee of their organisation can be part of it.

I also hope I can continue to share my experience and enable more people to join a cause. I want to inspire future leaders and show them the role they can play in changing the world.

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