Starting a Partnership
Last autumn, Retina Risk’s co-founder, Dr. Einar Stefansson, encountered Dr. Sibylle Scholtz, the founding president of the Lions Club in Frauenalb-Nordschwarzwald, Germany and member of Lions District Cabinet 111SN, at an ophthalmology conference in Vienna, Austria. Hearing about Retina Risk, Dr. Scholtz immediately recognised how the risk calculator can empower persons living with diabetes to monitor their risk of developing sight-threatening diabetic retinopathy and how Lions Clubs around the world could help spread the word. I had the pleasure to interview Sibylle earlier this summer, to learn about her work and the growing synergy between Lions and Retina Risk.
Sibylle has been involved with Lions for 11 years, in addition to her demanding day job as a manager for Professional Development Europe, Middle East, Africa at Johnson & Johnson Vision Surgical, where she is responsible for managing international scientific congress activities of ophthalmo-surgeons, as well as supporting publication of their scientific work in peer review, trade and online journals.
These two strands of Sibylle’s life attracted her to the work of Retina Risk on diabetic retinopathy and, over the last nine months, using her Lions leadership connection, she has been spreading the word about the new Retina Risk app’s predictive and preventive tools. Based on her first encounter with Retina Risk, and a follow-on meeting in Iceland this year with Retina Risk CEO Silla Jonsdottir, the relationship has flowered.
Sibylle’s Lions Roles
Sibylle is the former president of the Ettlingen (Germany) Lions Club. Almost three years ago, she was encouraged to establish a new Lions Club in the nearby Frauenalb-Nordschwarzwald, which currently has around three dozen members, coming from many walks of life – doctors, construction workers, professors, etc.
During our interview, we talked about Lions Clubs around the world, focusing on her current club, and what they are doing to combat diabetes and vision loss, two core pillars of the Lions mission.
It quickly became clear that one of the reasons that Sibylle chose to become a Lion was due to her three decades long work experience focusing on the eye, which aligned perfectly with the ‘vision for all’ pillar of Lions Clubs worldwide.
The current focus of her club (apart from her Retina Risk pioneer work) is to support special education for teachers at primary schools via a special training concept, that helps to prepare lessons for better nutrition and a healthy lifestyle. To raise funds, the club takes a fun and engaging approach: during the regional Spring festivities, one of the club’s members provides several classic tractors and people pay to ride them. Other fundraisers include participating in local festivals and selling cookies at the Christmas market.
In general, individual Lions Clubs are free to select projects, focusing on supporting regional needs (the next larger organizational structure is the “Lions District” where approximately 50–60 clubs cooperate in joint regional projects). In this manner, Sibylle and the district have supported the Heidelberg University Eye Clinic (Germany). Based on Sibylle ́s initiative, the Clinic’s Eye Bank was upgraded to a Lions Eye Bank in 2015, which has enabled it to perform many more keratoplasties (corneal transplantation) than before.
Sibylle also works with Lions Clubs in Egypt, Romania, Austria and Ukraine, not only to help spread the word about the Retina Risk app, but also to collaborate with vision specialists worldwide, to solidify the Lions vision.
Promoting the Retina Risk app district-wide, is one of the more recent featured projects of the Lions Club in Frauenalb-Nordschwarzwald. The project grew out of Sibylle’s desire to start a joint project with Lions in Iceland and her own club, and her fortuitous 2018 meeting with Prof. Stefansson, who introduced her to the RetinaRisk app.
According to Sibylle, the current focus is on identifying ways to engage audiences with the Retina Risk app, how to effectively reach out to persons living with diabetes and to establish productive relationships with local diabetes organizations, doctors and clinics. In these first few months, Sibylle and Lions Clubs Germany (SN111) have single-handedly reached out to hundreds of potential users, which has resulted in steady downloads of the Retina Risk app in Germany. We are extremely grateful for their effort to get the Retina Risk app into the hands of as many persons living with diabetes in Germany as possible to improve their quality of life and look forward to our long-term collaboration and partnership.
 There are over 45,000 Lions Clubs worldwide, with more than 1.35 million members. In Germany, there are 215 clubs and with over 3,000 members.