Karine Wilkinson

Karine Wilkinson

Turning on the light in the dark

Four kids, a cat, a dog, and a turtle… “and a wonderful husband”. In addition to her fulltime job, Karine does not have oodles of spare time. Yet when given the opportunity to help a friend, she leapt at the chance. Offering countless hours, business advice and a lot of “rather annoying” questions, Karine helps to bring a little-known and often misdiagnosed neural disease into the limelight. Oh and Carla Bruni happens to like what she’s done too. 

“I met Virginie 22 years ago when we were both starting our careers at Neuflize OBC (ABN Amro). Her daughter Flora had just been born and I had just had my first son. We’d exchange new-mum pleasantries.” Except it soon became clear that her new friend’s daughter was not developing quite as she should. She struggled to sit up, wasn’t smiling or seeking out people’s faces. She seemed in her own world. Month after month, Karine would see Virginie traipse across Paris from paediatricians to ophthalmologists to psychologists. With a different diagnosis and treatment after each visit, none of the doctors really knew what was wrong. 

My friend was caught in a cruel cycle of renewed hope followed by crushing despair. And all I could do was watch.

It took Karine’s colleague four years to meet a neurologist who suggested her daughter had a neurovisual problem due to a lack of oxygen at birth that had triggered part of the brain to shut down. “It’s not the eyes that see. It’s the brain that interprets messages from the eyes and turns them into images. Those images are essential to development and Flora wasn’t receiving them.” 

Contrary to popular belief, it’s not irreversible, it just takes time and patience to re-educate. It took Flora 18 years of weekly therapy, and daily re-education exercises but today, aged 24, she has just started her first job in a nursing home for the elderly. “She wants to serve other human beings, it’s her turn now.” The neurologist who had followed her treatment had become a family friend. “She always said, the day she had a ‘survivor’, she would set up a foundation to tell more people about this condition.” 

Karine joined the adventure in the autumn of 2020. She found herself building the purpose and vision of Les Yeux Dans La Tete in Virginie’s kitchen with four other women. Each had been invited for the specific skill they could bring to the table. 

I’d call my role ‘the realist’ coupled with ‘the devil’s advocate

I would bring the others back down to earth when they got too carried away. I know from my experience with entrepreneurs and wealthy families that when someone gives money for a cause, they also need to understand the impact of their charity. I kept saying, ‘if we’re going to make people care, we have to be practical!’”. 

The ‘others’ were her friend Virginie; Sylvie, the neurologist who had helped Flora; Isabelle, whose son had similar development difficulties; and Brigitte, for her skills in public relations. “Virginie and Sylvie were the real drivers though, my role was very small in comparison.” 

While on gardening leave before joining Pictet Wealth Management in Paris, Karine worked part time for the association, raising the initial capital to accelerate development, building the business plan, and launching the first projects. 

With everyone else personally involved, what motivated Karine to be engaged? “It’s about reducing that dark period of not knowing what’s wrong with your child. For parents but also for ophthalmologists, paediatricians and generalists. Through the association we shine a light on a still very little-known domain. But one for which there is a solution.

There’s also the gratification and pleasure of helping out a close friend who has been through hell and back.

Today, as the treasurer of the association, Karine’s role has shifted somewhat. “Since joining Pictet in February 2022, I’ve had less free time which is fine because the association hasn’t had much money coming in but we’re preparing for a large fundraising gala event in December so it’s about to get busy!” The women have also been joined by former French First Lady, Carla Bruni who is the association’s main ambassador.

“I have received so much in my life, that I cannot imagine not finding a moment to give back. I always have, even as a teenager. Sometimes, it is a few minutes in a busy schedule to just be there for a friend. Other times, it is in a more structured and dedicated way such as founding Les Yeux dans la Tete. I’m so lucky, we have four healthy children; a good life. My husband always says  ‘quand on a la chance d’avoir, même un peu, il faut savoir partager*’. And we do. It’s just part of our family.” Much like at Pictet really. 


When she’s not setting up and fundraising for an association, Karine is Head of Development, PWM France.

*when we are lucky enough to have, even a little, we have to know how to share
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