VisionSpring: Seeing the Way Back to Work

A compelling problem: Over 700 million of the world’s poorest people suffer from uncorrected presbyopia - far-sightedness – and lack access to reading glasses they can afford. With affordable reading glasses, their productivity, incomes and quality of life are dramatically improved


Get vision-impaired people back to work

The idea

A micro-franchise supply chain for the sale of glasses to poor people who have lost livelihoods due to uncorrected near and far-sightedness

How it works

  • Source high-quality, cheap glasses
  • Invest heavily in social marketing campaigns to create “pull markets”
  • Sell the glasses through 1) proprietary fixed retail outlets with mobile outreach and 2) sales to strategic global partners (e.g. BRAC) that have their own distribution network
  • Maximize financial sustainability by improving margins and reaching scale

How it will go to scale

Via NGO's, including partners (e.g. BRAC) and VisionSpring’s own growth. Earned revenues will offset the donor subsidies needed to expand into new markets and new products. Eventually the market may take over, as glasses become a cheap and available commodity in hard to serve areas.

Progress so far

International scale up: VisionSpring sold 369,000 glasses in 2012. Their main markets are India, Bangladesh (BRAC), and El Salvador.

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Over 700 million of the world’s poorest people suffer
from uncorrected near and far-sightedness

and lack access to glasses they can afford. Jordan Kassalow launched VisionSpring in 2002 to make reading glasses available to the millions of people who are losing their livelihoods simply because they cannot see up close. In 2009 they launched a sales partnership with BRAC that will have reached millions of customers by 2015—an achievement made even more extraordinary by the results of a rigorous study showing that a $3 pair of reading glasses can boost income average $100 a year. In addition to BRAC, they have growing distribution channels in India and El Salvador, where in 2010 they expanded their product offerings in El Salvador to include prescription glasses that treat myopia (near-sightedness). In 2012 this hugely successful pilot was expanded to India. The prospects for impact have never been clearer.

A compelling problem

Over 700 million of the world’s poorest people suffer from uncorrected presbyopia and myopia – and lack access to glasses they can afford. With affordable glasses, their productivity, incomes and quality of life are dramatically improved.

A scalable solution

Mulago assesses scalability based on five characteristics common to efforts that have taken lasting impact to scale.

Real impact: A randomized control trial by the University of Michigan found a 20% increase in income for buyers of VisionSpring reading glasses. For buyers whose incomes are an average of $2/day, this represents an additional $110/year (at 275 days of work) of additional income.

Cost-effective: Using the Mulago metric of additional 3-year income per donor dollar, VisionSpring increases the 3-year income of its customers by $330/person at a donor cost of $4.70/person, or $70 of additional income per donor dollar.

Lasting behavior: TThe market-based approach ensures that customers want and use products and that a profitable value chain remains in place.

Easy replication: VisionSpring's hub & spoke sales model is simple, highly structured and broadly adaptable. The product (mostly reading glasses) is already mass-produced at low cost. Growth plans leverage distribution channels of other organizations (e.g. BRAC).

A viable route to scale:The propriety hub and spoke sales model, along with strategic global partnerships, can drive exponential growth of VisionSpring’s impact.

Capacity to deliver

VisionSpring grew their sales from 15,000 units in 2005 to 369,000 units in 2011 and is on track to sell over 500,000 units in 2013. To support and drive this growth, Jordan built an outstanding management team, raised sufficient capital and constructed a cost-effective worldwide supply chain. In 2012 Kevin Hassey, a veteran of the optical industry, took over day to day operations as the CEO while Jordan continues to support the organization as Founder and Board Co-Chairman.

updated June 2013