Last month, I took my daughter Lulu in for an eye exam because she was having some trouble seeing. It turned out she did need glasses, so we got her a pair of simple DKNY frames, in plastic, with none of the fancy reflexive coating. Even with our insurance paying 30%, the cost was over $300. Lulu turned to me and said incredulously, “What do poor people who need glasses do?”
Good question. And one which the irrepressible Acumen Fund ww.acumenfund.org has taken on. A little background here: The Acumen Fund was started in 2001 by Jacqueline Novogratz to bring innovative entrepreneurial approaches to problems of global poverty. The idea of applying small amounts of “patient” philanthropic capital and large doses of business acumen to build thriving enterprises that can serve vast numbers of the poor has resulted in the creation of 26 thriving enterprises serving 36 million people throughout South Asia and East Africa.
Vision Spring http://www.acumenfund.org/investment/visionspring.html is one of those Acumen enterprises, based in India, which I am happy to support today. Using a model of wholesale distribution and franchising, Vision Spring recruits and trains Vision Entrepreneurs who are trained to travel from village to village conducting vision camps, checking people’s eyesight, and selling reading glasses that range in cost from $2.50 to $4 a pair, with case and cleaning cloth.
The need is stupendous. Presbytopia, or age-related reduced vision, affects almost everyone over 40 – a fact to which I can sadly attest. It also afflicts 20 million people in India, many of whom depend on their vision for their livelihood – like tailors, weavers, people doing handcrafts or reading. But very few Indians have access to vision services. Watch this video of Vision Spring entrepreneur Rama Devi to see what a typical day of work is like, bringing eye clinics to people who are filled with distrust, superstition, hope and curiosity.
In four years, Vision Spring has sold more than 69,000 eyeglasses and diagnosed and referred an additional 74,000 people with severe eye disorders to eye care clinics. 720 trained Vision Entrepreneurs like Rama travel throughout their franchise areas and are hard at work earning a living, while bringing an invaluable health benefit to the people they serve. Looks like a clear win/win proposition to me.