Essilor

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Better Vision for the Poor
By Aneel Karnani, Bernard Garrette, Jordan Kassalow, & Moses Lee

Stanford Social Innovation Review Spring 2011
Copyright  2011 by Leland Stanford Jr. University All Rights Reserved

Stanford Social Innovation Review Email: info@ssireview.org, www.ssireview.org

Action Case Study
Better Vision for the Poor
would seem that private companies could profitably supply eyeglasses to the poor—an ideal situation for applying the bottom of the pyramid (BOP) approach popularized by C.K. Prahalad. In 2005, Essilor International, a publicly traded French company, launched a BOP initiative targeting the Indian By Aneel KArnAni, BernArd GArrette, JordAn KAssAlow, & Moses lee rural poor. But the project has yet to make a profit. Estimates for the number of poor people worldwide who VisionSpring, founded in 2001 as a nonprofit dedicated to reducneed eyeglasses are startling. The World Health Organization ing poverty and generating opportunity in the developing world reports approximately 517 million people in developing counthrough the sale of affordable eyeglasses, uses a social entrepreneurtries are visually impaired because they do not have access to ship approach. In 2009, VisionSpring sold 201,000 pairs of readycorrective treatment. The Centre for Vision in the Developing made reading glasses. It is now trying to scale up its efforts and World at Oxford University has a higher estimate: More than 1 hopes to sell 1 million pairs of eyeglasses per year by 2012. Yet even billion people need but do not get vision correction. There is a if VisionSpring achieves this goal, the impact is too little, given that simple, old, and cost-effective technology to solve this probbetween 500 million and 1 billion people need eyeglasses—and the lem—eyeglasses. Yet the problem persists on a vast scale. For number is growing. the poor, eyeglasses often are either inaccessible or unaffordable, Another approach to solving the vision problem emphasizes forcing hundreds of millions of people to live below their full technological innovation to provide low-cost, self-adjustable specpotential. tacles. These eyeglasses are called AdSpecs, and they are being Visual impairment is more than just a health problem. It has developed by Joshua Silver, a physics professor at Oxford economic, educational, and public safety implications. In Tanzania, University. At least two other organizations are also offering adjustfor example, 71 percent of people who are farsighted are dissatisfied able spectacles, but none has achieved significant scale, probably with their ability to do near work, such as winnowing grain, sewing, because they are not cost-effective and have not gained customer reading, and cooking food. But only 6 percent of people in Tanzania acceptance from a style perspective. who are farsighted have eyeglasses.1 In India in mid-2000, only 7 If the benefits of eyeglasses are so obvious, why has it been so percent of the population wore spectacles, whereas about 65 perdifficult to solve such an apparently easy social problem? cent of the population needed them.2 vision barriers A simple pair of eyeglasses could dramatically improve the lives of the poor, by increasing earning power and occupational and pub- Many challenges confront the provision of eyeglasses to the poor in developing countries. Chief among them are a lack of awareness lic safety, improving educational opportunities, and fostering the about the value of corrected vision, access to eyeglasses, and affordability to perform everyday tasks. Even the straightforward ecoability. A 2006 study of the principal barriers to eye care in Andhra nomic return from eyeglasses for the poor far exceeds their cost. A Pradesh, India, reported that 23.8 percent of the 2,615 respondents variety of approaches have been tried to solve this problem, using believed they did not have a serious vision problem, with 23.4 perfor-profit businesses, social enterprises, and innovative...
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