2013 Update: VisionSpring's success since 2008 has been remarkable: growing from 200,000 to 1.35 million people wearing their glasses, and expanding the number of female Vision Entrepreneurs from 1,000 women in six countries to 8,000 women in 20 nations. While it took 10 years to reach 1 million customers, it will take only two to double that—they reached 525,000 in 2013 alone. In 2009, only 8% of their budget was covered by sales; in 2013, that will reach 50%. In addition, El Salvador is now VisionSpring’s first profitable country, with major regional scaling plans underway.
2008: A successful NY optometrist, Jordan has devised an innovative way to deliver affordable reading glasses to some of the world's poorest hardest to reach communities. He created franchise partnerships to use a "business in a bag" model containing everything that a rural entrepreneur needs to start a business selling reading glasses, thus creating jobs in underserved communities while providing glasses on a sustainable basis for the poor, for whom loss of income due to deteriorating vision is most devastating. VisionSpring now has over 850 "vision entrepreneurs" who have sold nearly 1 million pairs of glasses in India, Mexico, Latin America, and Africa.
Dr. Jordan Kassalow launched VisionSpring (formerly Scojo Foundation) in 2001 with the goal of meeting the global market failure for reading glasses. While working as an optometrist in the developing world, Jordan noticed that over 40% of his patients were losing their jobs because they could no longer see to work. Without clear vision, weavers could not set their looms, farmers could not sort seeds, and artisans could not see to create intricate designs. The loss of income due to deteriorating vision was devastating to poor communities. A pair of ready-made reading glasses, a basic product available in every drugstore in the US, would restore their vision and productivity, yet reading glasses were not available to those living on less than $4 a day.
To address this market failure, Jordan realized he would need to devise a creative, innovative system for delivering affordable reading glasses to the world’s poorest, hardest-to-reach communities. The answer? A “Business in a Bag” containing everything that a rural entrepreneur needs to start a business selling reading glasses, thus creating jobs in underserved communities while providing glasses on a sustainable basis for the poor.
Jordan first focused VisionSpring on developing replicable systems for training entrepreneurs in Latin America and India. In 2006, as a result of his leadership training as a Henry Crown Fellow at the Aspen Institute, Jordan began to develop creative strategies for broadening VisionSpring’s impact to reach millions in need and to create the long-term, lasting global impact that first drove his idea for VisionSpring. He recognized an opportunity to license VisionSpring’s Business in a Bag model to existing rural networks, such as microfinance borrowers and community health workers, thus reducing the burden of building costly new infrastructure and vastly speeding up the time it takes to reach scale. VisionSpring “Franchise Partner” organizations would benefit from the addition of an income-generating product along with the transfer of skills and knowledge gleaned from VisionSpring’s rural sales experience.
Scojo estimates that its economic impact to date is more than $70 million in increased earnings in the world’s poorest communities. A pair of VisionSpring reading glasses can yield a more than 17-fold return on investment in increased productivity for the wearer per year. Further, VisionSprings Vision Entrepreneurs, most of who work on a part-time basis, earn more than $400 in additional income per year. VisionSpring believes its long-term, global impact will occur on multiple levels.
Currently, VisionSpring is building one of the first global networks of organizations providing goods and services to the “Base of the Economic Pyramid.” In the long-term, VisionSpring aims to be the catalyst that proves to large optical and healthcare companies that poor communities represent viable markets, thus prompting the global business community to serve the rural poor with affordable, life-improving products and services.