Thursday, February 10, 2011


In my international studies capstone seminar (INTS 427 Social Enterprise in Developing Economies) this morning, we had the opportunity to meet and speak with Dr. Jordan Kassalow, founder and CEO of VisionSpring. Here's some information from the VisionSpring website:
VisionSpring is an innovative social enterprise dedicated to reducing poverty and generating opportunity in the developing world through the sale of affordable eyeglasses. Our goal is to create channels for the delivery of low-cost eyeglasses to ensure every individual has equitable access to the eye care products they need to live a full, productive life. 
VisionSpring trains local villagers to conduct outreach & vision screenings and sell high-quality, low-cost eyeglasses in their communities. Our Vision Entrepreneurs sell affordable reading glasses, sunglasses & eye drops and refer customers needing prescription glasses to a VisionSpring optometrist or a partner eye health institution. 
Dr. Kassalow explained that, by working directly with lens manufacturers and frame makers, VisionSpring has created a new, low-cost model for eyeglass distribution that has proven to be effective in developing markets around the world. To date, they've sold over 600,000 pairs of glasses, increasing average productivity and income among their customers by 35 and 20 percent, respectively, according to an independent University of Michigan study.

And because VisionSpring is a social enterprise, not just a non-profit organization doling out free goods and services, its growth has been driven by previously latent market forces that had long been neglected by traditional eyeglass distributors. Identifying and harnessing the power of this demand has enabled VisionSpring to maximize its social impact, currently estimated at $234 million.

As C. K. Prahalad states in The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits (a book on the INTS 427 reading list), "If we stop thinking of the poor as victims or as a burden and start recocgnizing them as resilient entrepreneurs and value-conscious consumers, a whole new world of opportunity can open up."