2 Billion People Can’t See Clearly. This Business Sees the Answer.

By Ella Gudwin and Claire McGuinness, VisionSpring

What if I told you we had a breakthrough solution that could access untapped potential in 2.5 billion people? That it could keep people safer and help children learn better? You might envision a fancy new technology, but this magic bullet is surprisingly simple: a pair of eyeglasses. Just…

What if I told you we had a breakthrough solution that could access untapped potential in 2.5 billion people? That it could keep people safer and help children learn better? You might envision a fancy new technology, but this magic bullet is surprisingly simple: a pair of eyeglasses.

Just this month, Williams-Sonoma Inc. and Target joined with social enterprise VisionSpring to increase the income and productivity potential of an initial 20,000 workers who make their goods in India and the Philippines. This investment in Clear Vision Workplaces follows successful pilot tests with West Elm textile and rug suppliers during which we found 56% of workers had a need for vision correction and more than 90% had never before worn eyeglasses.

The Clear Vision Workplace program is just one of many ways in which VisionSpring partners with like-minded businesses to boost income earning, education gains, road safety, and quality of life of low-income populations by accelerating the uptake of eyeglasses.


Aligned with Sustainable Development Goal 1: Decent Work and Economic Growth

Clear Vision Workplaces are a triple win. Workers gain increased income earning potential and more working years; suppliers gain productivity, and buyers see higher quality against standards.

On a visit to Bangladesh a garment worker, Helena Begum, told me how blurry vision had forced her to prematurely drop out of the workforce. “When my eyes deteriorated, I couldn’t thread my needle anymore and had to leave my job.” At the time of our conversation, she had transitioned to working as a house cleaner and was earning a quarter of the wages the factory offered.

Clear Vision Workplaces can also be agricultural settings. In Assam India, Amalgamated Plantation Private Ltd. invited VisionSpring to screen the vision of 4,000 tea pickers. Exceeding our initial assumptions and correlated with age, we found that 80% of tea garden workers had blurry vision. After workers received their glasses, VisionSpring helped Amalgamated to set up an optical counter in its onsite clinic to sustain the newly achieved levels of vision correction. And, we are now conducting a randomized control trial to study the impact of vision correction on workers on income and productivity.

We invite other companies, brands and manufacturers to join us in creating Clear Vision Workplaces.


Aligned with Sustainable Development Goal 4: Quality Education

As the development community has shifted from a focus on school enrollment levels to students’ learning outcomes, corporations are helping sponsor curriculum development and teacher training…and eyeglasses.

Depending on the country — for example 4% of middle-schoolers in Africa and as much as 65% in China – students need glasses to see the blackboard. School-based vision screenings are a low-cost, easy intervention to implement; and arguably, have the highest return on learning per dollar invested. Studies have shown that correcting a student’s vision with glasses equates to the child gaining an additional half a year of schooling, plus a life time of enhance learning and earning.

India’s government has taken a leading role in allocating funds for children’s eyeglasses. For a variety of reasons however, states have been slow to draw down those resources and the funds are not always sufficient to cover all costs. That’s where VisionSpring comes in. We create public-private partnerships to put those government dollars (aka rupees) to work.

As an example in Delhi and Maharashtra states, we have paired government funds with philanthropic dollars from Warby Parker to help clear the backlog of public school students with uncorrected refractive error. We use the Warby Parker funds strategically to bridge critical funding gaps, making it possible to bring together the full constellation of partners who are needed to screen hundreds of thousands of children (and their teachers) and provide those in need with a pair of prescription eyeglasses, which VisionSpring produces in our centralized lens lab.

Pairing corporate funds with government resources is a great way to invest in scalable, high impact solutions and stretch philanthropic capital to serve more people.


Sustainable Development Goal 3.6: Road Traffic Accidents

Road traffic accidents rank number 9 as a leading cause of death and disability worldwide. An easy first step to cutting road traffic fatalities and injuries by 50%? Making sure drivers can see where they are going.

We partner with the companies in the automotive and transportation sector, such as RPG Group, Castrol and Apollo Tyres, to establish refractive services in major transportation hubs in India and Kenya. In these instances we are leveraging CSR funds to subsidize a market-based development solution. Specifically, we use grant funds to cover the cost of awareness raising and vision screening, while the end consumer – the truck drivers, mechanics and other allied transportation workers – pay for the affordable glasses directly. In this way “beneficiaries” become customers and establish the basis for future purchases knowing that they will need eyeglasses to sustain their livelihood.

As companies transform their corporate social responsibility from check writing and traditional charity to shared value initiatives, we have found great partners keen to experiment with social enterprise solutions. This year, we will reach almost one million people with the glasses they need to earn, learn, and be safe. If you would like to create access to vision correction in your community, workplaces, schools, or transit hubs, contact us at gl************@vi**********.org

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