Jordan Kassalow

Organization: 
VisionSpring
Year founded: 
2001
Country: 
USA

VisionSpring has developed several innovative models for bringing high-quality, affordable eyeglasses to customers in developing countries. Through mobile optical units, optical shops, and Vision Entrepreneurs, more than 1,400,000 pairs of eyeglasses have been sold.

Focus: Health, Microfinance
Geographic Area of Impact: India, El Salvador, Bangladesh
Model: Hybrid Non-Profit
Annual Budget: US$ 2.4 million (2011)
Percentage Earned Revenue: 42%
Number of Direct Beneficiaries: 369,000 (2012)
Recognition: Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2012

Background
According to conservative estimates by the World Health Organization, 703 million people could have their vision restored with a pair of eyeglasses, and 77% of those individuals can be helped with a pair of standard reading glasses. Many are affected by presbyopia, which usually starts when adults are in the prime of their careers and can easily be corrected. However, if left untreated, presbyopia causes gradual vision loss that can lead to premature retirement. The cost of uncorrected refractive error to the global economy has been estimated at $202 billions, with the developing world disproportionately affected. Despite an enormous market opportunity, traditional optical companies have shown little interest in investing the time or financial resources required to transform the latent BoP eyeglasses market into a viable one.

Innovation and Activities
VisionSpring has developed market-appropriate business models to deliver affordable and high-quality eyeglasses to BoP communities. In El Salvador the consumer base is served by VisionSpring’s optical shops - BoPtical Shops - which offer comprehensive eye care. In India VisionSpring’s target customers live in remote, rural areas that are reached through an innovative mobile optical store model. In other countries VisionSpring has implemented a Global Partnership program to leverage existing NGO networks.

Beginning in early 2010, the VisionSpring El Salvador team expanded its services to offer prescription eyeglasses as well as reading glasses in the urban and peri-urban areas of El Salvador. Based on VisionSpring’s years of experience with local communities, it identified an opportunity to better serve its constituencies and responded by opening its first optical store in late 2010. The optical stores have on-site optometrists who conduct exams and prescribe eyeglasses for refractive errors.

VisionSpring India has established a solid distribution channel for delivering eyeglasses to low-income people in rural India. VisionSpring utilizes retrofitted vans as mobile optical units managed by a team with diverse expertise in sales and marketing, optometry and behaviour change communications. The VisionSpring outreach team visits each location the day before the mobile optical unit arrives, creating demand by educating about the importance of proper eye care and preparing communities for the vision screening process. Each mobile optical unit is equipped with a range of pre-cut lenses that are most commonly prescribed; glasses are then assembled on the mobile unit allowing many customers to return to work and school with new glasses that same day. This approach has enabled VisionSpring to keep glasses at a price affordable to the rural market.

The University of Michigan conducted a rigorous 2007-2010 impact evaluation on VisionSpring's work among 450 BoP consumers in India's Andhra Pradesh state. Results demonstrated that a pair of VisionSpring's glasses can increase workers' productivity by an average of 35%2 and income by 20%. In addition, recent research conducted in China found that correcting vision among primary school pupils significantly increases test scores, with the impacts of corrected vision equivalent to as much as a half year of schooling.

The Entrepreneur
Dr. Kassalow is Founder and CEO of VisionSpring, providing leadership and expertise to its global operations. He is also the founder of the Global Health Policy Program at the Council on Foreign Relations, where he served as an Adjunct Senior Fellow from 1999-2004, and co-founder of Scojo New York. Prior to his position at the Council, he served as Director of the Onchocerciasis Division at Helen Keller International. He currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Jerusalem Foundation, on the Medical Advisory Board of Helen Keller International, and is an Ashoka Global Health Fellow. The recipient of numerous awards, including the prestigious Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship, The Aspen Institute’s Henry Crown Fellowship, and The Draper Richards Foundation Fellowship. Dr. Kassalow received his Doctorate of Optometry from the New England College of Optometry and completed his Fellowship in Preventive Ophthalmology and his Masters in Public Health from Johns Hopkins.