Economic Opportunity, Health, Health Delivery; Livelihoods; Health Technology
In the developing world, where millions depend for their livelihood on precision work, the degrading vision associated with aging threatens livelihoods and leads inexorably to poverty.
The social entrepreneur: Early in his training as an optometrist, Jordan Kassalow took part in a medical mission to rural Mexico. Thousands of people who had no local access to vision services stood in line to have their eyes checked by the visitors. One was a 52-year-old weaver whose new reading glasses enabled her to go back to the work she had given up as her vision worsened, and begin earning income again. Another was a young boy assumed to be blind, who in fact only needed strong eyeglasses. Jordan realized that eyeglasses might be the difference to millions of people’s ability to work, learn, and participate in their societies. There had to be a way to make that difference in a way more locally rooted and sustainable than international medical missions. Working to develop that solution, he studied at the Aravind eye hospital in India, led Helen Keller International’s work on river blindness, and founded the National Council on Foreign Relations’ Global Health Policy Program. In 2001, he launched the organization that became VisionSpring, to train and employ local people to conduct basic eye exams and sell affordable eyeglasses in their communities. By 2009, VisionSpring had sold more than 150,000 pairs of low-cost reading glasses in 11 countries.
Quote: “If you can’t see, you can’t work or learn. Across the developing world, there are millions of middle-aged people who can’t work and millions of children who can’t succeed in school because of vision problems that a $4 pair of eyeglasses could correct.”
Impact since joining the portfolio in 2009:
- Cumulative: 5 million clients had vision screening and 2 million purchased eyeglasses.
- Economic impact estimated at $269 million (increased productivity made possible by corrected vision)
- Serving 500,000 clients annually
- In partnership with BRAC in Bangladesh, trained 20,000 community health workers to sell reading glasses, in a program that eventually will train 75,000 workers and generate $600 million in economic impact.
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