$6 Eyeglasses for the Poor

by VisionSpring
Hub in Panipat India
Hub in Panipat India


As we began replicating our hub-and-spoke model in India, we found that the most effective strategy would be to collaborate with local hospitals or surgery facilities capable of housing our optical-shop “hubs.” Through such collaborations, VisionSpring can transfer its knowledge and expertise to enhance collaborators’ eye-care services while capitalizing on their existing customer base.

Thus far we have established four such healthcare-center collaborations, in Panipat, Sonipat, Pratapgarh, and Shahdara. These collaborations are proving mutually beneficial: VisionSpring expands its market while our vision screenings act as triage points to identify and refer to collaborating facilities individuals in need of cataract treatment or other advanced care. As a result, for the first time in India the two leading causes of blindness—refractive error and cataracts—are being addressed concurrently.

El Salvador

In order to keep pace with this growth we hired a new Sales and Marketing Manager, Cecilia Batlle, who was Chiquita Brands International country director in El Salvador for seven years prior to joining VisionSpring. One of Cecilia’s first projects will be overseeing the integration of tablet-based data collection into our work.

happy customer in El Salvador
happy customer in El Salvador

VisionSpring enjoyed a strong First Quarter 2013.  Among the highlights:

  • In a momentous first for our global operations, VisionSpring El Salvador’s businesses achieved and maintained operational profitability.
  • VisionSpring and BRAC are nearing conclusion on the renewal of our successful five-year partnership in Bangladesh, anticipating sales of 1.7 million pairs of glasses over 60 months.
  • VisionSpring India tripled its number of optical shops in major surgery centers as we adapt our hub-and-spoke model, developed in El Salvador, for replication in India.

El Salvador

VisionSpring El Salvador’s new country director, Tony Trabanino, established strict cost controls and launched a team of 10 vision entrepreneurs working exclusively on commission in rural regions.  Through his efforts, in January El Salvador became our first channel to break even, and operational profitability has been maintained since.  We expect to expand in El Salvador, and scale in Central America with both philanthropic and impact investment in 2014.  We also introduced customer-satisfaction surveys at our optical shops and at vision campaigns via a mobile application.  More than 3,500 completed surveys were directly uploaded to our cloud-based Salesforce CRM system; early analysis bodes well for robust customer data.  (VisionSpring India is also introducing surveys and testing the mobile application for eventual integration into our Salesforce system.) 

Bangladesh, in Partnership with BRAC

VisionSpring Bangladesh and BRAC are executing a renewal of our five-year plan that will lower costs for our end consumers; train an additional 25,000 community health workers; and expand the program into 24 additional districts.  While the strikes in Bangladesh have reduced the number of vision campaigns the women are able to conduct, we expect any loss in sales to be offset by the fact that in July BRAC will begin training additional health workers to sell glasses.


Based on the success of our retail optical shop at our partner hospital in the city of Karnal, we have opened two more shops in surgery centers in Paniput and Pratapapgarh.  Each shop functions as a “hub” with spoke-like outreach to surrounding locales at least 22 days per month via a van outfitted as a mobile optical-shop unit.  By December we expect to have five such units in operation, each selling 750 pairs of glasses per month, with operations breaking even within four months.


VisionSpring’s Global Partnerships channel continues to pursue large-scale opportunities through relationships with NGOs and for-profit businesses (especially those with multiple product lines and solid distribution networks) that both want to incorporate eyeglass sales into their work and can serve our base-of-the-pyramid consumers.  In addition, during Q1, the Clinton Giustra Sustainable Growth Initiative began selling VisionSpring eyeglasses in Peru, and our Mexico-based partnerships associate continued to identify prospective regional partners.

Other ways to help:

VisionSpring has recently partnered with Charity Miles, a GPS-enabled application for your phone that tracks the number of miles you bike, walk, or run.  For every mile clocked for VisionSpring, Charity Miles donates 25 cents to us.  Hit the streets for VisionSpring today!  Download Charity Miles here: http://www.charitymiles.org/

trying on glasses.
trying on glasses.

India: 77,139 pairs of glasses sold

Over the course of 2012 VisionSpring determined that our mobile optical stores, while effective in reaching the BoP consumer living in remote and rural regions of India, have proven to be unsustainable in isolation. In response, we have integrated the majority of our mobile optical stores into a broader hub and spoke model targeting urban, peri-urban, and rural communities around district capitals with populations between 1M-1.5M. This strategic shift represents a replication of our current model in El Salvador adapted for the Indian market. With the new approach in India, VisionSpring optical shops serve as hubs and mobile optical store vans function as the spokes conducting outreach in communities surrounding the optical shops. With a fixed location retail presence in India, VisionSpring will be able to reach more school aged children with comprehensive eye care services and prescription glasses, ensuring they have equal opportunity to succeed in school and realize their full potential. 

In August, USAID’s Development Innovation Ventures made a three-year commitment to our hub and spoke approach with a $585,350 investment in VisionSpring.  The partnership with USAID will enable VisionSpring to open 10 optical shops with corresponding outreach   Each Hub Store will facilitate outreach work in villages within driving distance from the store and conduct 22 vision campaigns a month.  Our first Hub Store opened on September 1st in Karnal, India.  The store has an on-site optometrist, offers full primary eye care services, prescription eyewear, and is selling reading glasses starting at 200 rupees (about $4.)   An integral component of this hub and spoke approach is a cross subsidization pricing strategy that addresses the public health need for eyeglasses while creating investable businesses.  The income generated through the sale of products with higher margins at our optical shops enables VisionSpring to conduct the resource intensive work of reaching BoP consumers living in more remote locations with limited access to eye care.

Outreach efforts conducted as part of the hub and spoke approach will incorporate best practices established through our mobile optical store model that operated in rural India.  For example, our vision entrepreneurs working with the mobile optical stores initiated the use of the iTest as part of their demand generation activities.  The iTest is a hand held device that instantaneously corrects a potential customer’s vision.  Many of our potential customers are not aware they have begun to experience vision loss before using the iTest and, as a result, it proved to be a powerful marketing tool that increased attendance at vision campaigns.

An integral part of VisionSpring's hub and spoke approach in India is our collaboration with local hospitals. VisionSpring's outreach efforts will act as an effective triage point that will connect customers who have had vision screenings and are in need of additional care to our optical shop for optometric services or to our partner hospital for advanced eye care -including cataract treatment. The close partnership with local hospitals will enable VisionSpring to formalize our existing referral system by providing the patient with information on their condition and the care required. In addition, for the first time, VisionSpring will be able to provide the hospitals with the patients' contact information, such as their mobile number, so that the hospital is able to follow up with the patient directly to help schedule an appointment. VisionSpring anticipates an increase in access to treatment as a result of this new initiative.

In late September, VisionSpring formalized our first partnership with a charitable medical facility near Karnal, Arpana Hospital. As part of the partnership Arpana has invited VisionSpring to open an on-site optical shop in the hospital, located next to the eye care wing. Recognizing an opportunity to maximize the benefits of the partnership, Arpana has opted to send representatives from the hospital to our vision campaigns when they are able to do so. The staff from the hospital prepares patients for what to expect during their visit and address any concerns in advance of the appointment.  Our partnership with Arpana has proved so effective that in 2013 VisionSpring is exploring the option of utilizing retail locations at hospitals as hub sites and conducting outreach directly from hospitals.


Smiling customer in India
Smiling customer in India

Dear Friend,

Over the last few years we have enlisted your support to help us sell our one millionth pair of glasses, and thanks to the generosity of donors like you, we have now sold more than 1,073,000 pairs.  Our glasses are being worn by individuals in El Salvador, India, Bangladesh, Mexico, Uganda, Ghana and 18 other developing countries.

This would not have been possible without your support!

Your friends at VisionSpring


53,756 pairs of glasses sold (through September) with more than 150,000 reached with vision screenings.

In August, USAID’s Development Innovation Ventures made a three-year commitment to our work in India with a $585,350 investment in VisionSpring –the largest grant ever awarded for stage two funding.  The partnership with USAID will enable VisionSpring to open 10 optical shops, replicating our successful El Salvador model in Indian cities with populations between 1-1.5 million.  Each store will facilitate outreach work in villages within driving distance from the store conducting vision campaigns 22 days every month.  Outreach efforts will incorporate best practices established through our mobile optical store model operating in rural India.  The first store opened on September 1st in Karnal, India with preliminary sales in line with projections.  An integral component of our work in urban and peri-urban India is our collaboration with local hospitals.  In Karnal we have established a partnership with a nearby hospital, Arpana, which allows VisionSpring to set up a small optical shop on-site at the hospital as well as maintain a close relationship with the hospital to help facilitate patient referrals from our vision campaigns.  VisionSpring will be looking to replicate this kind of partnership in every city where we establish an optical shop.  By the end of 2015, VisionSpring will have provided access to eyeglasses for more than 200,000 individuals in India through our 10 optical shops and corresponding outreach.  With a fixed location retail presence in India, VisionSpring will be able to reach more school aged children with comprehensive eye care services and prescription glasses, ensuring they have equal opportunity to succeed in school and realize their full potential. 

El Salvador:

29,022 pairs sold (through September) with more than 85,000 individuals reached with vision screenings.

In El Salvador glasses sales have increased 71% from this time last year with revenue expected to meet, if not exceed, our 2012 goal of $831,000.   Over the summer VisionSpring hired five fully licensed optometrists in El Salvador, one for each of our retail locations.  In addition, we are now employing an ophthalmologist in our Santa Ana location and she is able to accommodate referrals for advanced eye care from our stores and vision campaigns in Ahuachapán, Sonsonate, and Santa Ana.  In early October VisionSpring finalized a partnership with the Clinton Giustra Sustainable Growth Initiative that provides a framework for the replication of our El Salvador model in Peru.  Over the next several months our operations in El Salvador will serve as a learning lab for the William J. Clinton Foundation as they refine their program, with VisionSpring providing on-going technical assistance as they scale.  With a newly hired Director of Latin America, our work in 2013 will be squarely focused on building capacity to match the pace of our rapid growth. 


104,486 pairs sold by Shastho Shebikas (through September) with more than 300,000 reached with vision screenings

The female community health workers, or Shastho Shebikas, that sell our glasses in Bangladesh increased their sales 40% from this time last year.  The dramatic increase is attributed to the shift in strategy put in place in 2012 that emphasizes the distribution of glasses through community based vision campaigns instead of door-to-door sales.  In celebration of World Sight Day on October 11th BRAC hosted 970 vision campaigns selling 7,916 pairs of glasses in one day.  In 2013 VisionSpring and BRAC will be exploring new opportunities to maximize impact and provide the women selling the glasses with the tools they need to sell even more glasses.

Global Partnerships:

75,154 pairs sold (through September) with VisionSpring glasses being worn in 24 developing countries.

In late 2011 VisionSpring systematized our wholesale channel to establish a distribution platform, Global Partnerships, designed to broaden the scope of our work while adding value to other organizations. Partner organizations assume full cost of the training and supplies required to launch a glasses distribution program allowing VisionSpring to bring high-quality, affordable eye care services to new countries without the input of additional resources.  Partner organizations include other social enterprises, microfinance institutions, and NGOs. 

Customer Story:

Jitender makes tools for rice farmers in Rajasthan, India. Jordan met Jitender recently at the height of the harvest season in October.  Most years, Jitender and his family live off the money he earns during the six-week harvest season for several months.  When Jordan visited Jitender in the small workshop attached to his home, he was having difficulty drilling holes into what would become the wooden handles for the farming tools.  During past harvest seasons, Jitender sold as many as 400 of these tools, but he was concerned he would not be able to keep pace with customer demand this year.  As Jordan left Jitender assured him he would be attending our vision campaign the following day to get a new pair of glasses.We look forward to checking in with Jitender and hearing about his experience with his new glasses.

Make a Difference, Donate Today!

Your gift can help restore vision for the working poor and school children in the developing world. Just $4 enables VisionSpring to deliver high-quality, affordable eyeglasses to the hands of those who need them most.

First eye exam for a student in El Salvador
First eye exam for a student in El Salvador
VisionSpring Mobile Optical Van
VisionSpring Mobile Optical Van
Ribbon Cutting Ceremony at Optical Store in Karnal
Ribbon Cutting Ceremony at Optical Store in Karnal

Dear Friend,

In May, VisionSpring was thrilled to announce the sale of our 1,000,000th pair of eyeglasses. Each pair enables someone in the developing world to realize their full potential.  With the sale of one million glasses we have created over $216,000,000 in economic impact– but this is just the beginning. While it took us 10 years to sell our first million, we are on course to sell 10 million over the next 10 years.

This would not have been possible without your support!

Your friends at VisionSpring

VisionSpring Impact

VisionSpring sold over 120,000 pairs of glasses between January – June 2012. Of those over 34,000 were sold in India, 18,576 were sold in El Salvador, and 73,000 were sold through our Global Partnerships.

Exciting News From India

This month VisionSpring will open its first fixed location optical store in Karnal, India modeled after our optical shops in El Salvador.  VisionSpring’s comprehensive eye care services for the BoP consumer, or BoPtical Care Hubs, will be the only outlet in India offering comprehensive eye services that simultaneously serve district capitals and their surrounding small towns and villages.  VisionSpring will deploy a cross subsidization pricing strategy that will enable VisionSpring to address the public health need for eyeglasses in a sustainable manner.


Updated From El Salvador 

Since our last report, VisionSpring has hired five full-licensed optometrists, one for each of our locations. We have also hired an ophthalmologist in our optical shop in Santa Ana that handles advanced eye care referrals from our vision entrepreneur outreach work in Ahuachapan, Sonsonante, and Santa Ana.

Global Partnerships

In addition to VisionSpring's distribution channels in El Salvador and India, we now work with 23 different partners.  We’ve had tremendous success working with our partner organizations, and we are always looking for new organizations that want to explore strategic partnerships to add value to their existing operations. Please contact jhutchinson@visionspring.org to explore opportunities for collaboration.

Partnership Update

VisionSpring recently launched a new partnership with MasKapital in Oaxaca, Mexico. MasKapital is a Microfinance Institution with over 70,000 borrowers. Some of these borrowers will now begin to start their own businesses selling VisionSpring reading glasses.  We look forward to reporting back on the progress of the new partnership.

New Customer Story

Eva Santa Ana, El Salvador

VisionSpring met Eva in May in El Salvador.  Eva was attending a vision campaign at her local church in her village outside of Santa Ana.  Eva was at the church that day because she had heard about VisionSpring campaigns that had taken place in neighboring villages and had been waiting for us to come to her town. 

At 40 years old Eva has worked at the local coffee processing facility for four years.  Although it is seasonal work, Eva relies on the extra income she makes sorting coffee beans to support her three children and three grandchildren. 

VisionSpring in the News

Prescriptions and Pride: VisionSpring's Journey to One Million By Dr. Jordan Kassalow, Founder and CEO of VisionSpring. 

The woman I met in Choco, Colombia, arrived by canoe. She had made the trip down the river to the village where I was working as a young optometry student with a team of visiting eye doctors from Boston. She had traveled an entire day to get her eyes examined. Most of us complain about having to commute 30 minutes to work. She spoke little Spanish but it didn't take me long to examine her eyes and determine her problem -- she was legally blind. Considering the strength of her prescription, I was worried we might not be able to help her. Fortunately, I was able to locate a pair of glasses for her in the pile of used glasses we had brought down to distribute. While not a perfect match, the glasses were close enough to her prescription to restore her vision -- never mind that they had 1950s cat-eye-style frames. I was feeling satisfied that we had done good work that day.

Click here to read the full article on the Huffington Post.

At Least One Million By Paul Pollack

For many years I have been a vocal advocate for what I call the "Don't Bother Trilogy" in the practice of design, which states:

1. If you haven't had good conversations with at least 25 customers before you start 2. If the product or service you design doesn't pay for itself three times in the first year 3. If you can't sell at least a million of them DON'T BOTHER!

So it's not surprising that six years ago, I challenged my friend Jordan Kassalow to set a target of selling at least one million affordable eyeglasses. Jordan is the founder and CEO of VisionSpring, which sells high-quality, affordable eyeglasses to the poor people in the world who need them but don't have access to them. Two weeks ago, I was delighted to hear, from Jordan and his COO Peter Eliassen, that they had just sold a pair of eyeglasses to their one millionth customer.

Read Paul Pollack's Full Article on the Huffington Post

Make a Difference, Donate Today!

Your gift can help restore vision for the working poor and school children in the developing world. Just $4 enables VisionSpring to deliver high-quality, affordable eyeglasses to the hands of those who need them most.



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Organization Information


Location: New York, NY - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.visionspring.org
Project Leader:
Elizabeth Smith
New York, NY United States

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