VisionSpring is a global social enterprise whose mission is to create access to eyewear, everywhere. We are positively disrupting the traditional optical market, by providing those earning less than $4 a day with access to free vision screenings and radically affordable eyeglasses. To date, we have screened over 6 million individuals across emerging and frontier markets and sold over 3.9 million pairs of eyeglasses in 43 markets. We aim to reach 10 million in the next few years.
Since 2001, our innovations have created access to a 700-year-old technology to people earning $4 per day in emerging and frontier markets who have limited or no access to basic eye care services. Our innovation is three-fold and includes product innovations, service, and process.
Product Innovation: VisionSpring’s eyeglasses have small modifications which distinguishe them from other products in a market largely dominated by black market goods. Our softflex glasses (trademarked) have a unique rubberized finish which gives them a frosted finish with a velvety smooth feel. They have a modern appeal, and to date we have not encountered a comparable frame finish in Africa. We work with our manufacturer to produce a low-cost eyeglass that will last at least a year of heavy use, if not more. Our glasses have spring-hinged arms and double length screws to enhance durability. The plastic is developed to be significantly flexible. In the African market we tend to see cheap glasses made out of lower grade plastic—which depending on the raw material mix can be very brittle and subject to break inside of 3 months—or we see acetate at a much higher price point which is targeted to the high-end consumer, and not accessible to our target customer segment.
Service Innovation: VisionSpring has greatly improved delivery methods by selling eyeglasses through existing networks of community health workers. This method has proven to be a novel and scalable route to reaching the low-income consumer groups that would not otherwise have access to eyeglasses. The adjacency of eyeglasses with health maintains a familiarity with consumers while pushing the delivery of eyeglasses beyond the four walls of health care institutions and optical stores thereby reaching a greater number of first-time wearers and those who have never received eyescreenings.
Contracting vision services: In India VisionSpring is engaged by corporate entities as a social impact consultant, rather than a traditional charitable partner. We work with them to custom design and implement vision interventions that align with a company’s core business need as well as their CSR requirements. Projects are designed around three impact themes: See to Earn, See to Learn and See to be Safe.
Process Innovation Minimum Replicable Business Unit: Using this “light footprint” approach we have developed a nimble, cost effective, low-risk method for deepening market penetration and reaching our target customer segment through B2B channels. Pairs of contracted sales associates coupled with a wholesale distributor (or 3PL) allows us to have market presence, nurture meaningful client relationships and engage in face-to-face consultative selling without developing a significant infrastructure or bricks and mortar operations in-country. In the event that an untested market does not yield sufficient sales to support the sales team, we can quickly pivot to the next market without having invested substantial capital and time. Likewise, it allows us to quickly sub-out low performing individuals if necessary.
How does your innovation work?
Our innovation works by employing an innovative high-volume low-margin business model, coupled with philanthropic investments to deliver high-quality, radically affordable and attractive eyeglasses to those earning less than $4 a day across emerging and frontier markets.
To reach our target customer we use innovative Business to Business (B2B) and Business to Consumer (B2C) models. To review our distribution channels, click on the link below.
What is your strategy for expanding use of your innovation?
Minimum Replicable Business Unit (MRBU) in Key Markets
In 2016, we developed the concept of the MRBU to support our key market expansion plan. It is influenced by an early strategy we used in India (starting in 2012) to grow our wholesale channel, informed by training and marketing approaches in Bangladesh (starting in 2006) and with learnings gleaned from 2016 deployment of field based sales teams.
The MRBU is comprised of
a two-person in-county field team (one) business development representative and (one) optical technical advisor,
an in-country wholesale partner that has the capacity to sell small quantities of glasses (less than 2k),
a logistical support package that includes standard operating procedures, customs certifications etc., and
4) sell-through support which includes marketing collateral and training on how to conduct a vison camp.
The MRBU allows us to deepen market penetration by using an on-the-ground team who can provide significant sell-through support, and serves as a flexible, low-risk approach in green markets. In 2016, we formalized the MBRU approach and deployed it in Kenya and Nigeria. With the early success of the MRBU, we are poised to enter six new markets by the end of 2018.
In 2016, VisionSpring’s Board of Directors adopted a three-year strategic plan (2016-2018) to expand our social impact with 130% growth in eyeglasses delivered by the end of 2018. We will continue to work to advance our key objectives directed by our three-year plan and our expansion into key markets using our MRBU model. Our key objectives are as follows:
Objective 1: Accelerate eyeglass uptake among Earners and Learners vulnerable to poverty:
Objective 2: Shape lasting markets for eyeglasses in low-income target states
Objective 3: Deliver at scale through high volume, low margin blended business models
Objective 4: Innovate, Learn and share promising practices and technology in a global network