BRAC and VisionSpring partnered on the effort.
(Press Release) DHAKA, BANGLADESH -- VisionSpring and BRAC provided 1 million pairs of affordable eyeglasses to low-income customers, achieving major milestones both in scaling a social entrepreneurship model and in expanding access to vision services in Bangladesh. The Reading Glasses for Improved Livelihoods Program, which began in 2006, has seen marked success, contributing to significant health and economic outcomes.
For low-income earners, eyeglasses are a simple, affordable tool that sustains productivity and earning power. Since the program's start, it is estimated to have contributed to $110 million in increased income at the household level, based on an analysis of a study conducted by the University of Michigan. With a philanthropic investment of $3.50 per pair, the return on investment is significant.
Eyeglasses can prevent middle-aged workers from experiencing any drop in efficiency and productivity associated with the eye's natural aging. Without the ability to focus up close, mechanics, barbers, tailors, teachers, artisans and many others whose work requires clear near vision lose years of income earning potential.
BRAC and VisionSpring developed an innovative social entrepreneurship model to reach these low-wage earners, selling low-cost reading glasses through BRAC's network of community health workers (locally known as Shasthya Shebikas). They offer free eye screenings, and have created a referral system for nearly 610,000 customers who need higher-level care for cataracts and other eye conditions. Living in the communities where they work, the female health workers reach customers in the most remote areas of Bangladesh through vision camps and home visits.
For 90 percent of customers, this is their first pair of glasses. The community health workers earn a modest commission from the sale of each pair of eyeglasses; since the program's inception, they have earned a total of $450,000 in supplemental income.
"Partnerships are central to our success," said Jordan Kassalow, founder of VisionSpring. "Our collaboration with BRAC exemplifies the power of bringing together two organizations that share a common purpose and ethos and possess complementary core competencies. We feel honored and privileged to have found such a wonderful long term partner."
On Feb. 12, VisionSpring, BRAC, supporters, partners in the social enterprise and global health community members gathered in Dhaka to celebrate the success of the partnership and honor the health workers and program organizers who have brought improved vision to people in 61 of 64 districts across Bangladesh.
Founded in 2001, VisionSpring is a social enterprise whose mission is to improve access to eyewear for earners and learners everywhere with radically affordable, durable, attractive glasses.
BRAC is a global leader in developing and implementing cost-effective, evidence-based programs to assist the most marginalized people in extremely poor, conflict-prone and post-disaster settings. Based in New York, BRAC USA serves a critical purpose as the North American affiliate of BRAC, building awareness of the important work being done serving poor communities in 11 countries around the world and mobilizing resources to underpin programs.