• Awarded: 2009
  • Issue Areas: Economic Opportunity · Health · Health Delivery · Livelihoods
  • Region: Central America · Central and Southern Asia · South America
  • Web:
  • About the Organization

    For those who work in the textile industry, tailors, rug makers, bike mechanics, weavers, artisans, and anyone who needs to see up close for their profession, the loss of near vision during prime working years can affect their ability to earn a living and support a family. VisionSpring was founded on a very basic principle: “If you can’t see, you can’t work.”

    Traditional optical companies have shown little interest in investing the time or resources required to transform the latent eyeglasses market for the base of the pyramid (BoP) consumer.

    VisionSpring recognizes the potential to have a dramatic impact on development by engaging the BoP, not as a constituency that needs to be served with handouts, but instead as a potential market that can be activated through a high-volume, low-margin approach.

    In order to address the global eyeglasses market failure, affecting more than 700 million people who could have their vision restored with a pair of glasses, VisionSpring has forged new distribution channels to deliver affordable, high-quality eyeglasses to the BoP consumer.

    In the developing world, the degrading vision associated with aging threatens livelihoods and leads to poverty.

    VisionSpring trains and employs local people to conduct basic eye exams and sell affordable eyeglasses in their communities.

    Jordan Kassalow seeks to ensure affordable access to eyeglasses everywhere in the world

    Five million clients have had vision screening, and 2 million purchased eyeglasses.

    Ambition for Change

    Ensure affordable access to eyeglasses everywhere in the world.

    Path to Scale

    Franchising and Movement Building
    Test models to assure that franchises will be economically viable as businesses, expand, continue innovation and testing. Communicate the connection between vision and economic development to promote engagement by agencies and other partners.

    Business Model

    “Business in a bag” micro-franchise supports local entrepreneurs who earn or supplement their income selling reading glasses; hub-and-spoke franchises enabling community-based entrepreneurs to administer basic tests, sell eyeglasses, and refer complex cases to a licensed optometrist.

    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.

    Impact & Accomplishments

    • 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.


    Anshu TanejaCountry Director, VisionSpring
    Jordan KassalowFounder and Co-Chairman, VisionSpring
    Kirsten BunchSenior Development Officer, VisionSpring
    Peter EliassenChief Operating Officer, VisionSpring
    Reade FahsChairman of the Board, VisionSpring

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