VisionSpring helps improve productivity and quality of life by providing affordable eyeglasses.
VisionSpring helps improve productivity and quality of life by providing affordable eyeglasses. (Photograph courtesy VisionSpring)
Vidya Devi is a rug weaver in Norangpura village in Rajasthan. Some months ago, she started missing threads while weaving. As the sole earner in her family, after her husband’s death in 2014, it was critical for Vidya to be able to do her work well.
Vidya attended an eye camp by VisionSpring, where she received her first pair of glasses. Now, she makes it to a point to go for routine eye check-ups at VisionSpring camps.
VisionSpring, a nonprofit enterprise with offices in New York and New Delhi, helps economically disadvantaged communities by providing affordable eyeglasses. By training people to conduct vision tests and to sell high-quality, low-cost eyeglasses in their communities, VisionSpring helps improve productivity and quality of life.
Dr. Jordan Kassalow, a New York optometrist founded the organization in 2001 as the Scojo Foundation. Partnering with Helen Keller International, Dr. Kassalow’s organization launched a six-month pilot vision entrepreneur program in Andhra Pradesh. The organization changed its name to VisionSpring in 2008.
VisionSpring supports vision screening for more than 2.7 million people every year in India. (Photograph courtesy VisionSpring)
Increasing empowerment and productivity
In 2018, VisionSpring published the results of a groundbreaking study in The Lancet Global Health, demonstrating how eyeglasses can dramatically boost worker productivity. Conducted in the tea estates of Assam, the trial showed a 22 percent increase in productivity among tea pickers who had acquired their first pair of reading glasses. Moreover, workers over the age of 50 showed a productivity increase of nearly 32 percent after receiving eyeglasses.
Annually in India, VisionSpring supports vision screening for more than 2.7 million people and corrects the vision of more than one million people with affordable eyeglasses. On average, 73 percent of VisionSpring’s participants acquire their first-ever pair of eyeglasses through the organization’s See to Earn, See to Learn and See to be Safe programs.
It takes just $4 to $5 (approximately Rs. 330 to Rs. 415) in philanthropic funds for VisionSpring to get a customer a pair of new eyeglasses. With clear vision, those customers experience an average increase in income of 20 percent. According to a VisionSpring report, to date, it has distributed more than five million pairs of corrective eyeglasses in India, creating more than $1.08 billion in economic impact for low-income households.
The organization delivers on its eye health mission across 23 states in India. It works with more than 500 healthcare facilities and nongovernmental organizations, 15 state governments and agencies, and 50 corporations. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)’s Development Innovation Ventures supports VisionSpring to set up optical shops in India offering vision screenings and affordable eyeglasses.
Looking ahead, Anshu Taneja, VisionSpring’s managing director in India, says, “VisionSpring will screen more than 135,000 weavers and artisans across India and more than 35,000 tea pickers in Assam in 2022. VisionSpring will also test 200,000 children, in partnership with the Bajaj Group, in Maharashtra. More than 50,000 commercial vehicle drivers will benefit from our partnership with Shell and other organizations. The people who get eyeglasses as a result of these programs will earn and learn better and lead safer and better-quality lives.”
Jason Chiang is a freelance writer based in Silver Lake, Los Angeles.