Creating and Sustaining Livelihoods through Vision, with Jordan Kassalow, VisionSpring

VisionSpring is a social enterprise that provides affordable access to eye care everywhere.

Jordan Kassalow, VisionSpring

Jordan Kassalow, VisionSpring

As a 23-year-old student of optometry, Jordan Kassalow had an opportunity to travel to Latin America to bring eye care to underserved populations. While on the trip, he came across a 7-year-old boy who was a student from the School for the Blind in Mexico. Jordan realized that the boy was not blind, but instead needed a strong pair of glasses. Jordan told me “When the lenses were aligned with his eyes and saw for the first time, it was a very powerful moment that changed both of our lives.”

From that moment, it would take another fifteen years before Jordan launched VisionSpring. All the while, his mind was still connected to this moment with a 7-year-old boy in Mexico. Jordan worked in India with the Urban Eye Hospital. He worked for Helen Keller International. He worked in a foreign-policy think tank in New York. He founded Scojo, a premium ready-to-wear reading eyewear company. A portion of Scojo’s profits went to the Scojo foundation with provided eye care and eyewear to those in need. The Scojo Foundation eventually became VisionSpring.

Globally, there are more than 2.5 billion people who struggle to do everyday tasks because of poor eyesight that could be corrected with a pair of glasses. Of those, more than 600 million people can be categorized as blind or visually impaired. Their productivity and effectiveness is reduced.

Jordan explains “If you think of a 40-year-old weaver in India or tailor in Mexico, at the age of 40, they are entering their most productive years. They are masters of what they’re doing. And suddenly their eyes start to fail and so does their income.”

This reduction in productivity results in more than $200 billion in loss to the global economy. Most of the people impacted, about 90%, live in the developing world.

Two insights came to Jordan. The first was that the cost to meet this need was very small. “We had the idea that we could double people’s working life by enabling them to get access to a product that was so affordable.”

He also realized that “There was a huge number of people, particularly women, who are under or unemployed, and needed opportunities to live a self-reliant life.” So they put these two ideas together, that a simple pair of glasses could extend the productivity of people around the world, and that people needed employment opportunities.

VisionSpring ensures that anyone who needs a pair of affordable eye glasses in order to learn, work or enjoy life, has access to them. They accomplish this by enabling poor people, particularly women, to sell reading glasses to their neighbors through their partnership with the world’s largest development organization BRAC.

Social Entrepreneurship Quotes from Jordan Kassalow

[spp-tweet tweet=”“We really see ourselves as an economic development organization.” @JKassalow, @VisionSpring”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“These are levers to decrease poverty and increase opportunity.” @JKassalow, @VisionSpring“]

“The market is a wonder way to get the feedback loop. It’s also a wonderful way to work towards sustainability and scalability.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”“If you can’t sustain something, it becomes hard to scale it.” @JKassalow, @VisionSpring“]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“Vanity is not monopolized by the rich.” @JKassalow, @VisionSpring“]

“Measuring impact and having a clear impact story is critical for any social enterprise.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”“A pair of glasses translates into a 35% increase in productivity.” @JKassalow, @VisionSpring“]

“For every pair of glasses that we sell, we generate $216 of economic impact.”

“You’ve got to go out there as soon as possible and interface with the market.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”“Learn by doing, not by thinking.” @JKassalow, @VisionSpring“]

“You have to get the right people on the bus and you have to have a sustainable supply of money.”

“If you can find those long-term unrestricted investors, that is like gold.”

“Look at the problem you’re trying to address, not only from an enterprise perspective, but from a systems perspective.”

Social Entrepreneurship Resources:

More Stories of Sustainable Development Goal 3, Good Health and Well-Being

In 2017, we’re emphasizing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). In March, we are focusing on Sustainable Development Goal 3, Good Health and Well-Being. You can read more about Sustainable Development Goal 1 here, Sustainable Development Goal 2 here, or learn about all of the Sustainable Development Goals here.

About the Author
Tony Loyd is a TEDx speaker, podcast host and the author of Crazy Good Advice: 10 Lessons Learned from 150 Leading Social Entrepreneurs. He is a former Fortune 500 executive with extensive experience in strategic planning, talent management, and leadership development. Tony is the host of the podcast Social Entrepreneur where you can hear the stories of changemakers who are making an impact on the world.

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