The Youth Citizen Entrepreneurship Competition is an activity within the framework of the UNESCO Global Action Programme (GAP) on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)

Customizable, Adjustable Eyeglasses for the Developing World

Published on July 2, 2014 um 16:19

Summary of your idea

Over 700 million people in developing countries have vision loss that could be resolved with a pair of glasses, resulting in more than $200 billion of lost economic output annually. Unfortunately, the success of current solutions has been limited due to the scarcity of optometrists in developing countries and the difficulty of ensuring that the correct glasses are given to those who need them. Adjustable glasses, which allow users to determine their own prescription strength through trial and error, have gained a significant amount of media attention because of their ability to address this access barrier. However, current adjustable designs are dependent on parts with low-scalability that drive costs beyond what is affordable for many people in developing areas. We have designed an extremely low-cost pair of eyeglasses that is adjustable across parameters that maximize comfort and utility. The glasses, which are built from three simple, decoupled components, can be assembled without tools by anyone in the field. The customizable assembly of components at their point of use provides adjustability for both lens power and frame shape, which has not been done before in combination. This innovative approach reduces both short- and long-term costs to the consumer, reduces the need for optometrists, and complements proven, scalable base-of-the-pyramid distribution models used by many NGOs. We have moved beyond prototyping and are in the startup stage of scaling the production of our glasses.

Expected impact of your idea on sustainable development

Providing glasses to those who need them creates enormous social value and is a relatively simple way to spur economic development. A University of Michigan study in Andhra Pradesh found that providing reading glasses to people who need them has the potential to increase monthly income by 20 percent. Glasses improve both childhood and adult education, allow individuals to enter (or re-enter) the workforce, and increase productivity, catalyzing change in a number of interconnected areas that drive economic growth. Our glasses are designed to overcome the major barriers to treating visual impairment in the developing world and offer a decentralized, sustainable means of improving quality-of-life on a global scale. We have distributed prototypes on a small scale in Ghana and plan to run larger field-tests across several countries this year. Our focus is reducing visual impairment and spurring economic development, which we will assess with the help of our partner NGOs. Our measures will include the increase in earnings potential for the user, the return on investment compared to other glasses, user satisfaction, and the number of pairs distributed. Our target is to distribute 20,000 pairs over the next year. Our long-term goal is to continue to develop collaborations and use existing infrastructure to sustainably distribute as many glasses as possible.

Plans for implementation and sustainability

Distribution networks for providing low-cost healthcare in developing countries are already established, and the adjustable design of our glasses complements these proven base-of-the-pyramid models. We plan to leverage existing channels, which would allow for distribution to be scaled rapidly. Our business model will be based on a Hub-and-Spoke approach, which was originally pioneered by VisionSpring, a leading non-profit distributor of eyeglasses in the developing world. The model uses hubs to supply local women with a business in a bag- eyeglasses, training materials, and screening tools; the women are then able to provide eyeglasses to members of their community in rural or difficult-to-reach locations. Our model will aim to use established partner NGOs, such as The Blessing Basket Project, as hubs. Partnering with NGOs reduces regulatory hurdles and accelerates access to areas in need. Additionally, these collaborations will enable us to focus on large-scale distribution and allow regional complexities to be addressed by those who know them best (i.e. NGOs and community members). We believe that local agents, provided with a low-cost, adaptable product, the potential to earn much needed income, and the opportunity to catalyze economic growth in their communities, will become a driving force in distributing eyeglasses to people in need. Our implementation efforts will be assisted by Washington University and by the advice and funding we have received from other competitions. Ultimately, we aim to build a socially-conscious, scalable, and self-sustaining initiative by utilizing a proven distribution model and the unique advantages of our glasses.

Your profile

I am 22 years old and recently graduated from Washington University in St. Louis. I have been working on developing the glasses over the last year with my classmate, Nathan Brajer, who is 22 and also graduated in 2014. Nathan and I have devoted a significant amount of time to this idea and have developed it as a result of our mutual interest in medicine and our belief in the potential for entrepreneurship to drive large-scale social change. The venture is a joint effort in which we hold 100% equity. We have received support and mentorship from various NGOs, faculty at Washington University, and other members of the St. Louis community. We recently won the Engineering Discovery Competition and were named finalists for the Suren G. Dutia and Jas K. Grewal Global Impact Award, through which we have received funding and advising. As a result of this support, we have been able to successfully field-test our prototype in Ghana. Help from the Youth Citizen Entrepreneurship Competition would be extremely useful to us in further transforming our idea into a high impact, sustainable solution for treating visual impairment in the developing world.

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Stage of Idea

start-up stage

Your idea has a positive impact on

education, health, poverty reduction, elderly, empowerment of women, youth

Our Adjustable Glasses Prototype

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Comments

July 2, 2014 19:56

I am second voter. cheer!