MicroFranchising with VisionSpring (Scojo)

Trip Start Jul 26, 2008
Trip End Sep 27, 2008

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Flag of India  , Andhra Pradesh,
Tuesday, August 12, 2008

VisionSpring (previously Scojo) is the world's best and easiest to understand model of a new field that serves the poor called MicroFranchising.  Visiting with these people and seeing their fine program was a peak experience of my trip - something that I was very much looking forward to and was not disappointed.

VisionSpring sells reading glasses to the poor through a MicroFranchising Program.  Their basic model is to hire poor people and train them to become Vision Entrepreneurs and equip them with a business in a backpack which contains 36 pairs of reading glasses of various magnifications, types (bifocal or full lens magnification) and frames.
The Vision Entrepreneur goes into each village once every three months and sets up a "Camp" for three days, the first two being to meet with the village president and leadership and do public relations work and the third being the day where the villages are tested for and fitted with reading glasses. Twenty one percent of the Indian population needs reading glasses which includes 70% of those over 35 years of age.  Each Vision Entrepreneur is assigned a territory which includes 20 villages representing 50,000 total population - typically 10,000 of which need reading glasses.

On the third day, villagers with poor eyesight come to the meeting place - in this case a school.  They register, are tested for cataracts or eye diseases and then to see if they have distance vision problems.  If they have any of these problems - they are referred to an Eye Care Hospital that they have qualified to serve their clients.
If they pass these tests - they are then tested for near vision and fitted for the right power reading glasses.  This process is documented in the pictures in this blog.

VisionSpring sells reading glasses and sun glasses - in India they are not allowed to sell eye drops.
Eye glasses are sold for $4.50 with the proceeds being equally divided ($1.50 each between the cost of the glasses purchased from China, the Vision Entrepreneur and VisionSpring).  The glasses and frames are very high quality and are guaranteed.  If the client gets home and finds that the magnification is not exactly right or has some problem with the glasses - they can get a replacement any time within 30 days.

Maruti Ram, Head of the Vision Entrepreneur Channel and Innovations (and my tour guide) in India writes on the misperception that some of the Vision Entrepreneurs have that they will saturate their territory at (click here).
VisionSpring is working with a company in Denmark who are developing new distant sight glasses which each lense is adjustable by a very small screw.  This will be a major breakthrough which will allow VisionSpring to sell distance lense glasses at a very low price and the inventory they will have to carry will be minimal.

VisionSpring's proprietary Vision Entrepreneur Channel is exclusively for sales into their local state - Andhra Pradesh, using currently 150 Vision Entrepreneurs, 70% men, 30% women who were poor and have been trained in a four day training (2 days classroom, 2 days field) to market, test potential clients and sell reading glasses.  This program creates a test bed for VisionSpring to develop their programs which then can be replicated by other channels of distribution throughout the other states in India and other countries throughout the world.
Vision Spring has just signed a contract with BRAC in Bangladesh whereby BRAC will replicate this model and has contracted to sell 1,000,000 pairs of glasses over 8 years.

Vision Springs has a Franchise Channel in other states throughout India where territories are sold to other NGO's, MFI's and the like.  For instance, I have now connected Vision Spring with Grameen Koota and Vikash - which could well be an ideal relationship.  As it turns out - Maurity's brother just last week became CFO of Grameen Koota.

Vision Springs has also just entered into a major drug store chain to sell Vision Spring glasses through their drug store.

MicroFranchising and Social Businesses are new elements that provide major additional ways to help alleviate poverty in the world and have become a major focus of my study/learning and areas which I hope to play a role in helping/training others who are interested in developing these programs which can make a major difference in the world.

Separately I will have one additional blog on VisionSpring - which will show the process I personally went through in being tested and then buying four pairs of glasses.
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