VisionspringThe importance of manual labor in the global economy is a key component in the fight against poverty in developing nations.

The World Economic Forum foresees that, despite predictions of technological advances, employment in the manufacturing and agricultural sectors will continue to grow for years to come.

A New York-based social enterprise sees the solution clearly: to alleviate poverty in developing nations, we must first focus on elevating the labor force.

The World Health Organization estimates that 90 percent of the world’s visually impaired live in developing countries, while nearly 80 percent of visual impairments can be prevented or cured. Without affordable vision care services, an estimated 703 million people in developing countries suffer from visual impairment and lack access to eyeglasses.

These problems are compounded by the nature of labor-intensive manufacturing jobs in developing countries, such as textile, clothing and machine/computer assembly – which require clear eyesight. As a result, vision problems pose significant obstacles to workers, by either hindering their productivity or rendering them unemployable.

With these looming statistics and the understanding that “if you can’t see, you can’t work,” founders and optometrists Jordan Kassalow and Scott Berrie established Visionspring in 2001 with the aim of providing vision care and eyeglasses to combat poverty in developing nations.

Visionspring considers the lack of optic care in low-income areas a market failure, and intends to address poverty in developing nations by fundamentally restructuring the market for eyeglasses.

Visionspring relies on partnerships with local NGO’s and small businesses in over 40 countries. Local entrepreneurs are trained by Visionspring to operate satellite optical shops. The shops provide high-quality care, and sell glasses that cater to a variety of customer needs, including bifocals, single vision, and photocromic lenses.

Rather than providing donated eyeglasses, which are costly to ship and often damaged upon arrival, Visionspring supplies new pairs of glasses to its customers around the world, thus stimulating production and providing lenses to those who need them most.

A 2007 Impact Assessment performed by Visionspring measured the effect of providing reading glasses to those in the developing world. The study found that reading glasses have the potential to increase a worker’s productivity by 35 percent.

A follow-up study done by the William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan reported a consequent increase in monthly income by 20 percent for those whose vision was corrected. The result is a higher disposable income for the world’s poor, and eventually elevation out of poverty.

By addressing a specific need and empowering local people to provide essential services to their communities, the Visionspring model is globally viable. In 2012, Visionspring celebrated its millionth pair of eyeglasses sold in the developing world.

Eye care continues to gain ground as an important topic in the global health arena. In 2013, the World Health Assembly approved an action plan for universal access to eye health, which aims for a 25% reduction of avoidable visual impairments by 2019.

Visionspring will play an integral role in the achievement of this goal, as it keeps its sights on addressing the needs of workers and alleviating poverty in developing nations.

Laurel Klafehn

Photo: Flickr