Social Business

Getting reading glasses to the poor

Scojo Vision is a social enterprise. They sell hip reading glasses at first-world prices in developed countries and more basic versions at very low cost through a micro-franchise type network in developing countries. Scojo Foundation was recently recognized as a Fast Company 2006 Social Capitalist finalist (good overview of what they do and how they do it.)

The Problem: It is a physical fact that everyone eventually needs reading glasses … no matter where you live. Can you imagine trying to live a productive livelihood when you can’t read written material or do things with your hands (sew, cook, fix things, count money, etc.) … especially when it’s your source of income?

Scojo’s Approach: Scojo Foundation has two primary sets of clients: Scojo Vision entrepreneurs and their customers. Scojo Foundation trains Scojo Vision entrepreneurs to successfully operate micro-franchises selling reading glasses to the poor which more than doubles their monthly income. This newfound income enables them to invest in their families. And the poor clients now can see again and have untold improved quality of life.

I particularly like a number of things about their approach:

  • They are driving down the price of reading glasses for the poor by using their buying power and an efficient distribution network
  • They are increasing the distribution (availability) of affordable reading glasses to the poor even into far flung rural areas
  • They are selling reading glasses to the poor at prices the poor can afford (things people pay for are utilized much more effectively than gifts) at non-subsidized prices (expansion to new areas is subsidized; glasses aren’t)
  • They are creating new jobs for reading glass micro-retailers in developing countries
  • They are taking some corporate profits from their first world business to underwrite expansion of micro-franchise business network in developing countries
  • The foundation expansion is not just funded by Scojo Vision, it is a 501c3 non-profit which raises money from other companies, foundations and individuals so that there is more capital and participation. [Many company-attached foundations could learn a lot from this!!]

The bottom line is that the Scojo Vision founders are building a social enterprise which creates products that people want at prices they can afford. This is a very scalable and sustainable approach to helping the poor … which is why I like it! I made a donation to Scojo to help them expand their distribution network. You can participate too!

Also check out the Foundation’s reference library on selling to the poor.

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