VisionSpring and BRAC: scale through partnership

Alliance magazine

VisionSpring’s founding idea is that putting local women in business could be a scalable, sustainable way to bring affordable glasses to the millions of impoverished people across the developing world in need of eyecare. Its original business model rested on empowering a direct sales force of ‘Vision Entrepreneurs’ with the organization’s signature ‘Business in a Bag’, a micro-franchise kit that had everything an individual would need to sell spectacles.

Initially, the benefits of direct management and a direct network of Vision Entrepreneurs were considerable, but within a few years it became apparent that the model could not be scaled sufficiently. The time and resources needed to build infrastructure and networks in rural communities in India and El Salvador – given the relatively low margin Bottom of the Pyramid markets operate on – made large-scale operations unsustainable. The sole focus on reading glasses furthermore made the Business in a Bag an overly risky venture.

VisionSpring needed to alter its model to reduce costs and risk. Working with local franchise partners presented the opportunity to make use of existing networks to achieve scale – as demonstrated by VisionSpring’s partnership with BRAC, the largest NGO in the developing world.  In 2008, BRAC added VisionSpring glasses to the ‘basket of goods’ carried by 500 of its Shasto Shebikas (community health volunteers). Based on the success of this pilot, BRAC agreed to finance the extension of VisionSpring’s intervention throughout its network of 75,000 women. Through this partnership, VisionSpring anticipates selling 2 million pairs of glasses in Bangladesh by 2013.

Leveraging organizations that have already established networks and infrastructure has enabled VisionSpring to be one of the few social enterprises that has successfully scaled. There are challenges that come with shifting from a direct sales force to partnering with a multi-lined independent representative sales force, including limited management and making sure the product consistently sells. But these challenges are surmountable.

For more information

Contact CEO and founder Dr Jordan Kassalow at jkassalow@visionspring.org or visit http://www.visionspring.org


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