Eye Mitra – An inclusive business initiative with a ripple effect
How a BoP inclusive business model brings better vision to underserved populations in rural India, creates employment and boosts productivity.
The bigger picture: poor vision and its economic impact
Good vision is a fundamental enabler for all the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – it is essential for people everywhere to see clearly in order to undertake the individual and collective actions necessary to reach the 2030 ambition. Yet, uncorrected poor vision is the world’s largest disability, affecting 2.5 billion people worldwide. Its impact on society is largely unrecognized although there are real and tangible costs associated with impaired vision.
These costs are felt keenly in countries with a dramatic shortage on eye care professionals and a very high number of people with uncorrected vision. In India for example 550 million people suffer from uncorrected poor vision and yet there’s just one qualified optometrist for every 25,000 people and a drastic shortage of eye care professionals in rural areas. The disability costs the country $37 billion in lost productivity each year.
Eye Mitra: an inclusive business initiative
What if correcting the vision of people living in remote villages could also create employment, boost productivity and rejuvenate local economies? That is the premise behind Essilor’s Eye Mitra inclusive business initiative.
Eye Mitra (meaning friend of the eyes in Sanskrit) recruits and trains under-employed youth to set up a business doing vision screening and dispensing eyeglasses, bringing locally affordable eye care to rural and semi-urban communities. Pilots were set up in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan in 2013 with skills and development partners. By the end of 2015, there were over 1,000 working Eye Mitra who have provided vision care to over 150,000 people in their local communities.
Fundamentally, the program helps create a primary vision care infrastructure bringing vision correction to the doorstep of people who typically have little access, and consequently improving the quality of daily life for individuals and the community as a whole by creating new job opportunities.
A real economic impact and benefits far beyond good vision
A study carried out by Dalberg Global Development Advisors in 2015 in six districts of the Uttar Pradesh state in northern India and released earlier this year measured the real economic impact of the Eye Mitra program. The study found that the program created a quantifiable impact of US $4.4million a year in these 6 districts alone. If the initiative were scaled up to all districts in India, this would represent a potential impact of US$487 million a year.
The research also showed that the Eye Mitra business model acts on several levels to impact society in ways that correlate directly to the SDGs. Beyond the provision of vision care, it enables young people to gain skills and qualifications to earn a livelihood locally, avoiding further urban migration. By creating jobs, it alleviates poverty and stimulates the local economy. The program also focuses on gender equality and actively encourages women in its recruitment processes.
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The challenge of our time, therefore, is to figure out how to bring these two worlds together to enable a global “Green Leap.” Indeed, emerging clean technologies, including distributed generation of renewable energy, biofuels, point-of-use water purification, biomaterials, wireless information technology, and sustainable agriculture hold the keys to solving many of the world’s global environmental and social challenges. Read more here…
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