Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Scojo Foundation -- A Very Good Idea

Scojo Vision LLC is a company that makes eyeglasses and other aids to vision -- especially those little non-prescription glasses you see in the drug stores. It donates five percent of its profits to the Scojo Foundation.

The people responsible for the firm and the foundation have recognized that there are some 1.6 billion people in the world with poor vision who can not afford prescription glasses. There are some programs that send previously owned prescription lenses to poor countries to be distributed to these people, but the need far exceeds the charitable supply. Many of these could be more productive if they had simple, non-prescription glasses -- women could sew, kids could read better. The poor with access to computer screens might read their content better.

The Scojo Foundation is taking on the task of marketing a cheap set of non-prescription glasses manufactured by (Scojo Vision) to serve those people. The team produces a product selling for US&1 at the factory door, franchises distributors in poor nations (currently in Guatemala, El Salvador and India) and has developed a micro-credit scheme as part of the business model. With the markup that pays for the distribution, the user can obtain a pair of glasses for US$3. Many can indeed afford this price.

Read about the program in The Economist ("Health care: Pyramid power", January 11th 2007, subscription required.)

Comment: The United States has pioneered franchising, and I have long believed that the approach could be adapted to markets serving the poor in developing nations. The Scojo program seems to be an example of how that can be accomplished. JAD

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