Tuesday, July 24

This one makes me (and Wayne) proud - from IHT

Devanand's eyesight and livelihood were saved through the efforts of an innovative microfranchise program developed by the Scojo Foundation, a nonprofit social enterprise based in New York that uses market solutions to distribute inexpensive corrective glasses in the developing world (picture and story from the IHT).

Worldwide, according to Scojo, more than 700 million people who make less than $4 a day suffer from presbyopia, limiting their ability to make handicrafts, read a newspaper or find insects on crops and separate seeds. Sufferers face the dark prospect of diminished productivity and greater poverty.

Scojo does more than just sell glasses. Operating in six countries, the foundation has trained more than 1,000 people to become microfranchise owners, or "vision entrepreneurs," who conduct basic eye exams, sell affordable prescription glasses and refer those who need advanced eye care to clinics and hospitals. According to Scojo, many of the microfranchise owners have doubled their income, and thousands of farmers, craftspeople and merchants have been able to return to work.

Using 5 percent of profit from the for-profit luxury eyewear company Scojo Vision, and grants from organizations like Open Society Institute of George Soros and the Acumen Fund, the Scojo Foundation addresses the most basic eye-care needs of local communities. It also trains its entrepreneurs to refer those in need of serious medical treatment to organizations like Orbis, the global anti-blindness charity.

In Ghana, Fan Milk has sold 8,000 people the bicycles and dairy products to become distributors, and in India, Hindustan Lever has trained nearly 31,000 women in its "Project Shakti" network to sell consumer products like coffee, laundry detergent and toothpaste.

Since its inception in 2002, Scojo has joined forces with more than 20 private companies and nongovernmental organizations in Bangladesh, India, Ghana, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico to train microfranchise owners, often linking up with existing networks of health workers, peddlers and shopkeepers.

In April, Scojo began collaboration with the nonprofit health organization Population Services International to distribute glasses throughout sub-Saharan Africa. In five years, Scojo has sold more than 70,000 pairs of eyeglasses to the poor across the globe.