In a world where over one billion individuals live needlessly with a vision impairment that can be corrected with a simple pair of eyeglasses, private sector involvement is a crucial part of the solution.
As many as 90% of these individuals live in low- and middle-income countries where access to high-quality glasses is limited. Retail optical businesses in these countries have historically only served high income customers with price points starting at US$100 - unaffordable for most.
This is where EYElliance’s Inclusive Optical Scale Out Program comes in.
The EYElliance Inclusive Optical Scale Out Program is a three-month program that supports entrepreneurs to better target low- and middle-income consumers using a proven business model that can successfully penetrate this often untapped market.
In 2022, the six Africa-based entrepreneurs participating in EYElliance’s Inclusive Optical Scale Out Program each received a $10,000 grant to apply an aspect of the program in their business. Armed with this grant, the entrepreneurs aimed to meaningfully increase access to eyeglasses for low- and middle-income consumers based on the business principles for inclusive optical learned over 3 months.
Diverse allocation for effective outcomes
The $10,000 grant acted as a catalyst for several strategic initiatives. Utilizing the business principles they learned, the entrepreneurs strategically allocated the funds across various areas of their businesses such as marketing, inventory, store expansion, equipment procurement, and operational enhancements.
The African cohort recognized the grant's potential to support them to serve low- and middle-income customers. All believed the grant enhanced this service and allowed them to better target these customers.
Over the grant period, the African Cohort of the EYElliance Inclusive Optical Scale Out Program positively impacted 42,660 consumers. This numerical representation underscores the transformative potential of modest grants in the hands of determined entrepreneurs.
Wazi's expansion into Kabalagala, a suburb of Kampala, highlighted the grant's potential. The opening of this new store facilitated accessibility for economically diverse groups, especially students who could benefit from affordable vision screenings and eyeglasses. Lisa Kwikiriza, Operations and Fundraising Administrator at Wazi, shared, "Our new store has brought an affordable service closer to low- and middle-income customers, and this has been well received."
Lapaire's experience demonstrated the importance of using marketing strategies tailored for a local context to increase footfall in their retail stores, stating "The grant allowed us to try new ways to bring people into our branches for a free vision test." They specifically learnt what strategies didn’t work for this customer segment. Their use of the grant to experiment with customer attraction strategies was noteworthy, and their outcomes emphasized the necessity of adapting proven models to local contexts to achieve increased efficacy.
Star Eye Solutions' experience exemplified the entrepreneurs solutions-based outlook. Star Eye Solutions was able to open a new store with the grant and dedicate a portion of the funds to marketing this new store. Recognizing the need for sustained awareness efforts to stimulate demand among low- and middle-income consumers, they said, “We need to continue to reach out and create awareness over a longer period of time (beyond the end of the grant period) to ensure lasting impact.”
Fuelling growth through examining challenges
Though the grant was a helpful injection of funds for the entrepreneurs, challenges still persist. As part of the report back on the grant usage the entrepreneurs identified ongoing issues, such as the need to improve awareness about their offerings, and tackling purchasing power limitations. Rather than dampening progress however, these challenges continue to fuel growth and innovation.
The $10,000 grant encouraged entrepreneurs to test new ways of marketing, hire staff to increase their capacity, open new stores to serve different markets and make bulk purchases that allowed them to pass savings along to consumers. The versatile utilization of these funds showcased their resourcefulness. And beyond business growth, these initiatives improved the lives of low- and middle-income customers by making eyeglasses more affordable and accessible.
The experiences of these six entrepreneurs stand as a testament to the profound influence of small and medium sized businesses in effecting positive change within communities.
Find out more about the EYElliance Inclusive Optical Scale Out Program here.