Francisco Noguera

Friday Roundup – 9/17/10: Learning from VisionSpring; New e-Book on Microfranchising

Business creation 101: When looking for a business idea, start by asking yourself what sucks *. If you estimate that the same sucks for large numbers of people, you’ve identified a potential market. From there, the challenge becomes building a product or service and a business model that respond to that need, making that which sucks suck no more.

For Jordan Kassalow, what sucks is that a natural, treatable condition keeps way too many people (around 500 million around the world to be precise) from exploiting their full creative and productive potential. The condition is presbyopia, which Kassalow knows well how to diagnose and treat. A successful New York-based ophthalmologist, he decided that there is no reason for hundreds of millions of people to leave this condition untreated and just see their productivity decline because of it. Kassalow is on a mission: putting a pair of reading glasses on the nose of everyone who needs one, no matter where or how poor he or she is, and by doing so, give everyone the opportunity to live up to her/his full potential.

I’ve long admired the work of VisionSpring, and yesterday I had the privilege to learn more about their work at a breakfast meeting in New York. The program included opening remarks by Time Warner CEO Jeffrey Bewkes and a conversation moderated by CNN and Time Magazine’s Fareed Zakaria, who started by putting social enterprise and VisionSpring into context through a short but intriguing talk about the differences between the economic growth models of India and China. Here’s my one-line summary of Mr. Zakaria’s remarks: India’s model can be replicated, while China’s can’t. Therefore, understanding India and getting it right is far more important for the rest of the world than doing the same with China.

Like India’s according to Mr. Zakaria, VisionSpring’s model is replicable. It effectively delivers glasses to those who need them in base-of-the-pyramid communities; it works at the unit level and has proven potential to scale worldwide. Listening to Jordan Kassalow articulate his vision and explain the benefits such an intervention has was nothing less than inspiring, and a reminder of how simple, yet carefully conceived interventions can have a tremendous impact. (On that point, Kassalow mentioned the results of a soon-to-be-published impact study performed by Professor Ted London’s team at the University of Michigan, showing that an investment in VisionSpring glasses increases the productivity of a manual worker by 35%).

New resource: NextBillion and Ayllu’s Microfranchising e-Book

VisionSpring, a pioneer in the distribution model known as microfranchising, leads me into the second half of today’s roundup: introducing our new microfranchising e-book, produced in partnership with Ayllu.

Micro Franchising eBook

I’m personally very excited about this e-book for three specific reasons. One, I believe this space still faces an information barrier, and that Ayllu is up to an important breakthrough with their iuMAP platform. As it becomes richer in data and information, iuMAP will provide an important service and catalyze relevant connections, complimenting the discussion and analysis-focused contributions of publications like NextBillion, Innovations or Beyond Profit. Secondly, the e-book shows how better information leads to deeper insights around key issues. Microfranchising is the first dissection of the information available on iuMAP; several others are possible and you’re encouraged to suggest what would be an interesting next topic. Thirdly, we’ve been thinking a lot about different ways NextBillion can continue to improve and create more value for our audience. Looking deeper into subject areas and producing content in new formats are some of the things we’ve looked at, and this e-book represents a step in that direction. Previous similar efforts include the Latin America series we published earlier this year and the discussion around Al Hammond’s sector scaling strategies from early 2008.

The Microfranchising e-book contains several articles and interviews featured on NextBillion over the past weeks, including one that looks at VisionSpring’s “Business in a Bag” model with a magnifying glass. It also has a compilation of microfranchise-related links and resources. Taken together, the e-book becomes a practical and valuable research tool for anyone out there studying distribution challenges in low income settings. You can download it here and take it to your weekend destination. We’re looking forward to your feedback and to improving future versions.

And that’s a wrap for this week. Next week will kickoff with TEDxChange. I’ll be blogging from there so stay tuned for a summary on Monday afternoon. Also make sure you watch the live webcast on Monday at 11:00AM ET.

Later in the week we’ll have a bunch of new content, including a preview of SOCAP10 from a Base of the Pyramid angle, a close look at a pioneer organization in community scale water provision, and much more.

*Credit: NextBillion Advisor, teacher and entrepreneur Paul Hudnut.