New Vision For Non-Profits
Friday, January 28, 2011
In 1984 Jordan Kassalow, an optometry student in Boston, volunteered to treat hundreds of patients in rural Mexico. Many had struggled to find work because of their poor eyesight but couldn’t afford corrective lenses. Of the 70% who needed eyeglasses, Kassalow figured half could get by with the sort of ready-made models sold in drugstores. “Why don’t we train local people to sell reading glasses?” he thought.
Seventeen years later Kassalow and friend Scott Berrie formed a nonprofit, now called VisionSpring–a combination of Mary Kay and LensCrafters. Some 9,000 women in Vision- Spring’s network have sold 600,000 pairs of basic reading glasses throughout seven countries, including Bangladesh, India and South Africa. Last February VisionSpring opened its first store, in El Salvador, staffed with an optometrist and six employees who sell higher-priced prescription lenses as well as regular reading glasses. (Berrie left in 2007.)
With $290,000 in annual income last year, VisionSpring still relies heavily on charitable donations–it amassed $1.7 million in 2010. But Kassalow has his eye on a bigger achievement: building a self-sustainable operation. “We put every dollar of revenue or outside funding toward identifying a scalable, for-profit business model,” he says.