VisionSpring follows social entrepreneur Jordan Kassalow from his early career in public health through the founding of VisionSpring, an organization that sells eyeglasses to the rural poor in developing countries. The case describes how Kassalow becomes inspired and motivated by some of his early experiences as an optometry student and in public health. As Kassalow builds VisionSpring, the immense scaling challenges of distributing to “bottom of the pyramid” (BoP) customers are revealed. Initially, VisionSpring has dual goals of selling glasses and employing local workers. After testing for several years in India and El Salvador, VisionSpring makes a decision in 2008 to focus only on selling glasses and makes substantial changes in its business model and organization. The company also decides to conduct a quasi-experimental study to measure its impact on customers. Over the next several years, VisionSpring tests several different distribution models, and finds two that are promising. The case ends with the executive team pondering how best to scale these models to reach the 700 million BoP customers that could benefit from glasses in the world.
The learning objective of the VisionSpring case is to understand that clarity about the social mission is absolutely essential and that matching the right business model to the mission is what will create impact. This is not only true for VisionSpring – it is true for all social ventures. How an organization defines its social mission – either implicitly or explicitly – will drive many, if not all, major operational decisions.