What, Where and How
OneDollarGlasses are lightweight, flexible frame made of extremely robust, rustproof steel wire of width 1mm. These are contact glasses similar to one we use but re-engineered for the developing world. It was initially introduced in Uganda and currently has its roots in Ethiopia, Benin, Rwanda, Burkina Faso, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Brazil. The cost of production of these glasses is US $1.
OneDollarGlasses are made from lightweight spring steel frame with prefabricated polycarbonate lenses. The innovation lies in material usage and engineering aspects of construction that makes the glasses affordable for people living on 1 US $ per day. These replace expensive contact glasses. People put them in front of their eyes, with frame resting on their nose-bridge and ears just like any other contact glasses.
Contact glasses for vision related problems cost $196 on an average. This is way beyond affordability for over 150 million people from the developing nations who would need them. Innovation lies in the ability to manufacture contact glasses for an affordable $1. OneDollarGlasses are produced on a specially designed bending machine. Bending machine, which is the core component of entire process, bends rust free spring steel into rectangular sections and helps produce frames of different sizes. It requires no electric power and virtually maintenance free and operated by trained local people. Once the frames are made, prefabricated lenses of desired lens power, made of polycarbonate, are fitted on to them.
Overall, the innovation lies in usage of affordable materials and manufacturing technologies to make possible the dream of vision for the developing countries.
Problem and Solution
Inaccessible eye care: Worldwide, approximately 150 million people would need a pair of glasses, but cannot afford it. They cannot learn, cannot work and cannot provide for their families.
OneDollarGlasses consist of a lightweight, flexible spring steel frame and prefabricated lenses and can be locally manufactured with simple bending machines. The material costs: approximately 1 US $.
Vision statement from the maker’s of OneDollarGlasses: “Children can attend classes thanks to the OneDollarGlasses again, parents can return to work and provide for their children, older people can read again.”
OneDollarGlasses are meant for the low-income people, of the developing nations, who are suffering from vision issues that can be corrected using contact glasses. These are for people living on 1 US $ per day. Currently the product targets following countries: Uganda, Ethiopia, Benin, Rwanda, Burkina Faso, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Brazil. The average GDP of these countries (excluding heavy weight Brazil) is 19 million USD and major income comes from agriculture and labor.
There are millions of people who can’t afford vision correction devices because the contact lens manufacturing technology is very expensive. So bringing the manufacturing cost down to 1 US$ is an apt move and a perfect fit for this community.
We are talking about a really good frugal innovation here. There is no competition seen so far as this method/innovation is deeply embedded with locals. More than the product, process created by the innovators is having a major impact. It is a self-sustaining business model. $1 contact glasses are made by the people and for the people. So competition is not an issue for OneDollarGlasses. In fact, OneDollarGlasses created a self-sustained business model where trained craftsmen setup their own business to create and sell these glasses among their community. So it is a healthy competition among the people towards the same goal of OneDollarGlasses.
Used glass donation programs that can potentially compete with this model. However OneDollarGlasses is a far more superior solution where patients get glasses that fit them perfectly. Every glass is designed according to patient dimensions and guarantees comfortable wear and accurate prescription.
The entire manufacturing unit is a portable wooden box of dimensions 30x30x30 cm. Trained opticians travel to different cities and villages and conduct optical vision exam to patients. Box contains various lenses with powers ranging from -6 diopters to +6 diopters and premade frames of different sizes. After vision exam suitable lens is fitted into right frame. So the patient gets his lens immediately.
There is also a program to train locals for two weeks so that they can be certified opticians. This helps spread distribution rapidly and creates livelihood for many.
OneDollarGlasses is no doubt an emerging market solution. It boasts on bringing highly expensive vision correction procedures to single digit. Let’s analyze how it fits to developing world.
The core principles for any product to be successful in frugal markets is it’s ability to satisfy following requirements (described below)
- OneDollarGlasses is an extension to their face to improve their vision.
- It is aiming to solve problem that is common to humans.
- Materials used are skin friendly.
- Clearly it is human centric.
- Entire process of manufacturing to distributing is simple.
- Glasses are made by hand and take around 10 to 30 minutes to manufacture.
- Once a vision exam is done, it takes a click to get the frame ready to user and of course it looks simple for the material design choices made.
- All materials used for developing OneDollarGlasses are sourced from local resources.
- Local people get trained and train others.
- Local people develop, manufacture and sell glasses.
- It is a big plus for OneDollarGlasses for being so local to users and generating a sustainable livelihood.
- Major achievement of OneDollarGlasses is affordability.
- It takes US $1 to manufacture the glasses.
- It is sold between $2-$7 which is easily affordable for people living on $1 per day.
- Manufacturing and entire process is completely eco friendly.
- Bending machine used is manually operated and requires no power and virtually no maintenance.
- Glasses are made of thin spring steel for frame and lightweight plastic for lens and clearly are extremely lighter than their developed country counterparts.
- Entire manufacturing unit fits in 30x30x30 cm portable wooden box, which is carried by opticians to villages and cities comfortably.
- OneDollarGlasses design is based on what’s affordable and what’s available. It adapted to local needs right from manufacturing to distribution.
- Poor couldn’t travel. So a portable solution helped opticians reach out to poor. It adapted to economic conditions.
- It integrated into people’s lifestyle. They were able to create their own businesses by manufacturing and selling OneDollarGlasses. It adapted to social conditions.
- OneDollarGlasses is heavily successful in achieving this objective. Being portable by design, it helped opticians travel with the equipment and reached even the remote possible areas.
- This product may not directly relate to this competency. However we can call product dynamics to be mobile.
- Lightweight product, portable process all contributed it to be a mobile solution.
- Materials used for this product: steel and hardened polycarbonate. These materials are resistant to wear and tear.
- In fact, the lens is as stable as expensive glasses made of titanium flex.
Last mile distribution
Application to developing world: This solution is in fact modeled from $1 reading glasses found in developing nations. However developed nations have adopted sophisticated techniques to manufacture vision correction lens. They have many additional functionalities like ability to filter UV rays and support activities like night driving, extended work with computer screens etc., so products like OneDollarGlasses is not a fit for this market and specially it may not work for it’s non-aesthetic appeal, which is a valued trait in products of developed nations.
It’s very interesting to see how frugal engineering can solve the problems. OneDollarGlasses best utilizes what’s on hand. The whole stemmed from inventor Martin Aufmuth’s questioning:
“Why can glasses for 1 Euro be bought in a rich country like Germany whilst in poor countries it is not possible?”
I think we have to start questioning what’s taken for granted in developed countries and see if it has an analogy to any problem domain in developing countries.
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Anderson, Eric. “OneDollarGlasses Helps the Whole World See Affordably.” OneDollarGlasses Helps the Whole World See Affordably. Innovate Development, 8 May 2014. Web. 15 Oct. 2014. <http://innovatedevelopment.org/2014/05/08/onedollarglasses-helps-the-whole-world-see-affordably/>.