Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the International Development Journal, an online journal offering a platform to engage in debate and discussions on global policies and current affairs.
Worldwide, around 150 million people require a pair of glasses, and because they do not have them are unable to go to school, receive an education, get work and ultimately provide for themselves and their families.
Recognising this problem, in 2012 German national Martin Aufmuth, launched the OneDollarGlasses which “Emerged from months of experiments and a number of a failed attempts” which began with his vision in 2009. They consist of a lightweight, flexible spring steel frame and prefab lenses and can be locally manufactured with simple bending machines with the materials costing approximately $US1.
Aufmuth, who serves as President of OneDollarGlasses, believes that “Extreme poverty does not only mean hunger, but also illness, hopelessness [and] missed opportunities in life.” The estimated loss of income as a result of people not being able to work or go to school due to weak eyesight is estimated to be around $US120 billion per year, an amount roughly equivalent to the entire annual amount of development aid worldwide.
Even very poor people all over the world are more likely to be able to afford a pair of glasses if they only cost $US1 and are produced and are available in their local areas. As such a core component of the production process is the use of OneDollarGlasses’ specially designed bending machine.
As described on its website, “It requires no electrical power [often a significant challenge in remote areas where glasses are most often needed] and is virtually maintenance-free, so it works in every however remote African village. During a 14-day intensive training men and women are trained to work as [an] OneDollarGlasses optician, so that they can start their own business.”
A new set of OneDollarGlasses can take as little as 10 to 30 minutes to be produced depending on the opticians’ experiences and on the type of glasses required by the beneficiary or client. “Of the opinion that poor people deserve beautiful spectacles jut as well as anybody else” each new pair of glasses “gets its individual, unique design by two colourful, shiny glass beads.”
The simple steel frame is bent using the bending machine, two colourful beads are attached to ensure improved comfort around the nose area and spherical lenses made from polycarbonate, which is much more break-resistant than glass or resin materials which are commonly used in low-cost glasses, are inserted. A total range of 25 different lenses, ranging from -6.0 to +6.0 dioptres in steps of 0.5 dioptres, can be used in new sets of glasses produced depending on the beneficiary’s current eyesight quality.
Already OneDollarGlasses has established projects and provided training to local entrepreneurs and residents in the countries of Benin, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Brazil, Ethiopia, Malawi and Rwanda. Further trainings in other countries and regions are planned, and given the simplicity of the glasses design and the manufacturing process, they can be easily replicated elsewhere.
One OneDollarGlasses bending unit wooden box kit, measuring 30x30x30 cm, is capable of producing between 20,000 and 50,000 sets of glasses per year. Such a kit, which also contains the necessary equipment and tools for the production of glasses, costs around €2,500 and can be used by three to four OneDollarOpticians simultaneously. The unit always remains in the possession of OneDollarGlasses or a registered society but is provided to the connected opticians for free. Such opticians have to commit to keeping a patient register so that the actual productivity of the unit and the selling price can be verified. This helps ensure overall accountability and transparency.
The innovative and affordable concept of the glasses and the training model have also been showcased to both to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in April 2014 and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in January 2015