An example of good aid

Are Glasses the New TOMS Shoes?  No, according to Lauren Bishop on the NYU Development Research Institute blog.

Warby-Parker sells glasses and then donates money to NPOs who train local workers who in turn provide eye exams and sell low-cost glasses.

Here’s the concept:

VisionSpring [which is one of the Warby-Parker partners] does this by training their workers in basic business skills and eye exams, then sending them out into their communities to conduct free vision screenings and sell the glasses donated by Warby Parker. According to VisionSpring, it costs a rural customer between $6 and $11 to visit a doctor, purchase glasses, and pay for transportation, while VisionSpring customers get free exams in their own villages and can buy a pair of glasses for $2 – $4.

I’ve worn glasses since elementary school. As someone who works with numbers all day and is reading when not crunching numbers, I can really appreciate how much opportunity would be created by just getting a pair of glasses. That would free up a person to be more economically productive (that means you are able to better provide for your family) at the same time as building up other local businesses. When combined, that would create further economic development.

Consider the differences in consequences. TOMS shoes either gives shoes to people who already have shoes or gives them to people who have more desperate economic needs than shoes. As an additional unintended consequence, that approach can seriously hurt local businesses in the process. In contrast, the Warby-Parker approach creates local economic activity and fills needs that block economic development, which can create additional economic development.

The post concludes with a superb 4-picture comparison of the TOMS Shoes and Warby-Parker approaches.

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