Fast Company

Fast Talk: New Vision

Scojo Foundation addresses the need for reading glasses in the developing world by helping local entrepreneurs to set up businesses selling low-cost glasses. The program raises incomes for the entrepreneurs, and improves vision to poor people whose livelihoods often depend on it.

Rama Devi, 33

Scojo Vision Entrepreneur
Ramreddipalli village, Mahbubnagar, Andhra Pradesh, India

"My husband is a farmer in the heavily drought affected region of Mahbubnagar, Andhra Pradesh. His paddy and castor farming has yielded little income over the last few years. Moreover, we had taken a bank loan of Rupees 30,000 ($750) in the hope of reviving our farming, and that has come to naught. I started working under severe pressure of sustaining the family and repaying the loan.

Initially, I started stitching clothes for neighbors and other people in the village. When Hindustan Level (Unilever plc) started their rural marketing campaign a few years ago, I joined them as a sales person running promotional campaigns in villages in our region. Eventually, I quit that job to concentrate on my tailoring business. I was earning Rupees 3000 ($75) per month stitching clothes.

When Scojo was looking for Visual Entrepreneurs in our region, they contacted Hindustan Lever, who suggested my name. The training manager contacted me. I got interested in the opportunity and took it up.

After joining Scojo, our financial situation has improved considerably. I earn Rupees 5000-7000 ($125-$175) every month selling eye glasses. I have continued to stitch part-time which gives us an extra Rupees 2000 ($50) per month.

I wake up every morning at 4 am. I prepare food for the family, wake up the children, and prepare them for school. I leave the house at 6 a.m. because I want to meet the villagers before they leave for work. We have a dress code for women workers. We wear sky blue colored aprons when we are on field visits. It attracts a lot of attention.

I find this job very satisfying. I help people who have problems with their vision. Most often, they do not even know that they have a problem and continue to live in pain. When I explain my mission, I find people warming up to me. Most are very welcoming and thankful to me. By a small gesture, I am able to alleviate their pain. I am able to refer many of them to good eye hospitals. I think this work earns me a lot of respect.

My husband now supports my work whole-heartedly. He has bought a motorcycle and whenever possible he drives me to the villages. When he is on the field, I take the bus to work.

My life has changed considerably since I started working for Scojo. Earlier, we were barely making our ends meet. Now, we live comfortably; Scojo has helped us repay part of the interest on our loan, and we hope to be debt free some time in the future. We can support our children's education with books and other necessities, and to save money for their future. I would want our children to have a better life than ours. I hope they have better careers and do well."

S.K. Mahmood, 43

Roadside tailor
Vemulanarva village, Mahbubnagar, Andhra Pradesh, India

"I lost my Father when I was just 5 years old. My mother worked in the fields to raise me. Due to our financial situation, I never went to school. I started working with my mother in the fields in my childhood. Our neighbor, who I fondly called Chhote Bhai, taught me the art of stitching. I started stitching clothes when I was 15 years old. I have stayed in this trade ever since.

I promised myself that none of my children would remain uneducated like me. All my children went to school. My eldest daughter is now married. My eldest son is 20 years old and is studying in university and learning computers. My second son is in second year of university and is learning auto mechanics. My two youngest daughters are still in school.

I have a roadside shop for stitching. I usually stitch during the day. Some time back, I started facing inconvenience putting threads into the needle. Over time the problems worsened and started affecting my work severely. I had no choice but to visit a doctor. The closest doctor was 25 kms away from my village. I spent one day traveling to the doctor, getting my eyes tested and buying a pair of glasses from him. The glasses cost me Rupees 550 ($13.75).

Despite the glasses, my eyesight didn't improve much. The problem reached a stage where I couldn't work unless there was bright sunshine. Even a slight cloud cover would force me to leave work for the day. And then, Rama Devi came to me. She detected my problem and offered me a new pair of glasses. The new glasses are significantly better and I could see the difference in a matter of minutes. Moreover, the new glasses cost only Rupees 160 ($4).

I am back to my old working self and earning Rupees 300 ($7.50) a day, which is essential to keep the home fires burning. I can work through the day and have fixed up a place in the house where I can work under light at nights.

Every parent wants his child to do well in life. I would like my kids to be good people and do well wherever they are. Half my life is over. It's been a tough life. Fortunately, my kids have had education and they have the opportunity to build a better life for themselves."

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