For the second time, San Francisco industrial designer Yves Béhar has won the INDEX Award, a 100,000 Euro prize given to five life-improving design projects by a Danish nonprofit. This year, Béhar’s program “See Better to Learn Better,” a system for delivering attractive, affordable eyeglasses to school-age children, has been presented with one of the awards. Béhar previously won for the One Laptop Per Child XO computer in 2007.
Béhar’s team at his firm fuseproject partnered with nonprofit Verbien, Mexican company Augen, and the Mexican government on the eyewear project, which launched in 2010. Due to the high price and social stigma of wearing glasses, many Mexican students were not receiving the eye care they needed, causing them to fall behind at school. With the See Better to Learn Better program, students are given an eye exam, then those who need glasses are encouraged to build their own frames from a library of unique colors, shapes, and sizes, which are manufactured locally. According to Augen, more than 500,000 kids have received optometric care and more than 358,000 kids received donated frames and lenses. In the next school year, they estimate more than 240,000 kids and 20,000 adults will receive glasses.
With the winnings, Béhar plans to expand See Better to Learn Better to other locations, including a pilot program in Indonesia with the Sumba Foundation and another project that will take place in San Francisco in partnership with the nonprofit Tipping Point. Béhar cautions that providing proper eye care to young people is not an issue relegated to impoverished nations. “The need is everywhere, in both developing countries and the developed ones,” Béhar tells Co.Design. “Getting over the stigma that kids feel when having to wear glasses is something that design, participation, and choice can do.”
In fact, Béhar sees correcting vision as a vital global issue that could radically improve the state of the planet, akin to eradicating a disease. “500,000 new kids entering school every year in Mexico need eyeglasses. Now let’s multiply this number by every country, and the numbers are staggering,” he says. “That such a minute investment can change the education level of a population is a no-brainer to governments everywhere. For less than $10 — the cost of the eye exam, custom lenses, frames, and shipping — a child’s education level can change radically.” In fact, according to a study by the University of Aguascalientes, a child that receives lenses immediately improves their reading and comprehension by 100%.
If Béhar’s track record with his last INDEX award is any indication, See Better to Learn Better will be a success. After winning the INDEX award for the One Laptop Per Child Project, OLPC has distributed three million laptops to children — in some countries like Uruguay, every child between 6 and 18 years is using one.
Like the effect that OLPC has had on education in developing nations, Béhar can see a similar kind of transformation for students who receive glasses. “In one case, there was a girl that was about to be taken out of school due to poor performance,” he says. “She had been checked by doctors for extreme headaches, had a CAT scan, as well as other tests. In the end, it turned out all she needed was lenses.”