Ashoka Fellow Martin Aufmuth's One Dollar Glasses

Globally, $120B/year is lost due to vision impairment. For less than $1/person, Martin Aufmuth is correcting this statistic with accessible, affordable glasses for all.

Add up the cost of steel wire, polycarbonate lenses, heat shrink tubing, transportation, shipping, personnel management, and spare parts. For Martin Aufmuth’s Ein Dollar Brille (“One Dollar Glasses”), it equals less than $1 USD. This cost, however, is hardly reflective of the value someone suffering from myopia, short or farsightedness, gains with a perfectly fitted pair of glasses.

When Martin learned about the level of impact correcting someone’s refractive errors--the most common cause of vision impairment worldwide, affecting more than 153M people and creating an estimated financial loss of $120B per year--could inspire, the then physics and math teacher resolved to develop a solution built with affordable and accessible materials. After years of experimentation, he identified spring steel wire. Its strong but malleable nature allows the durable glasses to be made onsite with a hand-bending machine that does not require electricity or water.

The resulting ability to establish local production chains within participating countries keeps costs down. It also creates income opportunities for individuals, often from disadvantaged groups, who participate in a short training program. These locals become producers, but they and their neighbors create an independent ecosystem on every level: management, operations, accountants, producers and sales people. After its initial pilot program in Uganda, ODG realized that this social business model would most efficiently and rapidly reach the entirety of countries.

Collaboration across all levels is key. In several of the eight countries within which it works--including Malawi and Bolivia--ODG partners with the national government. Further scaling is achieved through partnerships with NGOs and companies, such as Siemens Foundation.

The structure of ODG’s distribution network and its partnerships is unique in each country and dependent on cultural, legal and geographical factors. Rather than creating inefficiencies, ODG’s nimbleness leads to greater success and scale.

These endless evolutions of innovation led Martin to receive this year’s Robert E. Hopkins Leadership Award from the Optical Society, an international trade organization of nearly 20,000 members. For the first time, Martin and ODG was recognized as groundbreaking by experts in this discipline.

Martin Aufmuth, a Bavarian teacher, had developed a simple visual aid, which should enable a visual revolution with material costs of one dollar in developing countries.
- Die Welt

ODG is fielding requests to launch in more than 60 countries, but they are cautious to not expand too quickly. A pilot program recently launched in India, and this year, ODG will open an United States chapter with a MIT graduate, optician and fan at the helm. This hub will be focused on fundraising to open new markets in countries such as Haiti and Liberia.

Empowered to access educational, economic and cultural opportunities that not only enhance their daily optics, but their future outcomes, glasses recipients are released from the limitations of poor eyesight to invest back into themselves and their communities.