Atul Uttam, Manager Business Development and Strategy, Essilor India talks about how Eye Mitra Program empowers young entrepreneurs and makes eye care affordable for all.
How has the Eye Mitra program impacted livelihoods in rural areas? Please tell us more about the response from the youth who have participated in this program.
VISION MATTERS – It matters for everyone, everywhere; as good vision has proven social and economic benefits in all aspects of life such as education, career, health and safety. Of the 7.4 billion people on earth today, 4.6 billion have problems with their sight, but only 2 billion benefits from visual correction.
The Eye Mitra Programme, which started as a pilot at Alwar (Rajasthan), is an innovative program which aims to provide access to primary vision care for the 55 crore Indians, who suffer from uncorrected poor vision. Launched in 2013, the programme addresses unmet needs of vision care by recruiting and training unemployed and underemployed youth to set up their own business which allows them to conduct vision screening and dispense eyeglasses and sunglasses in the community. They can bring affordable primary vision care and – as micro-entrepreneurs – vital socioeconomic stimulation to their local communities.
Today 4300 Eye Mitras operating in 14 states of India and have screened more than 1.2 crore people and have equipped more than 25 Lakh people with an affordable pair of eyeglasses. At the same time, the Eye Mitras have successfully increased their income and found a new sustainable source of livelihood.
How is the course content designed to integrate theory and practicals in the niche area of eye care skills and entrepreneurship opportunities?
The course content of the Eye Mitra program is a perfect amalgamation of technical and business skills. The program is designed in such a way that it imparts practical (technical) skills of vision screening, spectacle making and dispensing as well as business skills through Entrepreneurial Development module in the course curriculum. Under Entrepreneurship development module, they are trained on soft skills, inventory management, customer handling, maintaining books and financials, conducting community outreach activities, products etc.
An Eye Mitra is not just an optician but an independent entrepreneur who is a visual solution provider. S/he not only operates through the shop but conducts outreach activities in the community to benefit a maximum number of people, which ultimately leads to increased earning. Eye Mitra module being one of its kind, is continuously reviewed, refined and upgraded time to time to improve the quality of training.
Since its inception in 2013, Eye Mitra program has been following the standards prescribed in the Modular Employability Standards (MED-122 and MED 123) of the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) w.r.t., the training and assessment standards. Moreover, since 2017, in line with the recommendation from Healthcare Sector Skill Council (HSSC), we have adopted a new quality/professional standard as prescribed in the National Occupational Standards (QP NOS-3000).
Essilor through its inclusive division 2.5 New Vision Generation (2.5 NVG) has become an institutional member of Healthcare Sector Skill Council (HSSC), a non-statutory body under the ambit of Ministry of Skill Development & Entrepreneurship, Government of India. This ensures 2.5 NVG’s strong presence regarding taking part in the policy matters related to skill development and entrepreneurship in Healthcare, especially Eye Health.
What are your plans to scale up and are there any new initiatives?
We aim to create 10,000 Eye Mitra Opticians (EMOs) by 2020, making good vision accessible and affordable across all corners of the country. And with the concerted effort of these EMO’s, we aim to screen more than three crore Indians by 2020, and continue to live our motto of ‘Improving Lives by Improving Sight’. We already have scale-up work plan ready for 2020, where we are looking to enter new states as well as new geographical locations within the state.
We, 2.5 NVG, continuously work to develop and evolve sustainable and scalable business models which can help eradicate poor vision in one generation. Apart from Eye Mitra, we have various other traditional as well as non-traditional lasting partnership based channels like Mobile Refraction Van, Vision Ambassador, Hospital channel, Wholesale and Retail distribution. Also, a tie-up with various Corporate, Central and State governments help us reach the remotest parts of the country. We continuously look to partner with like-minded organisations to take our mission of ‘good vision for everyone, everywhere’ to the needy people.
What would be your advice for other companies who wish to embrace an inclusive business model?
Essilor, through its inclusive business arm 2.5 New Vision Generation (2.5 NVG) has pioneered several inclusive business models in eye health space. We ensure that whatever initiatives/ models we create and implement are scalable, sustainable, innovative as well as profitable for all stakeholders in the long run. An inclusive business model can only be successful when it creates value for all stakeholders including consumers, customers, partners, company and the society at large. The companies looking for the inclusive business model should not expect immediate returns but should focus on providing a solution for such contemporary issues which impact the population at large. And this can be done only by including the people across the entire socio-economic pyramid in your value chain, irrespective of their demography, geography and economic strata.
Testimonial from Eye Mitra Opticians
“This training has come as a ray of hope for me as I was looking out for some business opportunity which I could do at my native place. I have done Masters & wanted to help people of my village. Today I’m happy that besides a good earning, I’m also doing something good for my people here in the village.” –Satyapal Kushwah, Eye Mitra
“I used to work as a Data Operator previously and was unhappy due to the work environment. I have also worked with self-help groups and done some other small jobs which made me feel dejected. With the consent of my family, I left the job and enrolled for the EMO Training. Now I run my shop. I have gained self-confidence and respect in my family as well as the community. I can never thank 2.5 NVG enough for making my life so good.” -Jayshree Dhaybar, Eye Mitra