The “buy one, get one” (BOGO) model is becoming increasingly popular among for-profit businesses wanting to do good in developing countries, which is very cool. But although the desire to donate goods is laudable, the “one for one” model has its pitfalls. Case in point: when everyone in a community can get a free pair of shoes, say, or glasses or whatever the item may be, local vendors get pushed out of business. The local economy suffers, and the donation, though coming from a desire to help, becomes a short-term solution that causes its own problems. Enter Warby Parker, the prescription glasses and sunglasses retailer known not only for its stylish, affordable frames but also for its progressive approach to doing good.
Warby Parker does, indeed, have a Buy a Pair, Give a Pair program. But the retailer doesn’t stop there. Its mandate is to empower. To do this, the company works with partners worldwide to employ two distribution models: in the first, Warby Parker makes it possible for local adults in low-income communities to learn to administer basic eye exams and sell glasses for reasonable prices. The company also provides vision care and glasses directly to school-aged children right in the classroom, since teachers are often the first to notice sight-related issues.
The retailer’s primary partner in this endeavor is the nonprofit VisionSpring, which provides boots-on-the-ground insight into how local economies function and what types of products might be culturally appropriate. Warby Parker gets the funding and glasses to VisionSpring; VisionSpring then teaches local would-be entrepreneurs what they need to know to start their own business selling ultra-affordable glasses.
Warby Parker’s endgame is to develop jobs and help individuals start and sustain a business—even as they get glasses into the hands of those who need them. In other words, instead of creating dependency on sometimes-unpredictable donations, the company helps communities become self-sufficient. To date, Warby Parker has taken its socially responsible BOGO model to more than 50 countries, from Zimbabwe to Bangladesh.
Talk about a strong vision.
Janice Deal is a writer, an editor, and a lover of found objects. Her short-story collection, The Decline of Pigeons (Queen’s Ferry Press, 2013), was a finalist for the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. Her first novel, The Sound of Rabbits, was recently named a finalist in the Many Voices Project Prose competition. Janice lives in Downers Grove, Illinois, with her husband, daughter, and three disreputable cats.
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