UNDP Ethiopia’s Accelerator Lab in partnership with the Czech Solutions for SDGs Challenge Fund is helping to solve the detrimental effect of poor vision in Ethiopia where the ratio between ophthalmologist and population is 1 per 700,000. It is also found out that most of the vision problems are rudimentary refractive errors, treatment of which requires only limited skills and knowledge, and improved pair of eyeglasses.
UNDP Ethiopia benefitted from two rounds of challenge fund which financed four Czech companies and local partners including DOT Glasses to test their solutions to solve vision problem in Ethiopia. The Accelerator Lab identified priority areas for the challenge fund, participated in the evaluation of applications, and most importantly created grassroot connections for selected solutions with relevant stake holders in Ethiopia for successful implementation of the pilot projects and scale-up.
The implementation of Challenge Fund projects is financially supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic. Prior to the start of the project, an initial DOT pilot testing made sure that the final price of glasses is accessible to Ethiopians. DOT also identified 150 locals who agreed to join the project and become Ethiopia’s first DOT Glasses distributors. The way forward was to use the Czech-UNDP’s funding to train local distributors to use the DOT Glasses kits and assemble glasses. Such training took several days. Finally, 141 participants completed the training and became micro-entrepreneurs, able to approach customers. Ultimately, the funding helped to purchase the Vision kits and two months’ worth of replenishments for project’s local distributors. By involving locals to participate in the distribution, DOT’s solution looked further than just delivering a few sets of glasses.
The solution therefore targeted not only the people who need glasses but also provides an economic opportunity for local distributors trained within the project. Priced at around 6-7 USD, the glasses are significantly more affordable than alternatives, yet they still provide an economic motivation for distributors which strengthens project’s sustainability. The margin for the entrepreneur is between 2-3 USD. Aware of the local conditions, the DOT also entered negotiations with local authorities with the goal of securing additional funding for those still not able to afford the product.
The Administrative Challenge
Naturally, importing glasses was not easy at first. DOT needed to address both, requests from the Federal government of Ethiopia and from Ethiopia’s local governments. The fact that glasses are classified as a medical device only added to the administrative burden. DOT needed to provide 13 different documents to local authorities to begin the distribution process. Finally, after months of negotiations, DOT Glasses received device registration from the Ethiopian Food and Drug Authority (EFDA). Combined with growing costs of international shipping, the project got delayed nearly half a year. As DOT glasses mentions, hiring a local project manager made everything go smoother.
The pilot project for Ethiopia picked up good pace. By December 2021, DOT reported that over 8,000 glasses have been distributed and another 10,000 have been ordered by DOT’s Country Director who oversees the project locally.
DOT’s Solution Around the World
The Challenge Fund in Ethiopia was a part of DOT’s larger global operation, which keeps constantly growing. By autumn 2021, DOT Glasses has sold over 50,000 glasses to its 10 LDC markets, which include Bangladesh, Nigeria, Nepal, Uganda, or Ghana adding to the total of 14 countries. As DOT’s distribution network grows the economy of scale helps to make the DOT Glasses solution more accessible to economically disadvantaged. To support its goal of making glasses accessible, DOT won support of multiple donors and investors, including the Tilia Fund and Nation 1 Fund. Having won the Red Dot design award and the Czech SDG award, DOT Glasses are clearly a much needed, stylish solution to the challenge of poor vision.