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Eye Mitra plans to train 10,000 opticians in rural India by 2020

Milind Jadhav, head, 2.5 NVG - India, talks to R&M about the Eye Mitra Optician programme and its impact

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Eye Mitra Optician programme, run by 2.5 New Vision Generation (2.5 NVG), a division of Essilor India has trained and created 2,500 rural youth to be opticians in their villages in three years. 2.5 NVG plans to take the number to 10,000 by 2020. Milind Jadhav, head, 2.5 NVG - India, talks to Mohd Mustaquim about the programme and its impact

Tell us something about the Eye Mitra Optician programme?
Under Eye Mitra Optician programme, with the help of our project partners, identifies passionate rural youth and gives them training on basic vision screening and spectacle dispensing. This training period is of 12 months which includes two months of classroom session and 10 months of on the job (OJT) training. During the OJT period, EMOs are trained on various business aspects such as basics of running a successful business, customer handling and conducting Vision Screening Events (VSEs). We have dedicated training centres where training is given by a team of qualified trainers and at every level quality assessments are done. 
On completion of successful training, 2.5NVG provides product and marketing support along with other required instruments to EMOs for setting up a small optical outlet in their respective local community.

What was the objective behind the initiative?
Out of 2.5 billion people in the world who need vision correction, 95 percent of them live in developing countries. If no action is taken, estimates show that this major social and economic issue will affect 3.2 billion people by 2050. In India alone, uncorrected refractive error (URE) accounts for more than 550 million people. However, simple measures can be found in order to fight against poor vision and reach people in the smaller cities. Essilor International has created a dedicated business arm - 2.5 New Vision Generation (NVG) whose ambition is to reverse the current trend with innovative, scalable and profitable inclusive business models that aim to add 50 million new spectacle wearers per year by 2020.
In India, there are around 26,000 optical shops and 85 percent of those are in urban areas. In addition, 70 percent of the population in India continues to live in rural areas; thus eye care delivery to the doorstep of the rural areas remains a challenge to the medical fraternity. There is a simple, old, and cost-effective technology to solve this problem— Spectacles. Yet the problem persists on a vast scale. For the rural people, spectacles often are either inaccessible or unaffordable, forcing hundreds of millions of people to live below their full potential.
To overcome these challenges and to achieve its mission, 2.5 NVG started working on various initiatives with like minded partners. Eye Mitra Optician is one of the flagship programmes under these initiatives.

How has been the journey of EMO initiative since its inception?
2.5 NVG started the EMO programme in early 2013 with first training centre in Alwar, Rajasthan. From Rajasthan, it moved to Uttar Pradesh and right now it has more than 10 training centres and 1500 EMOs across UP. Expanding from Northern part, in 2015, it started the programme in Karnataka and Maharashtra. Later in 2016, EMO also reached to Eastern region and started 4 training centres with two Hospital partners in West Bengal. By the end of 2016, 2.5 NVG was having 27 training centres in various districts of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Odisha, West Bengal, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh with 2,500 working EMOs. We are planning to reach 10,000 EMOs by 2020.

How has the initiative benefited the people in rural India?
Eye Mitra programme has directly benefited 2,500 families as they have got a good source of income from their micro enterprises. Since Jan 2013, EMOs have provided spectacles to over 9 lakh people. Also over 80 percent of them are first time wearers who would not have got the opportunity or time to go to the nearest city for getting their vision tested.  
An independent study by Dalberg Global Development Advisors on the impact created by the EMO programme in India revealed that spectacle wearers saved an average of 1.5 hours a day on daily tasks such as farming and domestic chores, and experienced increased independence in movement and travel. The study showed a total quantifiable impact of US$ 4.4 million a year alone in the 6 districts of Uttar Pradesh, representing close to 400 EMOs, serving 70,000 spectacle wearers. This amount includes the economic impact of increased earnings for EMOs, increased income through improved productivity of wearers as well as revenues for rural suppliers and other small businesses who benefit locally. If the Eye Mitra Opticians initiative was scaled up to all districts in India, this would represent a global potential impact of US$ 487 million a year.
Besides income and job stability, according to the study, the EMOs are likely to experience increased respect in their community. Women, in particular, are expected to experience positive changes in their social status, as well as increased self-confidence and financial independence. On a macro level, this work could contribute to a significant reduction in urban migration, environmental benefits and a rejuvenation of rural communities in India.

What was the initial response from rural youth while introducing the initiative?
Like any other new programme, in the initial days Eye Mitra Optcian (EMO) programme also had its own challenges for 2.5 NVG and also for our partners. It was difficult for 2.5 NVG to find like minded partners and even more difficult for partners to mobilise rural youth to become micro entrepreneurs. Slowly with time, experience and lot of hard work, we were able to create few good Eye Mitra opticians and seeing the success of the fellow candidates, more aspiring youth started visiting our training centres.
Time to time we are also updating the course curriculum of the programme to keep in line with prescribed norms as per the Health Sector Skill Council. Now we have also introduced our own screening processes to assess the candidates before they enrol for the programme.

What is the revenue model of the EMO programme?
2.5 NVG takes care of all cost elements to set up a training centre and EMOs are provided training free of cost. For outstation candidates, lodging and boarding facility is also provided without any fees. Instrument Kit worth Rs 30,000 is also given to each successful candidate to start their own optical shop. EMO has to put only initial investment in the shop rental and for purchasing products. Product offered through EMO shops are supplied by 2.5 NVG and these are sold to the rural customers at very nominal prices.  

Do you have any expansion plan of the programme?
Plan is to have 10,000 EMOs by the end of 2020 across India. Also after the success of this programme in India, 2.5 NVG is planning to replicate this in many other countries like China, Cambodia, Bangladesh and Vietnam.

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