Before you can change the world, you have to see it clearly.

But for the developing world, it’s an enormous challenge to get glasses to everyone who needs them. In Rwanda, for example, there’s a single ophthalmologist for every million people.

But sometimes big needs can lead to big innovations.

Adlens variable focus eyewear, which won an Edison Award for Social Impact earlier this month, is a good example of design thinking that makes a global problem surmountable.

By giving people the ability to adjust the prescription of their glasses in seconds, Adlens is dramatically increasing access to vision correction for millions of people across the globe.

But like any good tool, variable eyewear only works as well as it’s used.

In Rwanda, that means basic training for using Adlens glasses, public education on the necessity of vision correction, and increasing average disposable income all have to come first.

To do this work, Adlens has partnered with the Rwandan Ministry of Health and launched a non-profit wing called Vision for a Nation that’s devoted to social good and providing vision correction for the Rwandan people.

This also frees Adlens to focus on marketing their product and building a sustainable company that, in the the words of Richard Branson, screws business as usual by making a ton of money and committing to social good at the same time.

adlens glasses man

Dr Graeme MacKenzie is an optometrist and Director of Industry Affairs at Adlens who was part of the research group that developed variable focus eyewear at Oxford.

Dr MacKenzie puts the challenge of getting this kind of technological breakthrough into the hands of the people who need it most this way:

The first step toward providing vision correction to people in the developing world isn’t just getting them eyewear—it’s educating them that they need glasses in the first place!”

And since education costs, paying customers are a must-have for Adlens from the very beginning.

After conducting market research, Adlens settled on Japan as an initial target market, where their technology-influenced style and charitable business model connected with consumers.

But marketing glasses with perfectly round lenses was still proving challenging and required even more design thinking. (Though variable focus eyewear can be manufactured using more modern lens styles, round lenses are the least expensive and so most scalable.)

If only there were some legendary figure associated with round glasses who advocated for peace and understanding.

john lennon

With Yoko Ono’s blessing, the John Lennon Collection is the first designer brand of variable focus eyewear.

But for Adlens, continued success means facilitating cooperation across governments, continents, and cultures. 

Rwanda is one of the developing countries that’s closest to meeting the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, which are focused on combating extreme poverty and the spread of AIDS. Rwanda also has one of the most progressive education systems in the region, respects a woman’s right to own land, and is striving for financial independence by 2020.

So by working with the Rwandan Ministry of Health to effectively raise awareness around the need for vision correction, Adlens hopes to give its commitment to social good the kind of staying power that’s only possible with substantial government buy-in.

Imagine—all across the world, people trying on their first pair of glasses, and within seconds they can see!

The optical industry has been alternatively excited and mistrustful of this disruptive technology. But as more people around the world are introduced to the life changing power of vision correction, global interest in optical innovation will only grow.