Feature of the Week

August 12, 2012 6:54 pm

Putting on a play to help children with glasses join in

Sightsavers Mark Nyamdiba©Sightsavers

In January, the FT partnered with international charity Sightsavers to launch a business plan challenge for MBA students. They were asked to form teams to submit ideas for marketing spectacles to young people in one or more emerging markets.

The Vista Visionaries proposal: This team comprises students from Warwick Business School, Copenhagen Business School, the Asian Institute of Management and the University of British Columbia Sauder School of Business.

It wanted to focus on helping children in Kenya feel more comfortable wearing glasses.

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The strategies:

● Host a roadshow in schools with participation by local community leaders or role models. The roadshows would invite children to create and perform in plays in which a character with glasses overcomes challenges. Development of the plays would be supported by weekly cartoon strips in newspapers, and by broadcasting them on radio. Vision-distorting goggles would feature, in order to replicate the experience of low vision.

● Make glasses with collapsible frames and easily replaced lenses to enable children to take part in peer group activities without inhibition. The glasses would feature well-known cartoon characters in their designs.

The background:

The roadshow would emphasise Kenya’s “Utu” value system, which focuses on community spirit and “humanness”, explains Rajeev Hegde, a member of the Vista Visionaries team. Writing and performing plays about subjects that appeal to children, such as local animals, would help community leaders discuss wearing glasses with the schoolchildren.

The idea of cartoon strips to develop the themes of the plays arose because “there are popular sections in local newspapers for children, where we think a story about glasses would work well,” says team member Claudia Gosman. The design of the glasses would feature characters from the cartoon strips.

Plans for broadcasting the plays to be listened to on mobile phones came when the team noted the predicted high penetration of mobile use in Kenya.

The idea of collapsible frames with easy-to-replace lenses arose because children need to feel relaxed while wearing glasses. “[They] tend to be afraid of destroying glasses when playing ball, for example, so collapsible frames will give them more confidence to be part of normal activity and mingle with the group,” says Ms Gosman. Team member Wendy Okada had seen a similar project piloted for teenagers in Peru.

“It could be done with reasonable cost and good results,” says Ms Gosman.

Vista Visionaries is one of six MBA Challenge shortlisted teams. The winner will be announced in October.

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