FT Sightsavers MBA Challenge

Charity wants students’ help to tackle glasses’ image problem. By Charlotte Clarke

Fabiha is nine years old and lives in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city. In 2008, when she was six, she began to have difficulty seeing the whiteboard at school and developed a headache while reading, so her father took her for an eye examination. She was prescribed spectacles at the Layton Rahmatullah Benevolent Trust hospital and started wearing them regularly.

But things changed when her classmates began calling her “Chasmay Walee Aunty” (glasses aunt). “My uncle also calls me ‘Chishmish’ [one using glasses],” says Fabiha. “I feel ashamed when he says this to me.” She is now reluctant to wear glasses, even though they have helped improve her studies.

By improving eyesight, the provision of glasses reduces school absenteeism, academic ­underperformance and harm to the career prospects of children and young people. But for many young people there is a stigma attached to wearing glasses. How can this be overcome?

The Financial Times is teaming up with Sightsavers, the development organisation that the FT is supporting in its seasonal appeal, to set a challenge for MBA students.

The challenge: develop a business plan to market glasses to children or young people in one or more develop­ing countries in Africa or Asia. Although Sightsavers supports a range of activities to provide access to optical services, if they are to work it is essential that these programmes ­offer high-quality, ­affordable, comfortable and cosmetically acceptable spectacles.

“With this challenge, we hope to get people thinking about innovative approaches to what sounds like a simple problem, but has proved difficult on the ground,” says Caroline Harper, chief executive of Sightsavers. “Not only will this challenge be a test for MBA students looking to hone their skills, it is also an opportunity to see what those skills can do in the poorest parts of the world.”

How to participate: the challenge is open to teams of between three and eight students, and at least one student in each team must be studying at a university or business school in Europe, a second in the Americas and a third in Asia or Africa. At least one participant in each team must be studying towards an MBA, although other participants may be from other disciplines.

The challenge will run from January to September 2012, in two main stages. In stage one, teams should submit a short proposal. During stage two selected teams will go on to submit a comprehensive business plan.

The judging committee will announce the winner in October 2012.

The deadline to register team details is March 31 2012. For more information, including details of how to enter, see www.ft.com/mba-challenge

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