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In January the Financial Times partnered with international charity Sightsavers to launch a business plan challenge to MBA students.

They were asked to form teams to submit ideas for marketing spectacles to young people in one or more emerging markets.

The proposal: This team comprises students from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, Esade and Indian School of Business.

It wanted to target children living in rural India as ophthalmologists only work in bigger cities, which makes accessibility for the rural population very difficult.

The strategies

● Develop a tool kit that teachers can use in schools to make an initial diagnosis of students’ eyesight. The toolkit will have a sight-testing machine, sample glasses and a handbook that is easy to use. Teachers will only need one to two hours of training and will then be able to place large orders for glasses. Children who have more complicated eyesight problems, meanwhile, will be referred to clinics.

● Use a limited number of glass frame models – five to 10, for example – to avoid confusing children by giving them too much choice. Styles will vary for boys and girls and will be made in China.

● Create an advertising campaign where actors wear exactly the same frames as the ones available to children to increase the appeal of wearing glasses.

The background

“You have to think big if you [focus on] a country like India” says Karl-Justin Stürmer, a member of The Glass Ceiling team. He believes that despite the initial cost of creating the toolkits for teachers across rural India, the scheme will ultimately cost less than sending teams of ophthalmologists across the country. Costs will also be reduced through manufacturing glasses in China, he adds. “We are not just focusing on the marketing issue,” he says. “[Our plan] is innovative but also very economical, while not depending on one-off donations.”

Mr Stürmer explains the idea of promoting only a select number of frame designs came from the whole team noting from personal experience that children respond better to limited choices. “If you give children the opportunity to choose between 50 toys, for example, they would probably want all of them or wouldn’t be sure which to choose,” he says.

Furthermore, if you relate the style of frames to television adverts, Mr Stürmer believes, they will be even more popular. “If the TV stars are wearing Tommy Hilfiger glasses, for example, but the children get cheap plastic ones, it won’t work.” he says. The children need to recognise the same models they use being worn by others.

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

The Careerist column will appear in tomorrow’s edition of the FT

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