Cornell’s Frontier Markets Initiative Partners to Address Eye Care in India


The Frontier Markets Initiative, a collaboration between Entrepreneurship at Cornell and Johnson’s Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise, has announced a partnership with the international development UK-based organization Sightsavers. The goal of the partnership is to innovate a business model that can sustainably deliver primary eye care solutions to India’s urban poor.


Worldwide, 285 million people are estimated to be visually impaired, with approximately 90 percent of those living in the emerging and developing economies.


Under the direction of Dr. Erik Simanis, Head of FMI, a Cornell team will work closely with Sightsavers in Kolkata, India to conduct market research, and then design an offering and business model that can overcome key challenges that have hampered previous ventures within the eye care industry to profitably reach this segment. “Apart from consumers’ low incomes and erratic cash flows, poor infrastructure limits a business unit’s reach, while the high-touch marketing needed to drive demand for eye care services raises operating costs. So it’s the perfect business storm.” 


The project builds on tools and learnings developed through prior partnerships headed by Simanis to reach mass market consumers across emerging and frontier economies, including recent partnerships with SC Johnson in Ghana and with Unilever in Nigeria and Bangladesh.


For Sightsavers, a global non-profit founded in 1950 that today operates in more than 30 developing countries, the partnership is part of a broader strategy to explore how market-based approaches can complement the organization’s more traditional philanthropic efforts.  According to Anna Gerrard, Sightsavers’ Manager of Private Sector Engagement, “The challenges associated with urban primary eye health in developing countries open up new opportunities for radical innovation at the bottom of the pyramid. Our aim is to create a market-based solution that meets the needs of the poor living in urban slums, whilst also having robust financial foundations to enable Sightsavers to reach scale.”


About The Frontier Markets Initiative:

The Frontier Markets Initiative conducts applied research on profitably opening up new mass market opportunities in emerging and developing economies. The goal of FMI is to build corporations’ and entrepreneurs’ capacity to profitably serve these markets by deepening the field’s understanding of key success drivers, and creating innovation and management tools effective in meeting the unique challenges they present.


About Sightsavers:

Sightsavers is a registered UK charity (registered charity numbers 207544 and SC038110) that works in more than 30 developing countries to prevent blindness, restore sight and advocate for social inclusion and equal rights for people with disabilities. In the six decades since its founding, Sightsavers has:


- Supported over 483.4 million treatments for blinding and potentially blinding conditions
- Carried out over 8.14 million operations to restore sight
- Trained more than 0.5 million primary eye care workers
- Carried out rehabilitation training for 149,000 blind or low vision beneficiaries
- Supported 30,000 blind or low vision children to gain a school education 

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