Practical Bravery: ELLA GUDWIN



How is it possible to mastermind commercially earned revenue alongside philanthropy in a growing business? Nurturing a purpose-driven enterprise that is centred around social impact at scale in turbulent times…?

Our guest this week has been at the forefront of transforming lives through visionary healthcare strategies, with over two decades of experience in international development. Now leading an organization that has transformed the vision of over 10 million people, she has unlocked billions in household income potential as people start to see clearly again.
Where do we begin to unravel the complexities of creating global health equity and sustainable change? Enjoy our conversation with the CEO of VisionSpring, Ella Gudwin.

Key quotes:

“Eyeglasses are a 700 year old technology that have failed to diffuse to the low income segment. They have been remarkably stuck as a luxury item, as a product for the learned and the elite.”

“VisionSpring was established in 2001 as a social enterprise, recognising that a problem this big is too big for charity to solve alone.”

“While the word ‘customer’ could be a capitalist word, I think there’s a really important element to the power dynamic when we stop using the word ‘beneficiary’.”

“We have to show up in a community with a product or service that is worth people’s time and it has to be worth their limited discretionary income. We have to earn trust. We need to provide products that are stylish. We have to offer the dignity of choice. The power is in the hands of the customer. First. It’s a real psychological shift.”

“There is an organisational culture of determination. We will throw ourselves at the wall again and again, until we get over it. The other one is revealing hard truths — being clear when things aren’t working. Letting the data and the evidence drive our decision-making.”

“In some communities 30% of people think glasses make your eyesight weaker. Others don’t want their girls to be in glasses, because it will make them less marriable and might increase their dowry. And there’s just a lot of people who feel like, it makes me old!”

“We can all have a little bit of vanity about, am I going to have to wear my glasses?”

“The issues and the connections between foreign policy and international aid are ancient. The extraction mindset is real. There’s a huge push in the international development space around decolonising international aid and making sure more funding is going into community based organisations, organisations with local leaders and local founders.”

”It’s important that we use our knowhow and our evidence to catalyse collaborative action.”

“The world needs 500,000 points of distribution for prescription glasses, and 400,000 more points of distribution for reading glasses, in order to have durable, lasting supply. So we have to awaken the demand, get the supply in place and then we will be able to solve the problem globally.”

“It’s a really exciting moment for us in the eyecare space, because the level of collaboration is at new heights.” 

“I’m a firm believer than one plus one equals eleven.”

This episode was recorded in July 2023

Interviewer: Richard Freeman for always possible

Editor: CJ Thorpe-Tracey for Lo Fi Arts


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