This Innovator Designed Affordable Eye Glasses From Recycled Plastic For Uganda’s Poor

Posted: March 6, 2019

Brenda Katwesigye has developed a virtual reality mobile app that can perform eye testing. Her company, Wazi Vision, also makes affordable eye glasses made of recycled plastic.

Brenda Katwesigye is a serial entrepreneur, whose business ideas came from her own life experiences. In her job as a consultant, she would have to work for long hours on the computer, which eventually led to her developing short-sightedness. When she went to get a pair of eyeglasses, she realized that they were really expensive.

“I was asked to pay $180 for a new pair of glasses, which was really expensive. For a country where the average monthly income earned is $40, this is simply unaffordable. I also realized that optical centers are located disproportionately, mainly within the urban areas, leaving the people in rural areas to have to travel long distances to access eye care services.”

“This gap drove me to start Wazi Vision whose long term goal is to make eye care accessible and affordable to everyone regardless of their income status,” she says.

Wazi Vision combats the problem in two ways:

  1. By providing affordable diagnosis via a mobile app
  2. By producing and selling cheap eye glasses

These glasses were manufactured out of recycled plastic by local female artisans in Uganda, which made a difference in their lives too. However, as of last year, because of various reasons she had to outsource the production to Switzerland.

One could say that this reduces the social impact of Wazi vision, but Brenda disagrees. “The social aspect is there [but] the story is a bit different now. When it comes down to certain things, they are designed in Uganda by Ugandans. The glasses are designed here, though not manufactured. So the design stays here.”

She also adds that the outsourcing allows her to keep the costs down, and serve the people who truly need the glasses, “We are tapping into a market that is not you and me, people who can afford to pay, but can’t afford to pay too much.” Over and above that, Wazi also gives away the glasses for free to those who cannot pay at all, by taking a percentage from those who can pay, or via fundraisers, as she explains in this video.

Her work with Wazi Vision has earned Brenda many awards, including, Africa Rethink Award for African Female Entrepreneur 2016, International Telecommunication Union’s Young Innovators Award, Public Health Award for best Innovation in Health and the SITIC Toumai Grand Prize for Innovation. She was named by Quartz Africa among their “30 innovators of 2018”, in September 2018. Forbes also named her startup – Wazi Vision – among “60 women-led startups that are shaking up tech across the globe.”

In a recent self-published article, she says that despite the recognition, she was “engulfed by a dark cloud of perceived failure and the proverbial imposter syndrome.” She has come to realize however that, “In this social media age, it’s easy to mistake Facebook and Instagram likes for real progress…But nothing is as tragic as spending the best years of your life building nothing while thinking it’s something. Business is not about the awards or the social media likes, it’s about the business. Learn which focus to feed.”

Although it is important for every school child to have a comprehensive eye examination, Uganda does not have enough optometrists to periodically perform this regularly. About 2% of children need glasses to stay in school.

With Wazi Vision, Brenda Katwesigye is making a valiant effort to bridge the gaps.

The theme of International Women’s Day, 2019, which falls on March 8th, is “Think equal, build smart, innovate for change”. #IWD2019

With women still a minority in science, technology & related innovation, it’s time to shine a spotlight on female innovation champions! Enjoy our Women Innovators Around The World series, where we profile 19 inspiring women innovators, from 19 countries, whose work has a big social impact.

Want to know what other innovations women around the world have pioneered? Read about Daphna Nissenbaum here.

Image source: YouTube

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