Eyeglasses are no longer out of reach for many Ugandans because of the work of Brenda Katwesigye, CEO and founder of Wazi Vision and her team. Wazi Vision makes eyeglasses from recycled plastic and uses virtual reality eye-testing technology to make eye health more affordable. The social enterprise also does mobile eye tests in schools and provides free glasses for children in need. Metolo Foyet, 21, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Cameroon now living in Niger interviewed the Wazi Vision founder. The day was sunny, and the atmosphere amazing when Brenda fit us into her busy day.
Q: You are the CEO of Wazi Vision. One of the keys to a business, or a social enterprise, is having a workable idea. How did you come up with the concept for Wazi Vision?
A: I used to work in one of the big 4 firms as a Business Analyst and I spent over 13 hours a day at my computer – on average. With time, my eyes started to deteriorate, and they hurt a lot, so I needed to get a pair of eye glasses to help me with that. I had medical insurance at the time, so I thought, well this should be easy! When I got to the optical centre, I was charged $160 for my glasses – and insurance could only cover half.
At the same time, my sisters also needed glasses and as a family, it was very expensive. I wondered if I could feel the pinch, what about many more people who don’t even have formal jobs or insurance? That’s when I got obsessed with trying to understand what makes the glasses so expensive and what we can do to help fix that. I finally figured we could make the frame from plastic, and the rest is history. I quit my job shortly after and decided to focus on this and we have grown and diversified since.
Q: You have been helping to make eye glasses more affordable. Tell us about that?
A: Since Wazi started, it has reduced the cost of eye care by 80% and provided 6,000 people with affordable eye glasses. Periodically, we perform eye testing drives in slums and rural areas where we give away free eye glasses to people. The free eye glasses are subsidized in price by sales made to middle income people. Wazi has greatly contributed to an area that is often overlooked,yet it impacts the overall wellbeing of a person – eye sight.
Q: How important has innovation been to Wazi’s success?
A: Innovation is what Wazi’s prides itself on the most and it has contributed greatly to our success. Wazi is different – innovation is evident in our designs, but also in our technology. Plastic is used for making glasses but it’s not easy to find anyone using recycled plastic in our industry. It’s a complex process and Wazi’s ability to connect recycled plastic to a high-quality product is very innovative. Using this approach has helped us secure our value proposition which is low cost for high quality.
Q: Before Wazi Vision, you were the CEO of InstaHealth, a startup with a mobile application service to help persons access ambulances, doctors and health centres. That company no longer exists. What did you learn from InstaHealth and how has that experience helped you with Wazi Vision?
A: There were lots of mistakes I made with InstaHealth. One was, we did not quite understand the landscape and were just trying to figure things out – which is okay, but it sucks up all your capital before you can put out a refined product. We thought our solution was the best to solve the problem we were working on but it wasn’t. No one was willing to pay for the service. With Wazi, I tested the product and did a lot of market research and analysis before I launched and that helped to refine everything early enough so when we started, we just hit the ground running.
Q: Many of our readers are young people who are involved in various social enterprises, community initiatives and businesses. If you had one piece of advice to give to them, what would it be?
A: I would advise social entrepreneurs to not only understand the problem they are solving but to also understand who they are solving it for and design something that fits their context. A lot of copy-paste solutions in other places and countries don’t work in our country and we must be careful to consider the cultural influences on the potential success of our businesses.
Q: Is there anything else that you would like to add?
A: Sometimes as a female founder it’s easy to doubt yourself and your abilities. We need to remember and celebrate our small victories in those moments of doubt so that we do not give up.
Brenda Katwesigye was a finalist in the Good Health and Well-being category of the Commonwealth Youth Awards 2019.
About Metolo Foyet: I am a social entrepreneur with a focus on education, agriculture and cybersecurity.
I have a track record of adding value to organisations by delivering innovative projects that engage stakeholders. I have expertise in public affairs, strategic communications, translation, research and development, product design, grassroots development and project management across the not-for-profit and private sectors.I paint, write, and am an environmental, travel and sports enthusiast. I envision a career in the public service, especially the UN.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/
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