Dr. Jordan Kassalow ’83
- By Tom Weaver
THE VENTURE VisionSpring, the non-profit social enterprise that Jordan Kassalow founded in 2002, sells low-cost eyeglasses to individuals in developing nations. “People in these parts of the world earn their living with their eyes and hands—weavers and tailors and mechanics and goldsmiths and barbers,” Kassalow says. “When that link between their vision and their hands is broken, they just need a simple pair of glasses. By providing that, we can basically double the length of their working lives.” Beyond providing glasses to those who need them, VisionSpring creates livelihoods by employing local women to sell the glasses. The organization sold its millionth pair last spring and now has 9,600 women working in eighteen countries.
THE SPARK While studying to be an eye doctor, Kassalow traveled with a student organization that brought eye-care services to under-served populations in Mexico. His first patient was a seven-year-old boy from a school for the blind. After examining him, Kassalow and his professor determined he wasn’t blind, but severely myopic. “I was the lucky person who got to put the glasses on this boy’s face. And as the lenses aligned with his eyes, this sort of blank stare of a blind child transformed into this incredible smile of joy of seeing for the first time. It was really a moment that fundamentally changed both of our lives.”
DAY TO DAY Kassalow splits his focus between a half-time clinical practice as an opthamologist in Manhattan and VisionSpring. Eight weeks a year are also spent on the road for the non-profit where his main roles these days are as the external face of the organization and the only eye doctor on the team. At home on the Upper West Side with his wife and three kids (ages thirteen, ten, and eight), Kassalow credits his spouse for shouldering a large share of the family logistics to enable his dual pursuits. “There’s no shortcut,” he says. “I just spend a lot of time working.” A typical day will see him return home from the practice at 7:30, spend a couple of hours with the family, then sit down at the computer for VisionSpring work until midnight.
COLLEGE YEARS “There were many students taking on important causes beyond their own sphere of narrow self-interest and putting their time and effort into them,” Kassalow, who majored in biology, recalls. “At that point in my life, I wasn’t the most community active kind of person. But I was always struck by that commitment; it made an impression on me.”