UHF is proud to present the 2020 Distinguished Community Service Award to Neil Blumenthal and Dave Gilboa, Co-Founders & Co-CEOs of Warby Parker, in recognition of Warby Parker’s work to provide underserved New York City schoolchildren with free vision screenings and glasses.
About a quarter of New York City’s 1.1 million schoolchildren have some kind of vision impairment, but on average, only 5% of low-income students who need eyeglasses have them. It’s estimated that 80% of childhood learning occurs through visual tasks such as reading and writing, so when these vision problems go uncorrected—as they do for the majority of these students—children often fall behind in school.
There are fewer sights more rewarding than the smile of a child who finally sees the world clearly when putting on their first pair of glasses. Since 2015, thousands of New York City students (K-12th-graders) have experienced this thanks to Pupils Project, a program created by New York-based brand, Warby Parker, that provides schoolchildren in need with free vision screenings, eye exams, and glasses.
Designed as a public-private partnership, Pupils Project is operated by City agencies that provide vision screenings and optometric services, and Warby Parker, which designs and produces the prescription eyeglasses. Especially important (as anyone who ever had to wear glasses as a child understands), Warby Parker designers have created a selection of over 40 stylish frames that children and teens actually want to wear; every child gets to choose their own frame.
Since the start, Pupils Project has screened more than 300,000 students in over 850 schools across the city. In January 2019, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a $6 million expansion of the program to screen every kindergarten and first-grade student in the city. One-third of the expansion costs were provided by private funders, including the Gray Foundation, Jonas Philanthropies, Katrina vanden Heuvel, and Robin Hood, and Warby Parker continues to fund the cost of the glasses. The Mayor’s Office estimates that through this expansion, more than 140,000 kindergarteners and first-graders will get free eye exams, and about 33,000 will receive free glasses each school year.
Pupils Project is part of a founding principle behind Warby Parker as forged by Neil Blumenthal and Dave Gilboa, co-founders and co-CEOs: to use business to do good.
In 2010, Neil and Dave, along with Andy Hunt and Jeff Raider, two fellow MBA candidates at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business, conceived the then-radical idea of selling glasses online—at a revolutionary price—directly to consumers. Neil had previously run a nonprofit called VisionSpring that uses a social entrepreneurship model to distribute and sell eyeglasses to people living on less than $4 per day.
Together, they launched Warby Parker to prove that businesses can scale, be profitable, and do good in the world without charging a premium for it. But Neil and Dave also wanted to help the 2.5 billion people around the world who need glasses yet can’t afford them. They came up with a simple yet powerful concept: Buy a Pair, Give a Pair. Since the inception of the company, for every pair of Warby Parker glasses purchased, a pair of glasses is distributed to someone in need. To date, more than seven million pairs have been distributed.
While Buy a Pair, Give a Pair started with distributing glasses outside of the United States, it was a natural progression to help children in Warby Parker’s hometown of New York City gain access to better vision. “Providing a pair of glasses can radically transform a student’s academic, social, and future economic potential,” says Jesse Sneath, Director of Social Innovation at Warby Parker.
Pupils Project began with a 2014 pilot at The Laboratory School of Finance and Technology, a middle and high school in the Bronx. In the first vision screening, 140 of the 400 students needed glasses. The program expanded the following year, in conjunction with City agencies to offer vision screenings, eye exams, and glasses to students in all of New York’s Community Schools. As of the 2019–2020 school year, Pupils Project now also serves all kindergarteners and first-graders across the city. (This is on hold for now but will restart once New York schools fully reopen.)
Based on the success of the New York City program, Neil and Dave expanded Pupils Project to Baltimore and Philadelphia public schools with the nonprofit partner Vision To Learn, and are exploring expansions to Boston and Washington, D.C.
In recognition of Warby Parker’s work to provide underserved New York City schoolchildren with the tools they need to see and learn, United Hospital Fund is proud to present the 2020 Distinguished Community Service Award to Neil Blumenthal and Dave Gilboa.