A little bit is in the intro, but I didn't realize what a disparity there was in vision, in eyeglasses, until I was a Marine Director for EUCOM in charge of Humanitarian Aid and Civic Assistance. And EUCOM at the time were responsible for all DOD activities in Europe and Africa. Every time a military unit would head to Africa or Eastern Europe, they would have doctors or engineers with them, to either build things or help if someone got hurt. And these forces would have time on their hands while waiting for infantry to do training, so we would set them to do humanitarian and civic assistance projects. Engineers would build schools and clinics with pre-fab materials from the US or Canada, and the doctors would set up their clinics or mobile hospitals, and they would do dental work, cleft palate surgeries, medical outreach stuff helping with things that are uncommon elsewhere. The first trip I went on after planning was Morocco in January 2005, and they had all of that set up, and they had a vision screening. I'd worn glasses my whole life, so I said "I want to see that, it sounds interesting!"
So I went down to watch them, and what they would do is the doctors would use an auto-refractor (to shoot a laser in the eye to make measurements) to determine the patient's needs, and then they would get used eyeglasses that most closely matched the patient's vision needs. What I found out was there were a few problems with it:
1) They almost never got 20/20 vision in both eyes. So they would get clear vision in one eye, and the other eye would be improved a bit, but might still be blurry.
2) They didn't get to pick their frames. I saw a young woman get prescribed a pair of HUGE eyeglasses a la Farrah Fawcett. She'd dressed up for the occasion, and she kept handing these huge glasses back, and pointing to a more stylish pair of frames on the table. The doctors kept pointing her to the correct glasses, and when she put on the more stylish small frames, she put them on and walked out holding them at the end of their nose and looking over the top. Clearly she thought I need eyeglasses because my vision is blurry, so if I wear them long enough, I'll get used to them!
When that lady walked out, I shook my head and thought that there has to be a better way to do this.
My first thought was that we needed to create a nice frame that was unisex with snap-in lenses.
So you could take the auto-refractor, take the measurements of each eye, and then snap in the best lens for each eye independently. So I came up with half my kit in 2005.
The issue was that that did not exist in 2005. So what I found was a guy named Professor Josh Silver. He had invented a pair of fluid-filled eyeglasses called AdSpecs and convinced my command to buy these because you got an independent prescription in each eye, which would be better. So we bought several thousand of them, I took them to Angola later in 2005 (around August), and we tried them with optometrists, and then quickly realized that because the patients turned the dial (like binoculars) to tune in their own prescriptive needs, the requirement to have a doctor there was reduced or in some cases eliminated.
I realized that we could increase our outreach by not just working with eyecare professionals. And so we started that program using non-medical professionals to give away eyeglasses on these other military outreach operations. So the military ended up giving away 40,000 pairs on the program that I started. Then I moved on to another job - I handed off that job title to someone else, and then it stopped shortly thereafter.
In 2009, I retired from the Marine Corps. I'd stayed in touch with Josh Silver. And he asked me, in his quintessential Oxford Professor voice: "Kevin, you started this program, and there's 2.5 billion people that need eyeglasses, and have no access to them. We have to come up with other programs to meet that need. It can't just be the military. How should we meet that need?"
As a professional logistician, I gave it some thought, and came up with a 3 step business plan for him.
1) Government programs - Ministries of Health, Transportation and Education
2) NGOs - clinics, hospitals, religious organizations and others conducting healthcare outreach in the desired population areas
3) Social entrepreneurs - once a market had been established, people needed to realize that the eyeball varies from person to person, and glasses are the tool that can correct that visual acuity or deficiency. Once the market is established, social entrepreneurs can come in and sell glasses at very low cost - that would be the transition plan.
And he said - I'll never forget - "That sounds great. When do you start?"
So I said yes, I've just retired, I'll start this charity. So I started Global Vision 20/20 in February 2009, just to get it established. My first thought was: This is SUCH a big problem. And such a simple solution. I thought money would be falling from trees, that it would be easy to find funding to solve this problem! With my experience in the Marine Corps - whether you needed food, fuel, or money - you'd put your hand behind you, and what you needed would appear. But what I failed to translate from the Military to the Civilian Sector was that I had 200,000 Marines helping me do that, and with this nonprofit, I had just me. I realized that I needed a lot more help, and had a deficiency in my education.
I used fluid-filled glasses from 2009-2012 in programs, and probably gave away another 5,000 pairs over the course of those 3 years. But what I realized is that it wasn't the optimal solution. The fluid-filled eyeglasses were limited in design, and had to be perfectly round. And they still had manufacturing issues - they would leak a little bit, and then lose the prescription, not being as durable as conventional eyeglasses.
So in 2013, I did a gap analysis between the conventional eyeglasses (nice pair of eyeglasses, but took a year of training for someone to distribute) and self-refraction eyeglasses systems (at $25 apiece, but easy to distribute). So I discovered we needed a system of self-refraction for the patient to determine their best visual acuity, but the process ENDED with a pair of snap-together eyeglasses.
That's when I invented the Usee, pictured below.