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How a model based on financial sustainability is adding new value to non-profit efforts. Interview with Daniele Cangemi

How a model based on financial sustainability is adding new value to non-profit efforts. Interview with Daniele Cangemi


It's no longer just about aid hand-outs: the non-profit sector can now also operate initiatives on financially sustainable lines, thanks to the ability to provide moderately-priced services to populations receiving humanitarian aid. This instils greater responsibility in service users, while allowing projects to be more easily replicated and helping to support local economies. The benefits of this model are explained further in the following interview with Daniele Cangemi, drawing on his long background of work in the field of medical humanitarian assistance and his current position as Program Manager – Global Operations and Strategy at the American charitable eye care organization OneSight.

What are OneSight’s objectives?
OneSight was founded as a charitable foundation of LensCrafters, an American retailer which later became part of the Luxottica group. Its mission, put simply, is to help people see better. That goal has remained the same, even once OneSight became an independent non-profit organization. Our services are targeted at people who not only have problems with their vision, but also have financial difficulties. We work in 20 countries around the world, from America to Asia. In Latin America, for example, we operate through temporary clinics, run in conjunction with the Ministries of Health and Education of various countries: we arrive in a locality, set up a clinic and laboratory for one or more weeks, and see between 3,000 to 5,000 people. Once we’ve completed eyesight testing, we proceed to making the required eye glasses.

Do you think this model is replicable in other sectors as well?
Definitely. I believe this is a model that other Made in Italy companies could draw inspiration from. After all, OneSight itself began by replicating the LensCrafters model, which combined eye tests and lens fittings in one visit.
Now the challenge is to make these projects permanent and sustainable. This means, first and foremost, achieving financial sustainability: the project must be able to cover expenses, salaries, and fixed costs, charging the end beneficiaries the lowest possible price. To make a project sustainable in a country takes 3 to 5 years on average. Our first such project was in Gambia; today, we have one in Rwanda and another in Zambia, and we are ready to replicate it in China and in other parts of the world.

What are the advantages of a project being financially sustainable?
In my past experiences of work with humanitarian organizations that dealt with medical treatment, I observed that services offered at an affordable price increased users’ sense of responsibility, and boosted the perceived value of such services. In short, those who receive a service or a product at a price, however minimal, have a greater sense of ownership over it as they feel they have worked for it. The financial sustainability of a project also produces other benefits: it makes it easier to replicate projects, with positive impacts on the local economy and hence on society.

Has the economic crisis increased the need for humanitarian assistance, including in the field of eye care?
There is certainly a growing demand, even in countries that were previously less exposed. Brazil is a case in point, as its economy has enormous potential. Yet the last four years of severe crisis have taken a great toll from a health and educational perspective. The requests for help we’ve been receiving have increased, even from rich and productive regions, like the State of São Paulo. In fact, the crisis has put private insurance out of many people’s reach, which has in turn had impacts on a public health system that is very poor.


Daniele Cangemi is Program Manager – Global Operations and Strategy at OneSight. His experience in the humanitarian field began in 2005, working first in Cameroon for the Centro Missionario di Rimini and CARITAS, and then in Angola, Italy, Colombia, Somalia, Kenya, Guinea, and Nigeria with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the largest independent medical humanitarian organization in the world.