Where Free, Profitable, Impact and Scale Intersect: Insights From the Story of Aravind
November 19, 2011 Editor 0
Authored by: Sadna Samaranayake
In 1976 a retired South Indian ophthalmologist by the name of Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamy, or Dr. V as he later came to be called, deeply motivated to serve his local community in Madurai, India, founded an eye clinic with 11 beds. Fast forward 35 years to present day and the organization he founded, known as the Aravind Eye Care System, is internationally renowned and synonymous with what success looks like for a BoP venture. With an ambitious and global mission of eliminating needless blindness, Aravind far outpaces public efforts to deliver eye care in the region, and is currently the world’s largest provider of eye care services, treating over 2.6 million out-patients and performing over 300,000 ophthalmic surgeries annually.
The bulk of surgeries performed are for the extraction of cataracts, a treatable condition that is the cause of 60 percent of blindness in India. Not just a network of hospitals, Aravind is also a hub of innovation for eye care related technologies and ophthalmic products, and is a world recognized leader in training and research in ophthalmology. If all of this emerging from an 11 bed clinic in a sleepy town in South India isn’t impressive enough, consider the following: Aravind is a self-sustaining and profitable organization that treats most of its patients for free or at a deeply subsidized rate. And amazingly, Aravind was a post retirement project for Dr. V, who was 58 when he founded it.
More to This Story Than Meets the Eye
My fascination with the story of Aravind began as a graduate student studying BoP enterprises. In the time I spent with Aravind in Madurai, I observed a well-oiled operation, a veritable sight delivering machine with tentacles reaching far flung villages. Somewhere between the eye camp in rural Tamil Nadu pictured above, and the spotless operating theaters where sight is restored by the thousands, to both the rich and the destitute, my own eyes were opened to what was possible, with and for the poor.
Profitable and free, massive in scale and deeply personal in its approach to serving its patients, if you think there has to be more to this story, you would be right. Thankfully, it’s a story well told, in a new book by Dr. V’s grandniece, Pavithra Mehta, who grew up with Aravind, and her collaborator Suchithra Shenoy. Visit the book’s website to learn more about the book, the authors, upcoming launch events and to read an excerpt.
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