6 things that made Dr. Venkataswamy’s Aravind Eye Care Hospital one of the best social enterprises globally

Image courtesy: Aravind Eye Care Hospital

After five days, the Jagriti Yatra train reached Madurai in Tamil Nadu for  a day entirely focused on healthcare. And speaking about healthcare in India we had to visit one of the greatest social enterprise which has impacted  millions of lives, Aravind Eye Care Hospital.

Their vision is to eliminate  blindness  in the world. Worldwide 45 million people are blind and 12 million of those live in India. But the worst part is  80% of this blindness is preventable. What impressed us  was the great sense of shared value and vision among  the people working there. And this is just the best part of a great legacy left by Dr G. Venkataswamy, founder of Aravind Eye Care. He founded his first hospital in 1976, when he was 58.  He started small, with just 11 beds, but year after year he created what today is the most productive eye care facility in the world. He died almost 10 years ago, but his lessons are still valuable and are great pillars for the company. If you are looking to create a great social enterprise, note down what made Aravind Eye Care unique.

1) Aspiration is always bigger than resources:

It is  difficult to  create one of the best social enterprise in the world starting with just 11 beds, but Dr. V’s aspiration was incredible. He didn’t have any venture capitalist or funds to make his venture big. But day after day he was able to create a business model that allowed him to have a sustainable social enterprise. When beds were not enough he added new ones. When space was not enough, he built new floors. When the hospital was not enough he built other hospitals. When hospitals in India were not enough, he built others in seven different countries. And that’s just about his great aspiration beyond any resources.

2) Control your life to change the world:

There is a distinctive characteristic of social entrepreneurs. If they see things going wrong instead of  complaining about it, they do something. They change the reality. Dr. V’s approach was similar.   He had an incredible conviction that there was a way to make things happen. And obviously he was a great leader who was able to inspire people and convince them about his own ideas. In his hospital he wanted to change lives of blind people creating a sustainable model to cure people who could not afford it.

3) You have to be a leader

There are different stages of development of a person in a professional space. You can be a highly capable individual, a contributing team member, a competent executive or an effective manager, but only leaders are able to  change the world. And Dr. V was one of those. He built enduring greatness through a paradoxical combination of personal humility plus professional will. He had a tremendous vision to look through and he combined social responsibility with innovative marketing and delivering strategy. He led by example, with a simple lifestyle and sharing and building individual capacity.

4) Move your company from good to great

Dr. V applied the good to great concept perfectly. He knew that a company is built by its people.  He focused on people and  their development. And today the funding team is still  working through his learning. He faced harsh realities  which would have discouraged even the most optimist person. He was 58 and he didn’t have money, but he faced it and he dealt with it. Another thing was his patience. He knew it would  take a lot of time to realise his dream, but he wasn’t discouraged by  it. That is what helps  to move a company from a buildup to a breakthrough stage.

5) Values are your solid base

Dr. V was guided by one principle: whoever comes to our door is going to be treated. “Even if they don’t have money, we will find a way.” And that’s how he created the cross subsidiary model that takes money from one person out of three, but still gives  Aravind Eye Care the possibility to be sustainable. He also had strong values to make this happen: the first one was compassion, which  he translated with eye care to all. The second one was equity, for which he had an amazing standardization system. The third one was transparency which he applied through affordability of his treatment. Sharing was his last value: for this he created an open source platform where they shared their secret with the conviction that the more you give, the more you get. And that’s actually what happened.

6) Think as the big players

Dr. V loved a business model that apparently didn’t have anything to do with eye care: Mc Donald’s. He loved it because they were able to franchise and replicate their model all over the world, standardizing their products, lowering their price and making it affordable for everyone. He simply translated this concept to eye care. When he started the costs of lens for surgery was $200. He applied the same model and he lowered it  to $5. That made it possible for Aravind Eye Care to export to  85 countries.

This article is part of the Jagriti Yatra series, a collaboration between SocialStory and Jagriti Yatra. Alessio Pieroni is on the Jagriti Yatra to share stories from the journey. Watch this space for more updates.

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Jagriti Yatra
Social Enterprise