Infinite Vision: The Story of Aravind Eye Care

“Infinite Vision: How Aravind Became the World’s Greatest Business Case for Compassion” by Pavithra Mehta & Suchitra Shenoy

The mechanics of how Aravind works, are well documented by several business case studies, but they fall short on some fundamental questions like what created, and what continues to animate, the model. This is the crucial gap this book fills in.

The authors of the Aravind book start with an interesting inquiry: If Aravind is the extra-ordinary answer, what were Dr V’s Questions? Discover they did, and how! The Indian Express columnist, Amulya Gopala Krishnan says, “A story about an organisational marvel, this book is somehow internally illuminated. It has a plot, poetry, and emotion – things you don’t expect from a business title”.

“To give sight for all” was Aravind’s founder Dr V’s vision! That’s not a small goal even for world’s governments, and Dr V was a retired person with no money, business plan, or safety net! According to the World Health Organisation’s estimates, 39 million people in the world are blind, 80% of them needlessly so! But, when intuitive goodness is pitted against unthinkable odds, it stirs the imagination and awakens possibility. Spirituality was where Dr V found many answers! Through a continued process of aspiration, rejection, and surrender, Dr V was able to tap into an intelligence that went beyond the thinking mind. Aravind Eye Care System is actually named after Dr V’s spiritual guru, the freedom-fighter-turned-mystic Sri Aurobindo.

It’s not just this “spirit”, but superb execution capabilities that made Aravind. That Aravind’s assembly line systems and skill-based task delineation, ala McDonald’s, maximise the Surgeon’s productivity and deliver high quality service at low cost is probably well known, but how many know that it is the institutionalised quest for constant refinement that has perfected the model?

Sample this for an outcome of such perfection: UK National Health Service does 500,000 eye surgeries annually; Aravind alone does 300,000! That’s not all… Aravind does it at less than 1% of Britain’s costs! Because, Aravind model arose from a potent question “How much can we give for what we get?” vs. the more typical “How much can we get for what we give?” That question gave rise to a model defining insight, that there is a synergy between quality, cost, and the demand for services…

Combined with the non-negotiable service principle that there would be no difference in clinical outcomes between paid and free patients, and another insight, that the market price is set based on an average provider’s cost and throughput, gave the strategic objective of phenomenal productivity, to give Aravind a decided edge in the marketplace.

Nurses are at the core of such productivity. They hand instruments to Surgeon in such a choreographed sequence, that the Surgeon’s eyes don’t even lift from the microscope! There is far more to the role of nurses than mere assembly-line efficiency; they are the scaffolding that holds the Aravind model in place and the most pervasive conveyors of its cultureThe nurse recruitment process and the training system, described in the book, are pearls of wisdom in Human Resource Management.

Once the strategy is tested for its workability, the next step for any enterprise is scaling. “Start with a microcosm of what you’re dreaming of; seeing it in motion will give the energy you and your team need” was Aravind’s approach. Such insights pop-up through the book!

Taking on a goal that far exceeds your capacity has a powerful side effect. It primes you to find allies everywhere. At Aravind, the global mission led to counter-intuitive commitment to training its competition! That raises another important question “You can package and share what you do through workshops and training programs, but how do you systemetise and givee away what you are?” Read the book to find the answer 🙂

High volume is key to Aravind model, but eliminating curable blindness is not just about numbers, it’s about reaching people in a human way.

With such deep insights into the evolution of a noble mission, the making of a strategy, the ring side view into execution details and the unique approaches to scaling of the world’s greatest business case for compassion, I have no hesitation in commending the book as the Gita for social enterprises…