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Jagriti Yatra Day 5: Aravind Eye Care

It was eight o’clock, 10 hours behind schedule, when we pulled into Madurai, the town of temples. But it was not the temples we were there to see. Or at least, not the religious temples. Rather we pulled into an eye hospital, Aravind Eye Care, the most famous eye surgery facility in the world, and certainly the most spiritual. The hospital was started by Dr. G Venkataswamy who passed away a few years ago. However his chief medical officer, Dr. Aravind, was able to speak with us and explain to us the life of Dr. V and the genesis of Aravind Eye Care. Their vision? To eliminate needless blindess. In India, blindness is a fatal disease. The life expectancy of someone who has fallen blind is only 2.5 to 3 years. “A mouth but no hands,” blind people are often considered a financial burden on their family. But 80 percent of blindness in India is preventable or curable. When Dr. G Venkataswamy started the hospital in 1975 at the age of 58 he had only 11 beds. Today his hospitals treat 600 to 1000 patients every day. Another major influence on Dr. V, as he was called by many, was spirituality and the teachings of Sri Aurobindo. Based upon principles of compassion, human dignity, equity, and transparency – these spiritual teachings permeate the staff and dictate not only the mission but also the business model.   Two thirds of patients at Aravind pay nothing at all for their surgery. Patients pay what they can which means the one third of patients that do pay not only cover those who cannot, but also the expansion of hospitals. This is only possible because of the large scale at which Aravind operates as well as their extreamly efficient use of resources.   The Aravind team credits this to early frugality. Early constraints on funding meant very early on the hospital needed to learn to be very careful and efficient with funds, a lesson that served them well in the long term.   “Intelligence and capabilities are not enough. There must be the joy of doing something beautiful,” said Dr. V. I’m not sure about the other Yatris, but I left feeling inspired by his work, his passion and the way his spirituality shaped his leadership style. His eye centers around India and around the world serve as a model for social enterprise and the breath of impact one man with a vision can have.   His aspirations were always greater than the resources at his disposal, his vision so strong he overcame blindness.