Thanks to TED, today I happened to listen to this inspirational talk by Dr. Thulasiraj Ravilla, CEO of Aravind Eye Care. That he is leader and part of the team that provides community service for a noble cause stuns me, but more important than that, Aravind is a business case study for all of us. Here’s why:

Prolog: At a 100,000 feet level, I believe western countries are able to achieve their economic status because of their ability to spend, their affordability of the quality of life etc…Both as a cause and consequence, this means the costs will be high. This is also why developing countries make their export revenue. Whether it is manufacturing related (where cost savings is by virtue of geography), services (where cost savings is achieved by infrastructure and efficiency) and knowledge (such as in medicine, IT etc…). Again in a crude sense, this cost savings is achieved by deployment of certain themes, which as we will see, has been executed extremely well by Aravind. Aravind is a 30-year old eye-care network based in India, which — frankly — has been silently performing to such levels, that the modern industries (like IT) are yet to perfect. Infact, some of us are familiar to these concepts only in powerpoint presentations.

Case in point: I don’t want to take you through the entire story of this network. But get this straight — Aravind has been providing eye-care to people all over the world. In size, they provide eye-care to almost 60% of what the NHS provides (surgeries alone counts to 300,000 a year) for the entire UK, at sub-1% of the cost and at 40% margin (Topline doesn’t matter, but if you are curious, it is $22 million). Read it again. My first time listening to the speech I became emotionally attached, but I listened to the speech a few more times. The things he is talking about are not new to any of us (esp if you are in IT or management) — component re-use, maximize utilization, innovation, operationalization in conjunction with empowerment, vision and purpose, communication, customer focus, training, standardization.

  1. Customer focus and vision: Dr.Thulasiraj is a great leader. But the focus and vision comes from Dr.Venkatasamy who famously says “here is a lady {referring to a patient} who has got so much faith in me, I must do the best for her”. Isn’t that 100% relevant in customer service context? When you have a customer who comes to you because you claim to be good at what you do, shouldn’t you be doing the best and nothing but the best to that customer? How many of us really do this? And how important is having a simple but profound vision “eradicating needless blindness”!!
  2. Operationalization and operational efficiencies: This is the aspect that resembled the business I am in, the most. He mentions he is able to supplement each doctor with 5 high-school pass-outs (+2), and increase the utilization of the doctor multi-fold, while still keeping the overall transaction cost extremely low. Wow! Sharing operation theaters and time-slots (and still remaining error-free), results in 4X productivity of high-cost resources (doctors) Double wow!
  3. Innovation: They have customized a normal digital camera to perform clinical tests, thereby keeping equipment cost down. This is just one example, there is innovation in every aspect including use of technology, use of communication as a bridge, training, standardization, you name it.
  4. Holistic view: Particularly, I liked the part where he looks at cost of care from the customer perspective, not from the provider perspective. Seems people were unable to access the service, even though the service itself was free. So the hospital decided to provide transportation arrangements as well.

Epilogue: What Aravind is doing is social service. A lot of what they provide is free. But using all the levers like the above, they have maintained a corporate posture in terms of business model.

I call them a living case study.


  • Aravind Eye-care is the name of the network
  • Dr. Venkatasamy is the founder of the network. He died in 2006
  • Dr. Thulasiraj manages this network. You can watch him here