At 55 years old, this man had a big dream. And although most people said "it won’t work", he did it.

What did he dare to think? Eliminate needless Blindness

At 55 years old, this man had a dream:  "EliminateNeedless Blindness among India's Poors". And although most people said "it won’t work", he did it.


I am a great admirer of Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamy - known as Dr. V – for daring tot think big and make the impossible possible.

Because when we dare to say “I have a dream”, most people knock their index finger on their forehead and say "this is impossible”.


This man had a transformative vision and he moved from vision to action.

He shaped “an Eye-Care System with aVision”

Here is how he used the three leverages of Shapership for a transformative impact


1. Resisting the status quo (Creative Resistance): the big "NO" to needless blindness

Dr. V made a career performing Eye-Care surgery at the Government Medical College in Madurai (South India). At age 55, plagued with advanced arthritis, he is forced to retire.

He faces a horrific Reality: in India, twelve million people are blind and, as the Indian saying goes, "A blind person is a mouth with no hands." Being blind inIndia is therefore a fatal disease. Under those conditions, a person is estimated to have 2 to 3 years to survive. Yet, 80% of this blindness is"useless". Understand: it could be avoided thanks to appropriate prevention and care. Dr. V decides to put an end to this unacceptable situation.


2. Daring a Transformative Vision: the big "YES"

Dr. V gives himself and his life a gigantic purpose, formulated in very simple terms: "Eliminate Needless Blindness amongIndia's Poors". An aspiration which does not scare him, inspired largely by Gandhi's life and work, as well as by Sri Aurobindo's spiritual path.


3. Reinvent the way things operate to Make the transition path between vision and action visible: Anticipative Experimentation.

Instead of trying to "solve"current problems within the same paradigm, Dr. V invents a new system.

In 1976, driven by his higher purpose,Dr. V founds the Aravind Eye-Care Hospital.

At that time, all he has are 11 beds, a shared aspiration which creates cohesion and a clear efficiency standard (if McDonald manages can deliver the same hamburger all over the world, why can’t we deliver the same high quality eye surgery to all those who need it all over the world?)

To put his Vision into action, Dr. V. creates an out-of-the box strategy.

The“elimination of Needless Blindness required

To focus on outcomes: providing high quality eye-care services at low prices.
To apply an "out-of-the-core-business" approach:with such an aspirational purpose, there is no point in being locked in any"Business limits" such as "selling glasses" or "eye surgery".
To create a formidable coalition of actors: an ecosystem approach in rural south India, deeply rooted in territorial realities and connected with local communities.

So, that's what Dr. V. does.

Poor people are too poor to come to the hospital?

- He puts in place a network of hospitals, clinics, community outreach efforts to create an effective referral system in rural areas: women are trained for eye diagnosis, non-physicians gather diagnostic data and counsel patients, telemedicine centres, research and training institutes are created

- He organizes transportation services to and from the hospital for patients who must undergo surgery

- Upon arrival, each patient has the choice between paying or free accommodation structures. This has an impact on the sophistication of the accommodation but not on the quality of the medical treatments which always remain the same. The majority of Aravind's patients (55%) only pay a symbolic participation or nothing at all. Each "paying" person covers the costs of 2 non-paying persons

- The process of cataract operation is streamlined, allowing it to be 7times faster than elsewhere and making it possible for doctors to conduct up to100 operations a day with an unprecedented level of quality and efficiency worldwide (the operating ophthalmologist concentrates solely on the operation, everything else is taken care of by well-educated assistants)

- Once patients are there, they require custom-made glasses. Doctor V.creates a factory: building the necessary glasses on site is cheaper than importing them. Today, "Aravind distributes each year 600.000 pairs of glasses in India and has extended its action to Nepal, Bangladesh and other countries through a network of local partners." Aravind has also created a manufacture of contact lenses, which allowed to reduce their price from 200 dollars per pair down to 5 dollars per pair for equal quality. Today, these lenses are sold in more than 85 countries, thus contributing to making quality ophthalmic products available in the world

- Dr. V. creates a network of hospitals and clinics along with R&D laboratories and training centres

Started with 11 beds, Aravind Hospital has since grown into the world's largest provider of eye-care: "Aravind Eye-CareSystem", which is a model of efficiency, admired all over the world. It is not only a health success but also a financial success.

Today, the Aravind system manages some 2.5 million outpatient visits and 300,000 eye surgeries. (It has been calculated that Aravind does 60 percent as many eye surgeries as the United Kingdom’s National Health System per year, at one-hundredth of the cost). Aravind system makes enough on paid surgeries to not only cover the 55 % of patients who cannot pay the market rates, but also to generate a nearly 40 % gross operating margin.

But what is it that really drives efficiency at Aravind?

The Big Yes. The commitment to a higher purpose -eliminate needless blindness. This provides an alternative narrative of theFuture which resonates with the deepest Aspirations of millions of people and also is an actionable guide to a desirable Human Future.

Of course, Aravind did not “eliminate needless blindness”, but they indeed allowed millions of the world's poorest citizens to have their sight restored.

In the meantime, Aravind decided to share their own practices with other hospitals to create their “own competition” as they say with a glimpse. What is the point of having such a purpose and to stay within “Business limits”? Convinced that their practice can help, they share them all over the world.

They generated a movement based on co-creation. So, they also expanded their purpose: The Vision2020 was “Eliminating preventable blindness worldwide”.

They do all they can to make it happen.

This is one example of Shapership, The Art of Shaping the Future. It can be found in our book

It is a good moment to consider that Businesses are indeed transformative leverages to build a better world. As long as they reinvent the way they think about what it means to be successful, useful, and human in a completely new paradigm.

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