Aurobindo meets McDonalds
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Book: Infinite Vision: How Aravind Became the World's Greatest Business Case For Compassion
Authors: Pavithra K Mehta & Suchitra Shenoy
Price: Rs 499
The story of the Aravind Eye Care System, which reinvented the rules of business to restore sight to the blind, is a case study for Harvard MBAs to analyse but this retelling is marked by elegance, clarity, and intimacy. It suggests that choices that seem naive or unworkable can, when executed with wisdom and integrity, yield bafflingly extraordinary results.
Dr Govindappa Venkataswamy, better known as Dr V or Dr Thatha (as his grandchildren's generation calls him) was a gifted young man of the lower middle class, from a small village in South India. After medical college, he joined military service but was bedridden for two years with severe rheumatoid arthritis. He returned to medical training, despite the severe pain that was to be his companion for life. But his dream of becoming a gynaecologist and obstetrician was unattainable. As his hands and fingers were slowly deformed by the disease, he could only perform fine, delicate movements — the skills needed for eye surgery. And so he became an eye doctor "by accident".
He retired from government service in 1976, aged 58. He was entitled to a small pension and could have retired in peace, like most people of that era. However, Dr V conceived a project he believed in. He opened an 11-bed eye clinic in a modest, rented house in Madurai. He had no business plan and meagre financial resources but he had a deep way of seeing, a vision perfectly aligned. Starting the clinic was a revolutionary, spiritual act, which has touched many lives.
Dr V rejected business prudence, preferring to rely on Sri Aurobindo and the Mother for spiritual guidance. And yet, he had a vision larger than other enterprises in the field. His mission was to eliminate curable blindness — the 12 million cases in India susceptible to reversal by medical treatment. His philosophy was, "To see all as one. To give sight for all." The radical essence of Dr V's strategy was to provide free eye care to those least able to pay. The Aravind Eye Care System has treated more than a third of its patients, numbering in millions, for free. Patients choose whether to pay or not. A poor farmer can choose to pay for his surgery while the man destined to be president of India can opt to receive high-quality treatment for free. Dr Abdul Kalam received free treatment at Aravind in 1990!