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From the limits of self to the unlimited Self: A Case Study of Aravind Eye Hospitals
Abstract of the Case Aravind Eye Hospitals (AEH) present an extraordinary perspective of Corporate Social Responsibility. While typically, CSR refers to the social initiatives of an organization, which has its own independent mission, objectives and goals, AEHs very creation and subsequent phenomenal growth are directed at fulfilling a compelling need of the society, namely, eradicating the scourge of needless blindness in India. Dr. G. Venkataswamy, fondly referred to as Dr. V, the founder of AEH, is mainly concerned with one performance indicator; how to clear the backlog of 20 million blind people in India, an issue which he passionately discussed with a Harvard Professor, more than a decade ago. AEH headquartered in Madurai, South India is the largest and most productive Eye Care system in the world which according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology performs nearly two lakh eye surgeries per year, which is more than any other institution in the world. AEH does not devote merely a portion of its resources to society. Rather its very raison d'tre is literally to illuminate the society by bringing light into the eyes of millions of poor villagers who cannot afford the cost of cataract surgery. Putting the issue of corporate economics in the larger perspective, Dr. V asked In America, there are very powerful marketing devices to sell products like Coca-Cola or hamburgers. All I want to sell, to market, if you will, is good eyesight, and there are millions of people who need it badly. Nothing more basic is needed than good eyesight. A man who loses it, loses fifty or sixty years of life. If that man can afford to pay me for it, certainly he should pay. If the man cannot afford to pay, still he needs eyesight. So how exactly should the market work?. He did not wait for the market to give him the answer but found one himself which gave birth to a radically new model of community ophthalmology with the formula of 30:70. In simple terms, it means that 30% of the paying patients support the free treatment of 70% of patients. Thus Aravind is an incredible organization where 70% of its customers do not pay a rupee but receive a high quality medical care absolutely identitial to their counterparts who pay the fees (which too is only reasonable and not exorbitant). For Dr. V the pay structure is a necessity in order to support the free structure and not to shore up the profits of Aravind. Despite this seemingly unconventional and asymmetric customer mix, Aravinds financial health is sound, in fact, extremely sound with a fabulous 200% return on capital employed and 40% margins on its services. The secret lies in the revolutionary organizational model invented by Dr. V which consists of standardization of the surgical procedure, assembly line operations, boosting of paramedical support, economy in nonessential services coupled with uncompromising insistence on the state of the art technology. Another unusual ingredient of the Aravinds model is the inspiring influence of the spiritual orientation of its founder, Dr. V. He is an ardent follower of Sri Aurobindo who stressed the need for the little self to expand its boundaries and embrace the larger Self of

2 of 2 the universe. Accordingly, Dr. V internalized this philosophy steadily over decades so deeply that it found spontaneous expression in his personal life as well as shaped and influenced Aravinds organizational ethos. The latter is characterized by features such as courteous service for patients (patients who pay nothing), mutual respect between doctors and paramedical staff, passion for hard work and quiet efficiency such that the serene atmosphere evokes epithets such as a divine environment from many a distinguished visitor such as the former President of India, Dr. Abdul Kalam. While in a typical corporation growth, expansion and diversification occur to fulfill the corporate mission, the picture at Aravind offers a contrast. Aravind too expanded and diversified in unusual ways, not to fulfill its organizational objective but in response to its social commitments. In fact, Aravind has no independent mission of its own unlike a corporation in the form of growth targets for market share, profitability and sales turnover. Societal mission constitutes the mission for Aravind and it continuously renews itself to be an efficient instrument for empowering the society. It is quite literally true because the restoration of sight, empowers an individual since his productivity and earning potential register an immediate rise. At the same time, Aravind is not a laggard or loss making venture, but gives an impressive account of itself on the exacting benchmarks of modern corporations. It has an enviable financial track record, produces lenses of international standards, exports them to more than 100 countries, earns the coveted ISO 9002 certification and has doctors whose productivity is incredible 6 times that of national average - - the achievements any top notch corporation would be proud of. But with one major difference. The driving force behind this pursuit of excellence is neither corporate ambition nor personal enrichment (Dr. V does not take a single rupee from Aravind and lives on his pension from Government), but relentless pursuit of its mission which is; to restore vision to the millions of blind people residing in remote villages, many of whom are not even aware that a 10 minute operation can change their life for ever, for the better. This is a situation, which worries Dr. V most and his solution for this is stunningly simple. The Aravinds doctors and staff fan out into the villages, educate the patients, transport them to the base hospital, house and feed them (all free of cost) and then perform the state of the art eye surgery using IOL (Intra Ocular Lens) and eventually drop them back at home with a supply of medicine for 40 days. This extraordinary model of service delivery coupled with a highly efficient organizational model ends up stretching the very limits of the definition of CSR. At Aravind, the most modern technology harmoniously blends with timeless spiritual and human values to produce an incredible organization that has dedicated itself to the service of humanity. Mike Myers, who has a two decade old association with Aravind and who was at pains to figure out the unique attraction of Aravind, finally puts his finger on the bottom line: I think the bottom line is that while so many companies and people are simply trying to earn lots of money for themselves, the goal at Aravind has always been to use the Paying Structure to support the free structure. In todays world that is very unique and worthwhile.