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Inside the World’s Finest Organisation, Aravind Eyecare System

In January 2019, we took 18 business leaders, entrepreneurs and change agents from a range of companies including BBC, Jaguar Land Rover, The Prince’s Trust, HSBC and Novartis inside India-based Aravind. The profound impact it had on our participants impressed us so much we are returning in 2019 with Inside Aravind, to inspire and provoke a new group of leaders about what a highly successful, purpose-driven business looks like.

At Wavelength we always look to provoke and inspire leaders to be better, both personally and professionally, and that’s why this trip was so important and enlightening.

In our view Aravind Eyecare System is unequivocally the world’s finest organisation.

And that’s a big claim for us. We have been inside many fine organisations.


One of the most amazing aspects of Aravind is the incredible clarity of their purpose: To Eradicate Needless Blindness. Everything they do is in service to this ennobling purpose. It adorns walls, halls, offices, public and private spaces in their hospitals and clinics. It’s their primary motivation and one that is embedded in the hearts and minds of all who work there, guiding every decision made.

Then there’s the way they embody the absolute best of private sector excellence and efficiency to deliver on that purpose.

The average Aravind eye surgeon is five times more productive than the industry norm. In 2017-18 this organisation performed 60% of the volume of surgeries performed by the NHS, at one hundredth of the cost, with less than half the rate of complications. Their quality surpasses all other eye care providers in the world.

In a single day, Aravind performs 13,000 patient examinations and 1,500 surgeries, runs five-six rural outreach camps where 1,500 people are examined, and 300 people are transported back to base for surgery.

How do they do it? Aravind’s founder Dr Venkataswamy (also known as Dr V.), was inspired by the efficiency of McDonald’s restaurants and wanted to apply the same to his hospitals. They have devised a 13-stage end-to-end process for treating patients with maximised man power, skill levels and expertise pumped into every single stage. It’s an awe-inspiring level of productivity.

And it reaps profit.

Aravind drives astonishing profit margins of 39% EBITDA. Plus, their wholly owned manufacturing subsidiary, Aurolab, develops and exports 200 products to more than 130 countries, generating $25 million in annual revenues. They have 10% of the global market for intraocular lenses and have even taken significant market share from Johnson & Johnson in the suture market. And it’s still growing at 15% per annum.

World class scale. World class productivity. World class profitability.

But this is only half the story.

Of the 62.6 million patients put through its care system since it started in 1976, 50% have received free or heavily subsidised treatment. Their level of output means they can reach and help those most in need while still turning eye-watering profits most businesses would aspire to.

Their commercial success alone makes them exemplary. Then overlay this with the incredible achievements of compassion and social impact. As well as their culture of dignity, respect and humbleness (in keeping with the best we have seen at Wavelength) and we get a picture of a truly extraordinary organisation.

But there’s more.

Ninety per cent of their staff comprise young women from rural communities who would never usually be able to work in professional organisations which embody such dignity and respect. Approximately 600 young woman a year are recruited, trained, accommodated, fed and educated. Within Aurolab they are rotated through different roles to practice varying skill levels and ensure their future employability. This also helps the business develop a multi skilled and adaptable workforce.

After four years, as is common across India, they will typically marry and move to the hometown of their spouse. Aravind enables them to re-locate and work, either within Aravind network of hospitals or in one of its rapidly growing network of Vision Centres and occasionally within one of their partner organisations across India. This is profoundly life-changing for many of India’s poorest female population.

Then there is the inclusivity of their model. In 1992 Aravind established Lions Aravind Institute of Community Ophthalmology (LAICO). The institute offers training for hospital administrators, hospital operation managers and other management professionals from across the world. This open sourced their model, meaning that another million surgeries could be performed worldwide each year. LAICO has worked with 345 hospitals in 28 countries. Such is Aravind’s devotion to its purpose to eradicate needless blindness.

So, what did the trip do for us?

At a human level, you cannot help but be moved by the power of this story.

At a personal level, it profoundly challenged people to think about their purpose. Amazingly Dr V started Aravind when he was 58. He suffered crippling rheumatoid arthritis and had retired. But driven by passion and purpose he strove to build Aravind until his death in 2006.

Simply put, it showed us that, even after retirement it’s possible to have a second play.

Professionally, there were also lessons. All the group were inspired by Aravind’s clarity of purpose.

Grant McPherson, Jaguar Land Rover’s Global Head of Manufacturing said: “It made me think about the importance of having a purpose and to ask ourselves – do we have that? Aravind’s is so simple and unequivocal and everyone gets it, and everyone believes it. We need to strive for this.”

On another level it demonstrated to charities and public sector organisations how it is possible to achieve social purpose at incredible scale while embodying the best of the private sector. These two things are not mutually exclusive.

Alice Webb, Director of BBC Children’s and BBC North, said: “Aravind shows how you can maximise values, purpose, efficiency and productivity, without compromising any particular areas. This re-sets the expectation and myth that you have to focus on one or the other.”

Leaders from the charity sector were blown away by the scale of the impact on the lives of the people Aravind treat and the young women they employ. Individually each of these aspects could stand up as a charity.

Nick Stace, CEO of The Prince’s Trust commented: “It’s so impressive how they reach out to the community, actively pursuing those who are blind but fearful of treatment. In this sense it’s extraordinary and life changing.”

What’s more it was noted how Aravind don’t measure the social impact of helping young women or of treating blindness. That’s because this doesn’t serve their purpose to eradicate needless blindness.

It also struck the group how the Aravind model can embrace innovation.

As Mr Thulasiraj, Aravind’s Director of Operations and Executive Director of LAICO, said: “You can’t do cutting edge with donated money.” Their self sufficiency enables them to take risks and push for new solutions.

Tireless operational excellence was another aspect heralded. Nick Stace said: “They really understand their processes and where there are blockages, and they are relentless about releasing those blockages.”

Grant McPherson added: “They displayed a hunger to do more, be better and were not just content with what they had achieved.”

Deeply inspired and moved was something we all felt. With tangible, new and fresh ways to look at our business and organisational challenges.

In summary, we experienced a profoundly informative and inspiring look inside the world’s finest organisation. Let’s hope we see more businesses like this in the future

About Wavelength

Wavelength is a world-class leadership company. We aim to make the world better through business by enabling ambitious leaders to develop their connectivity, knowledge and resilience. We understand the key issues facing companies today: employee engagement, service excellence, social innovation, digital disruption, leadership resilience and change management. Our unique programmes and insider access to progressive and inspiring organisations offer a radically different model for learning and tangible return on investment.

That’s why a company like Aravind Eye Care System is on our wavelength.

Find out more about Wavelength here.

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