The book traces the founder’s implementation of what seemed to others his "unworkable plan" with wisdom and integrity
Statistics speak volumes about the intensity of work at Madurai headquartered Aravind Eye Care Systems. Ever since its inception in 1972, its network of five eye hospitals in South India have treated more than 32 million patients and performed more than 4 million surgeries, the majority either subsidised or free. The umbrella institution also serves as a global resource centre for ophthalmology, training one out of every seven Indian eye doctors, consulting on management and technical issues with eye hospitals in 69 countries, and operating a state-of-the-art research centre.
Yet, there would be many who still do not know about Aravind. And for them this book beautifully weaves exactly what the sub-title suggests “How Aravind became the world’s greatest business case for compassion”. To learn about a single man’s passion who after being forced to surrender to crippling rheumatoid arthritis, abandoned his job as an obstetrician and chose a new dream at the age of 58 is nothing short of inspirational. With one of the writers, Pavithra K. Mehta being his grand niece enriched by the first-hand experiences with her ‘Dr.Thaatha’, the depth and the sincerity is transparent.
Govindappa Venkatasamy or Dr.V as he was known, founded a 11-bedded tiny clinic four decades ago that defied business logic. But he was firm with his agenda — to cure the world of blindness, by providing cataract surgery to all those who needed it, regardless of their ability to pay. His logic was comprehensible though — to bring efficiency, consistency, and low cost to eye surgery the way McDonald’s did to hamburgers! But translating his words into action was not that easy for all at all times. He never dithered. “Keep doing your work, money will follow” — he would reiterate.
The book does highlight the indefatigable spirit of the man. Yet, it is not really Dr.V’s biography. It takes you inside the day-to-day working of the Aravind group to underline how he shaped and inspired numerous people — most importantly all his family members, that include 21 ophthalmologists across three generations — to build one of the world’s largest eye care hospitals.
Pavithra and her co-author Suchitra Shenoy have delved into the Aravind system as critically as possible, without being in awe of the various selfless characters who have contributed to its success over the years. That is what makes the book fair and worth reading.
Lucidly written and brilliantly packaged, the book, divided into five parts, goes back and forth in time showing the operational model of Aravind, its distinctive practices and radical values, how it established several entities such as the Aurolab, the intra-ocular lenses manufacturing unit, and its attempts at replicating the success in India and abroad through partnerships.
Infinite Vision is the success story of a healthcare enterprise but the writers have been honest enough to take the story beyond. The pages on succession planning are riveting as they give an insight into how the group has handled the sensitive matter. Dr.V did not want Aravind to join the bandwagon of ill-fated organisations that prospered only as long as the influential founder was around. He insisted on arranging for succession and even though it appeared influenced by gender bias — as the mantle was given not to his sister but to her husband — the successor’s prowess and track record helped in a smooth change-over.
The book neatly drives a point that social sector needs many more of such selfless givers who can use their professional skills for larger good of the society.
INFINITE VISION — How Aravind Became the World’s Greatest Business Case for Compassion: Pavithra K. Mehta, Suchitra Shenoy; Printed in The United States of America by Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 235 Montgomery Street, Suite 650 San Francisco, CA-94101-2916. $ 19.95.