The Business Case for Compassion--from Suchitra Shenoy

Infinite Vision: How Aravind Became the World's Greatest Business Case for Compassion

The Aravind Eye Care System ( delivers world-class medical services to over 2.7 million patients each year, treating a majority of them for free, while remaining financially fully self-reliant. Its complication rate is more than 50% lower than that of the U.K., and its services are delivered at less than 1% of the UK’s costs, for comparable volumes. Beyond its own direct care, in its mission to rid the world of needless blindness (treatable blinding conditions), it strives to enable thousands of doctors, organizations and hospitals worldwide to learn from and replicate its success. 

With health care systems in the West reeling from the high cost of care, and an increasing interest in social entrepreneurship, the Aravind story, with its innovative financing model, low-cost, high-quality focus and clear social mission, is very timely. There is a real opportunity to engage people everywhere in the West, but particularly in the United States, with the deeper aspects of its story, its success, and the lessons that can be learned from it.

The Aravind story also has global significance in a world with 45 million blind people. In India alone, more than 200 million people are in need of some form of eye care (less than 10% of those who need it are currently reached). According to the World Health Organization, every five seconds someone, somewhere in the world, loses sight--100,000 people every year. The personal and economic burden of blindness on individuals and the greater community is tremendous. Even with all that has been achieved by Aravind and its partners, there is still much work to be done. It is therefore crucial to spread awareness about the problem, its magnitude, and the ways in which it is being addressed.

The Aravind story is also a David-and-Goliath story. It is the story of a crippled surgeon, Dr. Venkataswamy, who, after retirement, decides to “own the problem” of needless blindness, fights the good fight against what others think are hopeless odds, and emerges triumphant. It is a story that is meant to be widely shared -- rich with universal messages -- a once-in-a-lifetime story that will never go out of style. 

In a forthcoming book, Pavithra K. Mehta and Suchitra Shenoy reveal the process of creation and the lessons of a model that integrates innovation with empathy, service with business principles, and inner change with outer transformation.