What we pay, what we get

Lots of inspirational moments today at the Global Philanthropy Forum (live webcast here).

It’s too much to try to capture in one post, but my parting reflection from today is how continually humbled I am by the accomplishments of Aravind Eye Hospital, the recipient of this year’s Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize. Founded in 1976, Aravind pioneered high-quality, high value, low cost service for low-income customers. They have built a truly remarkable organization that has revolutionized not only eyecare in India but our conception of what is possible. Some statistics:

  • Of the 37 million people globally who are blind, 15 million are in India
  • Aravind has served more than 3 million people since inception, and currently serves more than 300,000 per year
  • The majority (60-70%) of Aravind’s customers pay a reduced cost or nothing for eye surgery
  • The average medical doctor performs 300 surgeries per year; the average Aravind doctor performs more than 2,000
  • Among other inspirations, Aravind’s founder Dr. Venkataswamy attended McDonald’s Hamburger University to learn about standardization and quality control.
  • Interocular lenses cost $200, so Aravind decided to manufacture them themselves, and now sells them for $3 apiece (at a profit)
  • 15% of all ophthalmologists in India have been trained by Aravind
  • Aravind is profitable

When we talk about scale, innovation, doing the impossible, creating massive change to fight preventable illness, this is what we mean.

A closing thought, shared by Dr. William Foege (who among other things is credited with creating the strategy that eradicated smallpox): philosopher Soren Kierkegaard tells a parable of two robbers who entered a jewelry store and stole nothing; the only thing they did was switch the price tags between the costume and the real jewelry.  The customers never noticed.

So too, Dr. Foege opined, in the modern world the price tags have been switched.  We ascribe the highest value to a small group of people who receive exceptional, unprecedented levels of monetary reward, and consistently undervalue the work of nurses and teachers and social workers and people who live lives in service of others.

In closing, a video about Aravind:

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3 thoughts on “What we pay, what we get

  1. This is wonderful and inspirational on so many levels. Thanks for sharing it!

  2. I’ve had the privilege of visiting aravind and meeting some people who have been involved in its evolution… It is absolutely brilliant, humbling and inspiring to say the least!

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