A Visit to Aravind

Back at orientation in September, I remember meeting my co-fellows and learning about their placements. Most placement organizations I had not heard of, but there was one that I knew very well: Aravind Eye Care. When I learned that a co-fellow—Nikhil—was placed there, I said to myself (and him): “I’m going to visit Aravind.”

Having studied and worked with social entrepreneurship throughout college, Aravind Eye Care conjures up quite the image for me. In my first class in social entrepreneurship, we learned about Aravind as a model social enterprise that operates on a sliding scale pay model where the profits made from the well-off patients subsides the costs of the very poor patients. With the same quality of service for all patients, the hospital is able to serve the poorest of the poor—among many other innovations.

A memorial to Dr. V, the hospital's founder.
A memorial to Dr. V, the hospital’s founder

Going forward, as a teaching assistant for this same class, Aravind was continually used to start off the semester. We started by watching a video—which I have now seen probably 10 times—about the Aravind hospital in Madurai that detailed it’s founding by “Dr. V” and its model. It also featured a clip of a cataract surgery. The professor and I always waited in anticipation to see the students’ reaction at this point in the video. The organization was the focal point for students’ first quizzes with simple details on Aravind and its innovations as well.

As such, I was quite excited with the possibility of visiting the hospital for myself. A unique feature of the fellowship is that they allow us exposure visits to go visit other fellows and see the work they are doing. For my exposure visit, I visited Nikhil and Aravind in Madurai, and it felt just like the hundreds of quizzes on Aravind I have graded coming to life.

Early on a Saturday morning a couple fellows and myself met Nikhil at work. When we pulled up to the hospital it was bustling already, but the efficiencies of the place were easy to see as Nikhil gave us the grand tour of the hospital: ranks of nurses screening patients, each patient given a color-coded folder, and dozen of patients being prepped for surgery. We then visited the free hospital just down the street where the majority of the patients come for cataract surgery inline with Aravind’s mission to “Eliminate Needless Blindness.”

Most impressively, we were able to watch a few cataract surgeries on our visit (bringing back fine memories of students’ reactions to our video). After patients are prepped by the nurses, they are brought into the operating room where doctors perform the surgeries in under 10 minutes with methodical precision. The quickest doctor at Aravind can do it in three. It was quite a remarkable process, and the visit was quite the social enterprise dream come true!


Aravind's free eye hospital
Aravind’s free eye hospital
A nurse managing Aravind's free hospital records
A nurse managing Aravind’s free hospital records
Statistics on the free hospital's surgeries
Statistics on the free hospital’s surgeries

Caitlin's interest in social enterprise began while working at a nonprofit research and consulting firm in Boston. This interest intersected with international development shortly thereafter while on a field study with Northeastern's Social Enterprise Institute in Cape Town, South Africa where she consulted with local township entrepreneurs. Following the field study, she worked in Hubli, Karnataka at the Deshpande Foundation for six months as a Junior Fellow. During this time, she focused on a number of the Foundation's educational programs to develop, implement, and evaluate curriculum. She also completed a research grant on the Indian higher education system and the impact social enterprises can have in higher ed. Wanting to gain more from her time in India, Caitlin later spent time studying beginning Hindi in Jaipur, Rajasthan on a Critical Language Scholarship from the U.S. Department of State. She also has experience in program assessment, research, and data analysis. Caitlin looks forward to combining all of these interests back in India as a Fellow.

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