Thulasiraj (Aravind Eye Care) on Failure: Working Models that can Fail

SELCO Foundation
Sep 12, 2018 · 2 min read
Photo Credits Aravind Eye Care

How do we know if we’re actually on the right path? What does it take for us to realise that things are not as ideal as they seem? If it’s not broken, is it truly wise to not fix it?

Thulasiraj of Aravind Eye Care is one person with a rather unconventional failure- one of a certain type of stagnation.

The Context

Aravind Eye Care began as a small unit in the 70s offering eyecare with a mixed model- for every paid operation there would be two free ones.

This was model that was driven out of necessity- at the outset, Aravind eye care was not able to secure funding in the manner that they had expected, which would have allowed them to be purely philanthropic- the lack of funds necessitated a different model.

Not only did this model work for them at the time, it also saw them becoming a major force to reckon with in Tamil Nadu eyecare, commanding 40% of eyecare operations in the state.

The Failure

This economic model had seen Aravind Eye Care through decades of success, the question of it needing tweaking did not really occur to anyone. However, as the state grew more prosperous and incomes were inflated, people started opting for other options when it came to paying for eyecare, often willing to spend more than the competitive prices offered at Aravind Eye Care.

This was when Thulasiraj and others realised that the free operations outnumbered the paid ones. A strange complacency had set in, it was not as though the standards of eye care had deteriorated in this period- they had stayed consistent, a little too consistent.

The Diagnosis

Thulasiraj realised that the one of the reasons people opted to pay more for other facilities was because they could afford it. Morever, there was a perception that such facilities would be better.

Aravind Eye Care opted to make their prices more competitive, maintaining standards on par with private players and saw managed to reinvigorate their business. Again, it is important to note that the model itself arose from a failure in funding, which eventually led to stagnation and a lack of competition, two happy accidents that yielded good results.

However, the primary question remains, when do we know to fix something when it’s not broken?

Impact Failure

The aim of Impact Failure is to provide an in-depth and open discussion about the role of failure in the development space. The goal is also to celebrate learnings that emerge from failures and the impact that can be created through the learnings.

SELCO Foundation

Written by

SELCO Foundation seeks to inspire and implement solutions that alleviate poverty by improving access to sustainable energy to underserved communities.

Impact Failure

The aim of Impact Failure is to provide an in-depth and open discussion about the role of failure in the development space. The goal is also to celebrate learnings that emerge from failures and the impact that can be created through the learnings.

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