Thulasiraj Ravilla

Aravind Eye Care System (AECS)
Year founded: 

Specializing in state-of-the-art comprehensive eye care, Aravind treats over 3.1 million patients a year, with an emphasis on providing services to the rural poor and capacity-building services to other eye care providers and programmes.

Focus: Health
Geographic Area of Impact: Global
Model: Social Business
Number of Direct Beneficiaries: 3.1 million exams; 371,893 interventions (2012-13)
Annual Budget: US$ 19 million (2011)
Percentage Earned Revenue: 100%
Recognition: Schwab Fellow of the World Economic Forum

There are an estimated 39 million blind people in the world, an additional 246 million who are visually impaired, about 90% of which live in developing countries where they face poverty, illiteracy and diseases of epidemic proportions. In India alone there are 12 million blind people, more than in any other country. Most of this blindness is easily treatable by simple cataract surgery or a pair of glasses. The challenge, however, is to address affordability and access issues so those who can have their sight restored can re-enter the workforce and support themselves and their families.

Innovation and Activities
Founded in 1976 by Dr G. Venkataswamy with the mission to eliminate needless blindness, Aravind Eye Care System is the largest and most productive eye care facility in the world. It encompasses five tertiary care hospitals, five surgical centres, six community eye clinics, 42 primary eye centres, two managed eye hospitals, a manufacturing centre for ophthalmic products, an international research foundation, and a resource and training centre that is revolutionizing hundreds of eye care programmes across the developing world.
Aravind created a sustainable service delivery model, currently providing 55% of its services free or significantly subsidized for low-income families. Some of these cost-effective activities and innovations include: producing high-quality, low-cost intraocular lenses and other ophthalmic supplies; extensive use of telemedicine and other technologies to improve rural access; recruiting and training hundreds of young rural women as eye care technicians, thereby providing career opportunities and reducing the cost of eye care; and establishing a network of Vision Centres with low-cost telemedicine technology, providing primary eye care to rural areas and thus enhancing access.
Aravind’s success in eliminating needless blindness is based on direct action and creating competition. Real competition is encouraged through a proactive capacity-building process that shares lessons learned, detailed procedures, systems, forms and software. The Lions Aravind Institute of Community Ophthalmology was established in 1992 to help Aravind transfer its expertise and experience to other eye care institutes in India and elsewhere, resulting in the replication of best practices in over 290 eye hospitals worldwide. This consulting and training impacts an estimated additional 500,000 surgeries annually. Aravind Eye Care System’s awards include Champalimaud Award 2007; Gates Award for Global Health 2008; Hilton Humanitarian Award 2010; and designated as WHO Collaborating Centre for Prevention of Blindness.

The Entrepreneur
Thulasiraj Ravilla was born in a small village in southern India, received his MBA from the Indian Institute of Management in Calcutta, and worked there for a multinational company. In 1981, he joined Aravind and spent a year at the University of Michigan studying hospital and health management. Since then he has been part of the leadership team that built Aravind into the world’s largest eye care provider. In 1992, he helped establish the Lions Aravind Institute of Community Ophthalmology. Ravilla served five years as the South-East Asia Regional Chair of the International Agency for Prevention of Blindness, and in 2003 founded VISION 2020: The Right to Sight – India, a consortium of voluntary eye care institutions, which he headed until 2008. His awards include: Hospital Administrator of the Year 2008 in India; 2009 International Gold Award of the Chinese Ophthalmological Society; Hilton Humanitarian Award; Gates Award for Global Health; Champalimaud Award