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Platform and purpose – an interview with Aravind Srinivasan of Aravind Eyecare System

“How will you use your platform in life?” It’s a question that Dr Aravind Srinivasan, Chief Medical Officer & Director – Projects, of the Indian-based Aravind Eyecare System, frequently asks himself and other leaders like him. And he believes that platform goes hand in hand with finding your purpose as a leader and as a human being.

We had the pleasure of speaking with Aravind about platform and purpose, in advance of Wavelength Connect 2020, where he joins the On Your Marks section of the leadership programme.

Aravind is the nephew of the founder of the Aravind Eyecare System, Dr Govindappa Venkataswarmy (or Dr V as he is affectionately known), an Indian Ophthalmologist and businessman who, in 1976 and at the age of 57, used his platform to set up a private 20 bed eye hospital in Chennai, southern India, with the purpose of ‘eradicating unnecessary blindness by providing high quality compassionate and affordable eye care to all.’

Over the past 25 years Aravind Eyecare System has grown into one of the largest hospital networks of its kind anywhere in the world, operating 12 regional hospitals, 66 vision centres and 2,700 outreach camps. Aravind has treated over 62m patients and performed 7m eye surgeries – 50% for free or significantly subsidised rates – whilst transforming the lives of tens of thousands of young women who they recruit, train and educate. Their productivity levels are five times the norm, their infection rates 25%, they control 10% of the global intraocular lens market, and their profitability averages 39% EBIT.  

Aravind Eyecare System is the poster child for the purpose-led organisation. It fulfils and propagates its purpose everyday through every hospital, every department and every member of staff.  

How do you nurture the company purpose throughout the organisation?

“You have to do this at various levels. At one level there is the physical infrastructure. You need buildings suitable for the job, that help us fulfil our purpose. Designed with a high volume throughput of patients in mind. It’s important that you get this right. You then need to equip that building, manage suppliers and finance the physical infrastructure.

Second, you need to get the intellectual infrastructure right. What kind of human resources do you need? We train all of our people and for 90% of them it’s their first job. They have no baggage from previous companies and they learn everything from us. They become ophthalmologists, technicians, nurses and they work with our purpose in mind from day one. 

At a practical level getting the infrastructure right is very important to allow us to operate in the way that we do. But this is not the differentiator. The emotional infrastructure is the thing that seeps throughout the organisation – that is the added value, that holds us together. 

The physical and intellectual infrastructure is available to everyone. It is not different. But the emotional infrastructure? You have to have a founder like ours to create that.”  

What do you mean when you talk about platform and purpose?

“My platform is my education, my network, my family, my health. Platforms are the sum of your achievements and things you have been gifted with. However your platform is not the place to stop. Metaphorically speaking, platforms are a place to pause – before moving on to a different destination or in another direction.

Bill Gates needed a $50Bn platform before he decided to change direction and give something back to the world. If you take your whole life building your platform you will not spot the opportunity to give something back, to have a purpose. At some point in life, it will come to you. It came to me about 10 years ago through talking with a mentor. I was looking for a deeper purpose, a deeper meaning to my life. What am I doing with my life? I’m a doctor and part of this family. It was this quest that led me to think about my platform and how I was using it – and the purpose I had as a leader.

In all great organisations and in people who are visionaries there is a definite shift that occurs. When you move from just being a leader and just looking at the bottom line to realising that you can use what you have achieved to give something back. The world has given me a lot – the world has been a place of abundance for me and my family. I am standing at the top because people are filling the places at the bottom. There are countless people, giving their hands to help you stand up there as a leader – so how do you nurture this? You come to a time when think ‘how can I give something back?’

What are we existing for? You look at where you are and you realise that you are fortunate. When it comes to a higher purpose, sharing doesn’t take away anything from you, in fact it brings you joy. It’s kind of counter intuitive.

Bill Gates – what will he be remembered for? Being a leader of a large organisation or giving away his fortune? His wealth or his ability to leverage his fortune to do something good in the world? He is still the wealthiest man in the world but how is he regarded now?”

How do people come to the realisation that using their platform is important in pursuit of purpose?

I think it’s evolution. Each person’s evolution is different and we are all at different stages of that evolution. Of course there have been people in history like Dr V, Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela who are able to see the world very differently. People get ready and at some point in time they are able to introspect deeply and open up to the idea of platform and purpose. These are pretty deep questions for us all! 

Why is everyone not getting it? Inadequacy runs very deep. If you make £100k a year as a family then that puts you in the top 2% of the UK and if you are in the top 2% of the UK you are also in the top 0.1% of the world. How much bigger does your platform need to be?  

25 years ago Dr V threw a stone that created ripples, that caused change. He decided that his purpose and that of the organisation he founded was to eradicate unnecessary blindness and I am doing my best to work with the ripples that he made. But the deeper question is – where is the stone that I am going to throw?

You are speaking at Wavelength Connect 2020 this year – what key messages will you pass on to leaders attending?

“‘Can I be happier as a person and as a leader?’ I think that’s why many leaders come to Connect. They are no longer worried about their livelihood, they have achieved their platform in life. They come to ask those deeper questions. Connect is a place where you can safely be who you are. Safely share your insecurities, safely talk about the deeper things in life that you are looking for. It’s not a place where you go and get another job, it’s not transactional. It’s a coming together of people who are in the same realm of evolution. 

Some people just don’t recognise the opportunities because they have too much noise in their lives. They are going after the platform – trying to build the next million, the next house, the expensive car – and that’s OK – but remember it is a platform. Have a wonderful life but also recognise the responsibility you have. Give gracefully. Giving isn’t just about money – it’s about going beyond the call of duty, giving your time generously. All of us are not Bill Gates giving 10% of his wealth but we can fulfil our purpose through our day to day work. 

That’s the journey of Connect. It’s not – oh, you want to make one more million pounds a year. That’s not the journey – that’s not the right place to be. It’s to ask ‘why am I here and what am I supposed to do with my platform.’” 


Wavelength SpeakersHub provides the opportunity for you to book a wide range of speakers for your own events. Interested in booking Dr Aravind Srinivasan whilst he is in the UK? See his full biography and booking details here.


Wavelength Connect is an inspirational six-month leadership programme. Now in its tenth year, Connect provides participants with the inspiration, knowledge, and mindset needed to lead change and solve core organisational challenges; from service excellence, innovation and disruption, to diversity and inclusion.

Learning from a highly experiential curriculum, leaders are given access to some of the world’s most successful and admired companies and accomplished practitioners. Airbnb, Alibaba, LEGO, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, Liverpool Football Club, The Eden Project, and Four Seasons are amongst those featured on recent Connect programmes.
 
Connect is primarily designed for teams and provides participants with the inspiration and knowledge to find solutions and to own and action them.

If you would like to know more about the Connect 2020 programme you can view our brochure here here or email Jessica.