“Intelligence and capability are not enough; there must also be the joy of doing something beautiful.” These words by Dr. Venkataswamy tower over us as we enter the flagship Aravind Eye Hospital in Madurai, India, and continue to reflect in the staff’s philosophy during our short visit.
The Aravind Eye Hospital needs no introduction. Tucked in the remote south of India, it is the result of its founder’s vision of eliminating needless blindness. Started in 1976 by Dr. Venkataswamy, the hospital provides accessible, affordable and quality eye care to all sections of the society through cross-subsidization, which creates a commercially viable and sustainable business model.
Aravind Eye Care is an example of a business model innovation, also referred to as an ‘inclusive business model’. IFC defines inclusive business models as those offering goods, services and livelihoods to the poor in financially sustainable and scalable ways. Globally, inclusive businesses are being recognized as important players for development. More entrepreneurs are realizing the bottom of the pyramid (BoP) market as an opportunity to design and implement innovative solutions. As per an IFC study, the BoP represents a potential market of $5 trillion globally - the largest slice of this lies in South Asia, particularly India, given the size of BoP population in the region.
However, inclusive businesses continue to face several barriers in scaling and replicating their success such as lack of access to finance, absence of trained human resources, weak supply chain linkages etc. and above all, an underdeveloped support ecosystem to overcome critical market gaps. Addressing these barriers will not only help capitalize on the growth potential but also mainstream the sector.
World Bank Group is playing a catalytic role in unlocking opportunities for innovative, impact focused businesses. The South Asia Inclusive Business Program has been working towards enhancing private sector participation and inclusive business activity in the region. While working on the high level through systemic interventions, the team is also connecting with organizations on the ground by supporting them to scale sustainably and/or replicate across borders.