Archive for January, 2011

Acupuncture for the world

Monday, January 24th, 2011


I don’t know much about acupuncture, but when I heard David Green use this analogy recently, my interest was piqued. Speaking on the topic of Social Innovation and Finance, he was basically suggesting that the world’s capital markets are out of alignment, with too much energy being channelled in some places, and too little elsewhere. The challenge, he suggests, is to ‘humanise capitalism’ – to use the power of the market for social good, and not simply to bolster shareholder profits. David outlined his own experiences of doing just that as he has sought ways to produce, distribute and service high-quality, affordable health-care products for people in the developing world.

I say ‘experiences’ because he has done this on numerous occasions, with more plans underway. Perhaps his most striking success to date has been working in partnership with Aravind Eye Hospital, India, where he and his company, Aurolab, have succeeded in making cataract surgery and eye care products available to all. By taking an innovative look at the production and distribution of intra-ocular lenses, he has reduced the cost from $160 per pair, to less than $2, while maintaining the highest international standards on quality. His success has led to increased competition, driving the costs down still further. For the world’s poorest, however, even this would be beyond reach. Which is why approximately 1/3 of Aravind’s patients receive treatment free of charge; a further third pay a proportion of the true cost; while the final third pay more than the actual cost. In this way, Aurolab have succeeded in completing more than 3 million surgeries to date, with annual profits exceeding $8 million.

There’s much that’s impressive about this story, not least of which is the capacity for smart business thinking to really serve the world’s poor in a way that is profitable and hence sustainable. What impacted me most, however, was the realization that ordinary people really can make a difference. The challenges can be so overwhelming at times that we falter before we begin. But David was just an ordinary guy making a difference, one innovation at a time.

David is an Ashoka fellow, and you can read more about him here; he spoke in conjunction with other excellent speakers Vickie Cammack (CEO of Tyze), Stuart Yasgur (Ashoka Managing Director) and Tim Draimin (SiG Executive Director) – for more info see