HPC Fellow: Shazzad Khan, Aravind Eye Care System

Shazzad Khan is a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow working with Aravind Eye Care System. At Aravind Eye Care System, Shazzad helped to set up a team to drive innovation and change across the entire hospital system. This new innovation team will be a source of core innovation skills, such as human-centered design and prototyping. In his blog, Shazzad reflects upon the dedication of staff members and the boldness of the organization’s agenda.

After 8 million cataract surgeries, Aravind looking to innovate even more
By: Shazzad Khan

It was early morning at the gate of Aravind’s hospital in Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu. I stood waiting to catch Dr. Venkatesh, the hospital’s chief medical officer. He walked up briskly, and I hurried to keep pace, knowing that he had a full day ahead of him and no time to waste.

The first surgery started at 7:30AM. Dr. Venkatesh answered my questions as he turned back and forth between beds. On average, one surgery takes him just five minutes. His target is to perform 85 today before lunch, then spend the afternoon on his administrative duties. This efficiency has enabled Aravind to achieve incredible patient volume, with over four million cataract surgeries performed.

This is what leadership looks like at Aravind—an intense, all-encompassing blend of clinical duties and management. Most Sundays, senior leaders can be found observing outreach camps. These camps are one of the most effective ways to connect the 70% of Indians who live in rural places with eye care, and their referrals account for about 35% of the total caseload. Many cannot pay for the surgery, and Aravind treats them for free. To Aravind’s leaders, high volumes enable high quality care. and ensure that all who need care can access it.

It is amazing that at its scale Aravind still inspires a lifelong passion and commitment in so many people. Many people who previously worked at the organization choose to volunteer; I find them in the kitchen, communications team, and everywhere in between. I also meet people who are second-generation members of the Aravind team. Their parents’ passion has become their own; an ethos that they have adopted.

The Hilton Prize Coalition fellowship provided me an opportunity to apply my background in innovation and service design to Aravind. I helped Aravind build an internal innovation team. It was daunting to come to an organization with Aravind’s reputation and scale with the aim of changing it, so I spent most of my summer listening to and observing people in their work. I saw a consistent focus on patients and insistence on excellence permeating all daily activities. Strategic and operational decisions are grounded in clinical realities and evidence. For decades now, the common philosophy and values of the Aravind team have proven an incredibly effective mechanism for keeping the organization moving towards a shared vision.

I found myself focusing on the next generations of leaders. Some observed the organization grow during their lifetime, but they really came into it once it was an established organization, rather than building it from the ground up.

Fundamentally, it comes down to vision: Aravind’s leaders have always had bold ideas for what’s possible. Many large organizations, especially those that are considered successful, fall into the trap of complacency.

What would be the best way of pushing the organization, and protecting that imaginative ability?

During my fellowship, I worked with Aravind to set up a team to drive innovation and change across the entire hospital system. This team supports the senior leaders to identify core priorities for innovation and then implements a variety of activities to engage staff at all levels in the creative process of solution generation. It aims to enrich Aravind’s problem-solving culture and focus staff’s incredible commitment on pressing organizational needs. The innovation team will also be a source of core innovation skills, such as human-centered design and prototyping. Lastly, I sketched the Capability Blueprint,  a map for how Aravind will advance its intent, including governance, innovation portfolio management, innovation process, creating knowledge products, external interfaces, metrics, and other management systems.

I never see Dr. Venkatesh or Aravind’s other leaders slow down. He makes time to sit with the new batch of post-graduate students who join from different regions of India—a weekly session where he shares Aravind’s wisdom through storytelling. It is in listening to these stories that I find the most important lesson that I will take away with me, which is that leaders are those that not only envision a better world with their continuous innovations, but dedicate every possible minute to making it possible. When thousands of people believe this and work together, it is amazing what they can achieve.

About The Hilton Prize Coalition

The  Hilton Prize Coalition  is an independent alliance of the 22 winners of the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize, working together to achieve collective impact. Through three signature programs—the  Fellows Program, the  Collaborative Models Program  and the  Storytelling Program—the Coalition leverages the resources, talents and expertise of each of its members to innovate and establish best practices that can be shared with the global NGO and donor communities. Working in more than 170 countries, the Coalition is governed by a board comprised of the leaders of the Prize-winning organizations led by an Executive Committee and a Secretariat,  Global Impact.

To learn more about the Hilton Prize Coalition, visit  prizecoalition.charity.org, or contact  prizecoalition@charity.org. Follow  the Hilton Prize Coalition on  Twitter and  LinkedIn, and “Like” us on Facebook.

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