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Showing posts from April, 2008

Visiting Aravind

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After years of hearing about the incredible Aravind Eye Hospitals, I finally was able to visit this prototypical social enterprise. Their model is to charge 30-40% of their patients enough to pay for their costs as well as the rest of the patients, as well as something extra (which generates funds for capital expansion).


I visited the main hospital in Madurai, where Aravind was founded by the late Dr. Venkataswamy ("Dr. V"). This was Dr V's retirement project! He came back from a visit to the United States impressed with McDonald's as a service delivery system, and decided to bring that same systematic approach to eye care. I've met with Thulsi, the executive director, in Europe at different events, but this was my first time on his (impressive) home turf.



Aravind's mission is to eliminate needless blindness, and they approach this objective with an amazing level of rigor. They are data-driven in a way that it is transparent to patients and staff alik…

Zeno's British Airways Baggage Paradox

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I remember being fascinated with Zeno's Paradox as a kid. The version I heard had to do with never getting someplace because you always had to get half-way there first (and then half-way of the remaining difference, and so on). The idea was that motion and getting someplace is an illusion.

And so it seemed with our baggage from British Airways on my current trip to India.

We had heard about the Terminal Five woes a month back, and thought they were solved. Unfortunately, solutions are an illusion. We were scheduled to go from San Francisco to Heathrow (London, UK) and then to Chennai, and then to Madurai. But, flight delays on leaving SFO meant that we wouldn't made our connection. Although the front desk agent missed this boat, the staff in the club caught it, rebooked us through Bangalore and retagged our bags before the plane took off. So far so good.

But, when we arrived in Bangalore to collect our bags, they were missing. The Bangalore staff had a sign up asking for u…

Looking back at the Skoll World Forum

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It's amazing how time flies so quickly these days. I blinked and the Skoll Forum was already in the past. It's worth recapping some of the events that stuck in my brain.

On the opening evening, my favorite section was when Pat Mitchell (former head of PBS) moderated Dr. Nafis Sadik, Karen Tse and Jody Williams. Dr. Sadik has worked on women's health for many years in the UN system and mentioned her unsuccessful audience with the Pope (I assume John Paul II) on some of the policies coming out of the UN's Population and Development conference in Cairo in the 1990s. Jody Williams was bold and outspoken (I assume, as usual) and funny: she received the Nobel Peace Prize for her work on the campaign to ban landmines. And, Karen Tse, one of my fellow Skoll social entrepreneurs, gave such a dramatic and inspirational remark near the end that Pat Mitchell simply declared the session done and we floated out of the room looking forward to changing the world after being insp…

Skoll World Forum in Oxford

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I'm coming home from my annual pilgrimage to Oxford for the Skoll World Forum. The Forum has become the international event for social entrepreneurs, and has now been heavily, heavily oversubscribed for the last two years.

This is my fourth time to the Forum: and each time actually gets better (as it gets harder to imagine how they'll pull it off again next year). For me, the highlights are the networking (especially peer networking) and the rockstar plenaries. The number of Nobel Peace prize winners has been just incredible: I think we had at least three speak at plenaries this year.

The event kicks off with a Tuesday night dinner for grantees at Exeter College, which is what Hogwart's (in the Harry Potter movies) was modeled after. The new Skoll Award winners each get three minutes to tell us a story.

Wednesday during the morning and early afternoon are sessions for the social entrepreneurs. Jeff Skoll spends an hour and a half explaining what he's been up to s…