North-East India has the highest percentage of blindness. According to WHO report, around 18.8 % of Indians with cataract belong to Assam. Was this a motivating factor behind starting up ERC Eye care? What are the other problems related to eye sight faced in North-East?
A. No. Data was never a motivating factor in starting ERC Eye Care. On ground experience was. Data became relevant, when we tried to structure a proper Business Plan and get investments. I guess most start-up businesses are like that. You see a problem, explore options to solve that problem and try a pilot. Only working on the ground in reality, gives you the much-needed proof of concept. Having said that, once you realize that the problem is very large, (as in the WHO report), it validates your conviction to scale.
The problems are: cataract, refractive error, Vitamin A Deficiency (night blindness), injury, common eye infections (conjunctivitis).
In times where most people focus on earning maximum profits, how did you come up with the idea of setting up ERC Eye Care in 2011 for the lower most people of the pyramid?
A. The motivating factor for me was not financial returns, as I did not have much idea on financial modelling or sustainable in 2011. It was purely a drive to solve the problem, and then working backwards, to make it financially viable and sustainable, so that we could remain on the ground in the long run, considering that we were not an NGO or received any external grants, etc. However, if I look at it now, I can say that BoP is the largest market, considering that almost 85% people are in that bracket. When I read CK Prahalad’s book “Fortune at the bottom of thepyramid” last month, it again validated my assumptions. You need disruptive business models to deliver products and services to the BoP, and financial viability and sustainability will never be an issue. The BoP is already paying an “access premium” for all services and products taken for granted by the urban population. If we can make that available in an affordable and accessible way, they also get the end result at much lower price than current levels, and a company can also get decent profit out of it. The profitability in BoP markets is not based on higher margins, but on higher volumes, as is the case with ERC.
According to what I have read, the rear three vision centres in Jorhat working on Hub and Spoke model.
How are you thinking of expanding in future?
A. As I write this we have: 3 Vision Centres in Jorhat, 2 Vision centres in Sivasagar, a Mobile Unit in Sivasagar, a corporate office in Jorhat and a cluster office in Sivasagar. We have on board 24 employees and 50 field workers (whom we call EVA’ s- ERC Vision Assistants: local village women, who are trained to work for us).
ERC Eye Care has won a lot of recognition for its recommendable work. Can you mention in brief about its achievements?
A. Considering that we operate out of North- East, the awards and recognitions have helped us a lot in connecting with the social enterprise ecosystem. We are Mahindra Spark the RisevWinners- 2012, Semi- finalists in IIT- Bombay’ s Eureka, Sankalp Awards finalists- 2013, Finalist in 2013 Tata Social Enterprise Challenge 2013, Top 10 in Bidnetwork.org ‘ s Fast5 Challenge 2012, selected as Make A Difference (MAD) fellow for 2013 in Hong Kong. Additionally we were featured as an AMAZING INDIAN in TIMES NOW, also in YOUR STORY, ENTREPRENEUR MAGAZI N E, etc. I do not want to call them achievements, but recognition for the work we have done, which has helped us a lot in getting mileage for the organization in terms of contacts, funding, etc.
What are the services offered by the vision centres currently?
A. 1. Consultation 2. Optical Retail 3. Pharmacy 3. Basic eye tests 4. Mobile U nit (for doing camps in very inaccessible areas) How does ERC Eye Care manage funding for all its operations?
A. The company has grown organically from 1 centre in Jorhat town (which is the office now ) to its present level up to December 2013. Bootstarpping, having a motivated team and cost cutting has been the key. H ow ever, w e received funding from 4 Investors in December 2013- Ennovent, Ankur Capital, Beyond Capital fund and Ennovent Circle (Mr. Sadeesh Ragahavan). We w ill utilize the funds towards building hospitals and putting key systems and processes in place.
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Hindu College H R College.
What are the services offered by the vision centres currently?
A. 1. Consultation 2. Optical Retail 3. Pharmacy 3. Basic eye tests 4. Mobile Unit (for doing camps in very inaccessible areas)
How does ERC Eye Car manage funding for all its operations?
A. The company has grown organically from 1 centre in Jorhat town (which is the office now ) to its present level up to December 2013. Bootstarpping, having a motivated team and cost cutting has been the key. How ever, we received funding from 4 Investors in December 2013- Ennovent, Ankur Capital, Beyond Capital fund and Ennovent Circle (Mr. Sadeesh Ragahavan). We will utilize the funds towards building hospitals and putting key systems and processes in place.
This conversation w ith Dr. Parveez Ubed about the journey of ERC Eye care and about the impact that BoP business models can create, continuing from the previous part. How can a person serve as a volunter for ERC Eye Care. Does it require any prior qualifications?
How can a person serve as a volunteer for ERC Eye Care. Does it require any prior qualifications?
A. Yes. The major qualifications to work for us should be: an open mind for challenges, and ability to constantly innovate. Beyond this, anybody who has the willingness and interest in a social enterprise like ours, in this geography, are welcome.
We currently need specific help in Marketing, Operations and Finance. If someone is bringing this additionally, it will be an added advantage for us. How many lives has ERC Eye Care managed to touch over the last few years?
A. 20,000 What
What are the incentives and values that being a volunteer for ERC Eye Care would add to a person? A. A volunteer for ERC Eye Care can have the
A. A volunteer for ERC Eye Care can have the following benefits:
1. Learn about challenges of a start-up ready to scale.
2. Real experience of working on the ground w ith the BoP.
3. Receive a certificate at the end of tenure.
4. Get connected w ith the ecosystem of social entrepreneurship: Get connected with our I nternational I nvestors, Partners, collaborators.
5. Chance to get a permanent job offer based on the performance.
6. A monthly stipend, based on ex perience and the value they bring into the organiz ation.
7. Working w ith a dedicated team.
Can you please elaborate more about the startups meant for BoP? What are the other industries in which similar scalable models can work?
A. Although I may not be the right person to comment, considering that I have worked only with one start-up till now, but yes I can gather some thoughts on this. Instead of considering oneself as a start-up meant for the BoP (and feel good about it! ), it’ s better to consider that it’ s a start-up meant for the largest market in India (80% of India lives in villages). It’ s not that the BoP does not have any purchasing
power. The market is very huge, but it’ s not a conventional market. If you are delivering products and services to the BoP, it has to be done in a disruptive manner. I nstead of you planning how to do that, you w ill first have to listen to your customers- about their needs and expectations, then create something to deliver that in the most cost effective and sustainable manner.
And learning every step of the way is the key. Once you stop learning, your business will also stop doing any business soon.
The BoP is already paying a premium (“access premium”) in every aspect of their lives, due to ignorance, illiteracy and lack of access. Consider this: For you to buy a pair of reading glasses, you just have to go to the Optical Store in the market. For a person in rural India, he has to travel 30-50 km, lose a day’ s w ork, pay for travel ex penses, pay for food, and then he w ill get access to that optical store. Arriving at the city, does not alw ays mean he w ill know where to get the glasses. These are the real challenges, and at the same time opportunity for social enterprises to deliver.
I f you ask me w hat are the other industries, where it can work, then answer is very simple. Look around your city, every facility and service that you see, is mostly absent for the BoP: Access & affordability issues. So, the space is all encompassing. I will like to give an example here. My friend, Mr. Ankur Pegu, is running a chain of primary care clinics in slums of Mumbai (www.swasthindia.in). Now , it’s not that healthcare has not been available there. It was available but the access & affordable issues w ere huge. They came out w ith innovative methods to solve the problems, and now they are the most successful health network in those areas