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Saturday, April 3, 2004

Despite having one of the youngest demographic profiles of any country in the world (71 % are below 34 years), culturally we remain a geriatric society. Very rarely do we see youngsters rising to positions of prominence. They have to wait until their bosses/mentors reach their sunset years (running into 70s and 80s). Our revered elders hate to vacate their chairs even when they are losing control of all vital bodily functions. Placing the institution above the individual and planning for an orderly succession is something we are not used to. And the occasional planned succession one sees is where someone from the family stable is groomed as heir apparent, irrespective of qualifications or ability. This malaise is clearly visible in every place, starting from our political parties to many of India’s leading corporate houses. This ingrained culture is leading to a systematic decline of many of our leading institutions.

Fortunately, right in our midst, we are witnessing a rarity. On the 4th of April, Dr GN Rao, founder-director of LV Prasad Eye Institute (LVPEI) is passing on the baton to a worthy successor, Dr Ravi Thomas. Dr Rao is doing this when his leadership and abilities are still respected, not when people are waiting to see him go! In fact he planned this change of guard a few years ago and has worked diligently and systematically to facilitate an orderly succession.

A graduate of Guntur Medical College and the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi, Dr Rao received advanced professional training (from Tufts University) in the US. After working as a consultant and adjunct professor of ophthalmology at the University of Rochester, Dr Rao returned to India in 1986.

Dr Rao and his wife Mrs Pratibha founded LVPEI in 1987 as a not-for-profit organization with a mission to provide eye care of highest quality to all sections of society irrespective of their financial status. Right from the beginning, the institute’s focus was on providing quality eye care even to the underprivileged. Under Dr Rao’s leadership and guidance, LVPEI undertook original research into eye diseases and vision-threatening conditions that afflict vast segments of the third world countries. Over the years, Dr Rao and his colleagues at LVPEI worked diligently to develop a replicable model of quality eye care delivery that can be emulated in India and other third world countries.

LVPEI represents many qualities that are not usually seen in India: a can-do attitude, a no-nonsense approach, a desire to excel, and an environment that recognizes, nurtures and rewards competence and performance. And the results are there for everyone to see. In the 17 years since its inception, LVPEI has emerged as a world-class institution and its faculty and services are recognized across the world for their professional excellence.

There are many such great success stories in India, and all of them have common features. They teach us that the culture of an organization and incentives are important, and the people whom an institution serves are paramount. We need not and should not be satisfied with a few islands of excellence. We have it in us to make all endeavours truly successful in terms of the real value they add to society. Success need not be a zero-sum game in which someone always has to lose to the same extent that another wins.

We are lucky to be in the twenty-first century when most human predicaments are amenable to sensible, practical solutions. Only incurable infections, old age, death, and taxes have no remedies! But we need to acquire the capacity to adapt the best practices everywhere, and replicate successes. And we can do that while preserving the best in our own culture and civilization. The city, which witnessed the disgraceful CGHS scam, also has the LVPEI, and many outstanding non-profit institutions like the Mahavir Hospital whose pioneering work in control of Tuberculosis is a model of public-private partnership. There is much to learn from them, and rejoice in their successes.

Above all, we need to propagate a sense of common fate, binding us all. If someone, somewhere suffers an injustice or avoidable suffering, it haunts all of us, and hurts all society. We need to foster excellence not merely for self-actualization or a sense of obligation to the community, but in order to help ourselves as potential beneficiaries of such successes. That is the ultimate lesson in humility. We need each other and the good work of countless people to fulfill our potential. By recognizing and respecting excellence, the society at large benefits – just as feeding the milch buffalo and nurturing it with care benefits the milk vendor and consumer.


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