Last year, Megan Webber, Co-Founder of KnowTheGlow, had the privilege of speaking with Bharath Balasubramaniam, President of the Sankara Eye Foundation and Eye Institute, an organization at the forefront of universal comprehensive eye care in India. Bharath introduced Megan to Murali Krishnamurthy and the two connected this summer to discuss Murali’s career and accomplishments in developing the Sankara Eye Foundation.
With its unique and effective hybrid model, Sankara aims to eliminate curable blindness in India for all and to do so in a self-sustaining way that reaches all of India’s citizens. Last week, after a quick trip to Silicon Valley, Megan was reminded that the headquarters for Sankara Eye Foundation were in Milpitas, California. While their offices were still in hybrid mode post COVID-19, she was still able to connect via zoom with the Foundation’s charismatic and inspiring Founder and Executive Chairman, Mr. Murali Krishnamurthy. His journey to become Executive Chairman was known as one of teamwork, encouragement and passion and Megan was keen to hear his story in his own words. Murali had come to the US from India as a software engineer. While at first he was intrigued with the software programs in the US, even going on to earn a Masters in software engineering, the novelty of the industry quickly faded for him. His uncle, whom Murrali described as a Rotarian with a heart made of gold, showed Murali a different path. His Uncle had been volunteering in Sankara’s first hospital in Tamil Nadu and he challenged Murali and his brother to raise money for the Sankara Eye Hospital. At first, Murali gave his Uncle many excuses as to why he could not help until one day, his brother K. Sridharan visited India and one of the Sankara Eye Hospitals for himself. He saw firsthand how patients were treated like family and that the hospital’s facilities were as clean and as first rate as the hospitals back home in the United States. Murali’s brother also noticed that one of the key differences was in how treatment abandonment was not nearly as large a concern at the Sankara Eye Hospitals compared to other hospitals in India. With 60-70% of the patients returning for aftercare, Sankara had a 98% success rate. The kindness that the Sankara healthcare worker showed patients was unsurpassed by anything he had ever seen. The young patients would even affectionately call the workers mama and dada.
The brothers made their decision and in May 1998, Murali and his brother decided they would find out how to raise funds for their Uncle and Sankara Eye Hospital. Murali was always a big motivator by nature and he regards Swami Vivrkannanda as his guru and a powerful inspiration in his life. Murali had been taught that each and every one of us is potentially divine and that we must put our heart and soul into the work we are doing. Filled with this passion to do good, Murali and his brother began by writing 100 letters asking for funds for the Sankara Eye Hospital and in their first year they raised $8,000. While it was clear that they were going to need considerably more funds to help Sankara do its remarkable work, Murail knew that he must think more like “Americans” and think long term by focusing more on awareness and getting people contact information rather than focusing on money. “We built it [The Foundation] like a bird nest, a little bit, a little bit at a time!”
Murali is quite modest and will try at first to tell you that he has “no skills” but this is so clearly untrue! He is blessed with the incredible gift of being able to motivate and inspire people to complete their own journey. Watching videos of his talks and seeing the results of his efforts it is clear that Murali has the ability to move mountains even from as far away as California! By empowering people he has, in turn, helped his organization achieve its seemingly insurmountable goal of raising funds to help open additional Sankara Eye Hospitals in India and to think beyond and to continue to “Dream Big”. Sankara Eye Foundation, along with its partners from the Akhand Jyoti Hospital are currently building its 13th hospital in the Northern part of the country in Bihar!
Sankara Eye Hospitals continue to be the largest free eye care provider in all of India. The 80/20 hybrid program helps them with scaling (where 20% of the patients that pay for service are helping to offset the cost of the 80% of patients who are unable to pay). Murali knows that the work he and his network of volunteers across the US are providing is vital to keeping them within reach of their goals. It is imperative that they focus on building community trust in the villages and towns of India. They do not abandon a family if they cannot pay and thanks to the 80/20 model and the Foundation’s fundraising efforts providers do not have to pay out of their pockets. Currently, Dr. Kaushik Murali, a pediatric ophthalmologist, and Bharath Balasubramaniam, are preparing to take over the overall operations of the Sankara Eye Hospitals from the original founder, RV Ramani, and have set the lofty goal of one million free eye surgeries by 2030! We applaud the work the Sankara Eye Foundation, USA is doing under Murali’s direction to help Sankar Eye Hospitals and partner hospitals continue to expand and provide top-quality eye care and surgery to those families of all socioeconomic backgrounds in India. We are lucky to have such inspiration so close by and look forward to continuing to share about their successful endeavors resulting in saved sight and supported families in India.
For more information about Sankara and Dr. Bharath Balasubramaniam please see our article from earlier this year https://knowtheglow.org/interview-with-bharath-balasubramaniam/