Founded Sankara Eye Foundation, USA ( www.giftofvision.org) in 1998 to raise funds for free eye surgeries. Set a big vision of 'Vision 20/20 by 2020. Recruited, motivated and challenged volunteers to bring out their potential to achieve more. Progress has been phenomenal - from 8,000 free eye surgeries in 1998 to more than 106,000 free eye surgeries in 2010. The revenue is now close to $4 Million and there are more than 200 volunteers all over the country.
Can you please tell us a little about your background? Why Sankara Eye Foundation?
I had been a software engineer by profession here in the Silicon Valley. My Uncle, Mr P. Balasubramanian, who was volunteering for Sankara Eye Foundation (SEF) India, encouraged my brother (K. Sridharan) and I to start a chapter for Sankara Eye Foundation (SEF) here in the US to support the great work being done by SEF in India and help them grow. We hesitated quite a bit and almost avoided talking to my uncle for a while due to his persistence about us doing something for SEF. However, after my brother’s visit to the hospital and him getting convinced of the great work being done in SEF, and the need for free eye care, we started SEF here in the US in 1998. We never expected it to grow this big, though I was always inspired by Swami Vivekanand's thoughts of dreaming big. We started small and poured our heart and soul into this and since that day, there is no looking back. It gave a purpose to my life and to the lives of hundreds of volunteers across the country. Today, SEF has grown into one of the largest free eye care providers in the world and together we are helping brighten this world, one eyesight at a time.
What has been the response like from the Silicon Valley?
Silicon Valley and its residents have been very kind and passionate in supporting the endeavors of SEF. This is a grassroots organization and we get a lot of support from the community. We are headquartered here and have our largest presence here, though we do have chapters across US.
What kind of support did you receive from the corporations here in the Valley? Were they willing to help?
We are lucky to be in a place like Silicon Valley, which is filled with generous individuals, corporations and organizations. Many of the Silicon Valley corporations encourage the employees to donate funds by matching their donations dollar for dollar. A lot of these organizations encourage their employees to volunteer for various charities and donate to charities based on the hours volunteered by their employees.
What are the difficulties if any did you encounter in India? In terms of NGO issues?
These hospital projects are humongous and like it would be in any other country, finding and acquiring land, getting needed approvals sometimes does pose challenges. However, we grow and learn from these challenges. These challenges then turn out to be the stepping stones to our next big dream, our next big project.
What or who has been your inspiration to found Sankara Eye?
Sankara Eye Foundation was started in India in 1977 by a wonderful Doctor couple Drs. Radha Ramani & R V Ramani with the advice and blessing from Shri Sankaracharya of Kanchi. These doctors have dedicated their lives to SEF and in turn the organization has grown and the growth and difference it is making also inspires us to do better each day. Our inspiration and motivation to expand and grow the organization to all corners of India was seeded by our uncle, Mr. P. Balasubramaniam. The inspiration and motivation grew with all the volunteers, donors and all supporters of the organization.
What are the main avenues of resources to fund hospitals in India? Do concerts help?
This is a grassroots organization and most of the funds come from retail sources - individual donors. We raise funds by doing banquets, sending newsletters and doing various events. Yes, certainly the events like these concerts, Dandia etc. are a huge way to help spread the word and in turn get donations as we raise awareness about the project. These events also help energize volunteers who put their heart and soul into planning and organizing these events.
How is the 20/20 goal look like now? Are you almost there?
We currently have 9 hospitals and building 3 more in Indore, Mumbai, and Hyderabad. We have so far done 1.75 million free eye surgeries and we are on track to reach our goal of vision 2020 - of eradicating curable blindness by year 2025. We want to reach all regions of India where there is a need for eyecare and have set ourselves a target of supporting 500,000 free eye surgeries per year. To accelerate our growth, to cover areas not covered by SEF hospitals, and to reach our goals faster, we have launched an initiative of partnering with various existing free eye care providers who meet the eye care and charitable standards set by SEF.
What is your message to our readers?
Any project when worked on along with the community yields very purposeful and positive results. We seek your support in helping this noble cause of eradicating curable blindness in India. You can do so in many ways - by donating, by attending our events, by helping spread the word, or by volunteering.
What do you think of India Parent Magazine?
India Parent Magazine has been a longtime supporter of SEF and we truly appreciate them helping us in our journey to brighten this world.
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