INSEAD Participant Interview

Innovating Health for Tomorrow: Gaining a Sense of Direction and the Confidence to Look at Things Differently


Bharath Balasubramaniam

President, Community Eye Health & Info Systems,
Sankara Eye Foundation

Innovating Health for Tomorrow alumnus, Bharath Balasubramaniam, on how the programme gave him a sense of direction and the confidence to look at things differently.

Can you please start by introducing yourself and your organisation?

I am currently President of the Sankara Eye Hospitals in India. We are a Foundation which has a number of eye hospitals located across India. I have a Masters in Community eye care from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. So my background is in community eye health.

I’ve been working at the Sankara Eye Foundation for the past ten years and started out leading the community eye care team. As of this year, I also run the paid side of our operations.

The Foundation started operations in Tamil Nadu and as our reputation grew, other states in India began to take an interest in our work. We now operate across 6 states, with ten hospitals.

What makes the Sankara Eye Foundation unique is our 80/20 hybrid model. In other words, 80% of the operations we do are non-paid. These are funded by the other 20% of our work, which is paid.

We have been fortunate to have a strong global fundraising arm which helps us with our capital projects. It’s a big differentiator.

Can you please explain how the process of reaching out to the 80% of your patients works?

We work in rural communities and have a network of field workers who survey and identify those who don’t traditionally have access to eye care. These patients are taken to camp sites for screening and those who require further attention are then moved to one of our hospitals for treatment.

One month after each of the operations, there is a post-op check-up.

We have been very successful at it. We have grown a lot in the last six years. We used to carry out 75,000 surgeries a year. Now it is 150,000.

What are some of the challenges maintaining such an operating model?

Our biggest challenge is managing expectations. The 80% who don’t usually have access to healthcare have few expectations. However, the 20% have high expectations. We have to manage the 20% closely to ensure they remain satisfied with their care. After all, it is the paid work that allows us to continue to carry out 80% of our operations on a non-paying basis.  

What are some of the tools you’ve been using to reach out to communities and make your work more effective?

We have been working on developing low cost technology to reach out to communities. For example, we have started to use GPS to track community members and carry out targeted outreach.

We want to keep people as educated and informed the best we can. To help us with that, we have launched apps. We want our patients and our field workers etc connected.

We recently implemented an automated tool which removes all the paperwork that field workers would normally have to carry with them. Now, they have tablets and can note down everything on those. It used to be a very manual job, but using this new technology and innovation, we have been able to increase efficiency and productivity, which in turn has helped us achieve our goals.


We would like to increase the number of non-paying surgeries, as well as the productivity of our field workers and camp sites.

We would also like to become a lot more self-sufficient. At the moment we are self-sufficient at 91%. I would like this to increase to 100%. We can do this by increasing patient satisfaction on the paying side.

How important a role does innovation play?

Innovation is part of our day-to-day activity and is essential to it. If we don’t innovate, we don’t survive. We look at problems and ways to address them, putting in place short- and long-term initiatives, in which innovation and technology play a large part.

For example, we also use an app which allows us to monitor operations across the country. This makes the task much simpler. It still needs improving, but this is just the beginning. Our aim is to innovate so as to develop foolproof systems. We want to remove dependency on people and let the systems take over.

Had we not been quick to innovate and adopt technology, we would not have evolved and expanded across the country. Innovation really drives us and is central to our strategy.

What are some of the benefits of attending the Innovating Health for tomorrow programme?

My Innovating Health for Tomorrow experience was an eye opening one. I was exposed to ideas, which sitting in my office, I could never have dreamed of being exposed to. The programme allowed me to take time out of my regular schedule, reflect on my work and understand what is going on in the industry.

The Innovating Health for Tomorrow programme really is one that gives you a sense of direction and the confidence to look at things differently. Additionally, it gives you tools and insights that you can use in your work right away. So I urge others to attend so they can benefit just like I did.

Are there any parts of the programme that stood out?

One part which stood out was the design thinking component. It made me realise that creativity is not necessarily an in-born trait. It is a skill that can be learnt. And it doesn’t have to be complicated. You can design in a simple manner. You just have to learn to connect the dots. Learning about design thinking has really helped me to ideate. Before attending, we had no specific ideating initiatives in the organisation. It is now part of the team culture.

The Innovating Health for Tomorrow programme helped me become much more open minded and start ideating. Not only myself, but also my team members. Looking at design thinking really influenced the entire way in which I looked at problems and thought of solutions.

How beneficial was the networking during the programme?

The opportunity to interact with peers who have similar experiences of handling situations in different cultures and contexts was excellent.

We did a lot of group work which allowed me to learn about other markets and raise my awareness of the global setting. The group work also allowed me to understand how technology is being used in other companies.

I am still in touch with those on the programme with me and I look forward to the alumni get-togethers.  

Has the innovating health for tomorrow programme changed the way in which you approach your work?

We would like to be much more patient focused, being able to document the patient journey a lot more effectively. Since coming back from the Innovating Health for Tomorrow programme, I have created a lot documentation to help with this.

So, the programme helped me think about internal processes: how do we structure our operations? It made me more aware of processes and procedures and made internal discussions easier. It has helped me stay more focused.

Finally, how did you find the teaching?

It was very different to all of the other teaching I’ve been exposed to. The ideas and discussions we had really stuck with me.

The programme was full of practical examples which really helped make the programme interesting.

The way Steve, Karan and others taught the class not only made the programme inspiring, but also inspired me when it came to how I teach my teams. The teaching influenced how I interact with my teams and how I manage meetings.

Interested in INSEAD's Innovating Health for Tomorrow programme? Have a look at the Innovating Health for Tomorrow web page.

Innovating Health for Tomorrow is the result of the Trust’s longstanding partnership with INSEAD to provide management education for healthcare professionals. INSEAD is a Flagship Partner within the Trust’s 2020 strategy and a key component of the Trust’s goal to advance knowledge and innovation in seeking to transform health care systems. The Trust works across the Europe, Middle East and Africa region in making a difference in human health through multiple social impact interventions. Currently within the Trust’s partnership portfolio there are over 70 active programmes run with partner organisations. For more information about the Trust and its activities, please visit

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