I have a B.E in Electronics & Communications engineering from NIT Trichy (1977) and a M.S in Computer Science from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale (1984).
I have learnt Carnatic Music for a few years and also co-founded the San Francisco Bay Area Light Music group ‘Pallavi’ in 1996. We have performed in over 30 events in several languages all over California.
My Uncle Mr. P. Balasubramaniam was a Rotarian and he used to volunteer at the Sankara Eye Hospital, Coimbatore. He was after me and my brother K. Sridharan since 1996 to start the Sankara Eye Foundation, USA (SEF) to support the Hospital in Coimbatore. I was very reluctant as we did not have much time and I thought that our friends and others would run away from us if we start asking them for donations. We stopped calling our uncle, as he will surely ask about starting Sankara Eye Foundation. Uncle was persistent and will not let it go. Sridharan visited the Hospital in 1997 and came back very inspired and we decided to start SEF. Sridharan’s neighbor Ahmad Khushnood Qazi of Lahore is a CPA and he helped with the 501c-3 papers and the three of us founded SEF in May 1998.
In the first year we hand wrote personal appeals to around 100 of our friends and we raised around $8,000. We organized our first fundraiser on April 3, 1999. It was a multi-lingual light music show by Pallavi at the Foothill College Theater in Los Altos and we raised around $19,000.
The number of free eye surgeries at our Coimbatore Hospital started increasing from 8,000 in 1998 to 15,000 in 1999, 22,000 in 2000 and this is when our volunteer Rajiv Chamraj proposed a big vision – Eradicate curable blindness in India by the year 2020 – Vision 20/20 by 2020. At that time I used to read Swami Vivekananda’s teaching every day to pull through every day at work. I was not motivated by Electronics or Software and I was doing it just to make a living. Coming back to the big vision for SEF, even though it was much beyond us, I thought about what Swami Vivekananda said, “Every human being is divine and can do anything and everything. Think big, even if you are a thief, don’t be a petty thief, be a big thief” and that motivated me and I accepted the big goal. “Ignorance is bliss” really worked for me as I had no idea what it takes to build a Sankara Eye Hospital and others, both in Sankara USA and Sankara India, knew much more than me.
I was like a young child who wanted the candy and would not accept anything else. Others were not ready to accept the big vision as they thought that it was a very big step for the organizations and Murali had no idea. I was very disappointed but would not let it go. I threatened that SEF, USA will work with other service providers in India and build 20 eye hospitals by the year 2020. They said that I was arrogant. The way my uncle persisted in us starting the SEF, USA, I was adamant about “Vision 20/20 by 2020”.
It took some time for SEF and Sankara Eye Care Institutions (SECI India) to accept the big goal but all of us are on board now.
When the vision is big and if the work is genuine, support does come and it did. We now run eight Eye Hospitals in India and 150,000 + free eye surgeries were performed by these Hospitals in 2013. Our next Hospital (ninth) is coming up in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh and will be inaugurated in October 2014. We have also purchased land in Jodhpur, Rajasthan and Indore Madhya Pradesh for our next Hospitals and we are also looking at Chhattisgarh and Bihar. Our goal is to build at least 20 hospitals in India by the year 2020 and play a big role in eradicating curable blindness.
SEF has now performed close to 1.18 million free eye surgeries and it has become the largest free eye care provider in the world. A key part of our work is self-sufficiency – we expect our hospitals to become self-sufficient by also attracting paying patients. We have a 80:20 model where 80% of the patients are provided services free of cost and we bring these patients from rural India to our hospitals and they are poor. The other 20% of the patients are those who can afford to pay. Out of the eight hospitals in Coimbatore, Krishnankoil, Guntur, Bangalore, Shimoga, Anand, Ludhiana and Rishikesh, two of them – Bangalore and Guntur have become self-sufficiency and they don’t our support from here for recurring services.
SEF is still mostly volunteer run and is supported by over 50,000 donors all over the USA and the collective efforts are paying off. SEF received the top 4-star rating from Charity Navigator for sound fiscal management, commitment to accountability and transparency. We also won the IMC Ramakrishna Bajaj National Quality Performance Excellence trophy in the health care category.
Even though our uncle literally forced us to start the Sankara Eye Foundation, now we realize that this is the best thing that has happened to us. We have made so many friends and that has enriched our lives beyond imagination. Initially I used to think that I was making a difference in the lives of our dear visually handicapped brothers and sisters but now it is dawning on me that I am the biggest beneficiary. I am so fortunate and grateful for this golden opportunity.
Let us, together, eradicate curable blindness – Vision 20/20 by 2020
Jyot se jyot jalate chalo; Prem ki Ganga bahate chalo; Raha mein aye jo din dukhi; Sabko gale se lagate chalo; Prem ki Ganga bahate chalo.
In order to get more information on how to join us on this noble missión, please visit: http://www.giftofvision.org/