Anthropose: Going beyond on a mission to restore vision

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Anthropose: Going beyond on a mission to restore vision

 

In a world where happiness is measured in materialistic gain and its denizens rushing about to earn a material living, Anthropose breezes in like a gust of fresh air bringing in a flurry of love and compassion in the business scenario of Nepal. With the motto of ‘Get. Give. Change’, this for-profit-social-good company works towards providing cataract surgery to people who cannot afford it.

Started in 2009, Suraj Shrestha recognized and identified the increasing number of people with cataract as a social problem. They created a viable, sustainable and scalable entrepreneurial solution to tackle this problem. For every 10 pairs of Anthropose sunglasses they sell, they donate money to their giving partner, Tilganga Institute of Ophthalmology, to sponsor a cataract surgery for one person in the rural area of Nepal. They made a simple process of buying sunglasses a force of change in someone else’s life.

 

In a glimpse

The name is a literal translation of the Greek word, ‘Anthropos’, which means human being. They added an extra ‘e’ at the end to signify that there has to be something extra, beyond what needs to be done. . According to Suraj Shrestha, the CEO, “We needed something that was more human. It is the extra mile that we need to go. Everything we do is humanely done”.

The logo comprises of three parallel lines of red, blue and white. Red stands for love: the love for the work they do. Blue represents compassion and empathy towards society and community. White symbolizes cleanliness, transparency and responsibility towards not only their business, but also towards their investors, stakeholders, customers and co-founders. It is their belief that it is vital for these three aspects to move in parallel in order to achieve their end goal.

Their sunglasses are of high quality. All of their products are FDA and CE approved. (FDA stands for the Food and Drug Administration, which is responsible for protecting the public health by regulating food, medicinal devices drugs and cosmetic products. CE stands for Conformité Européene, the CE mark on a product declares that it meets the essential requirements of the European health, safety and environmental protection legislation).  Also, the products are drop-ball test approved to ensure its durability and safety.

 

Initial glimmers of the idea

Back in 2009, when Suraj was still doing his undergraduate studies, he came across TOMS, a company that manufactures shoes and in the meantime, has a scheme of ‘one pair of TOMS glasses = sight for one person’ . It was the first business that made him realise that business can be done this way too. This enlightening moment acted as a catalyst in the formation of Anthropose. He says, “I felt this model can be implemented in Nepal. We have our fair share of problems and businesses have always been the one which creates its own resources. Having been a very donor dependent country, Nepal could use this business model to eliminate the problem of donor dependency as well as solve the social problems in the society.”

The main inspiration had materialised when Suraj  was abroad for studies. The negative mind-set people across the border had about Nepal upset them. They used to tell him that nothing actually happens in Nepal, and his patriotism towards Nepal made him take it personally. So he wanted to prove them wrong and started to add layers of reasoning to it.

In 2008, Suraj had already started researching about the pressing social problems in Nepal. He wanted to know about the donor funded projects that were in existence, and he came to know that there were approximately 1100 projects back then. But he also found that these projects were for health, education and rural development. Only one was dedicated for eye care and it was only temporary. To know why it was such a bleak number, he researched further and stumbled upon Tilganga Institute of Ophthalmology, one of the leading innovative hospitals in the world for eye health care. There he came across an atrocious statistics of people who end up losing their eye sights due to cataracts. According to the statistics, out of the 95,765 blind people in Nepal, 62.2% are caused by cataracts. Out of all the operations done in Nepal, only 35% of operations are done on Nepali citizens. The rest 65% of surgeries are done on foreigners. The problem was that a lot of Nepalis could not afford the surgery. The price bracket of a cataract surgery is about Rs.7, 000 to Rs.12,000, depending on the location the operation is performed.

So he added the first layer of reasoning by thinking of solving the cataract irony in Nepal. The irony of people not being able to afford life-changing cataract surgeries despite world class services being available in Nepal. This is one of the reasons they saw the need to change the dynamics of the country’s eye care system, which the government was not addressing at all. Suraj then got an idea of selling sunglasses and using the profits to pay for the cataract surgeries.

By the time, Suraj was part of Sasto Deal team. The Team had the experience of working in Nepali market. So he pitched the idea to his team. They liked it and have been working together ever since. “They had the problem, we had the solution. There was a disparity between solution and problem. But there was no bridge to bring the problem and solution together. So we wanted to establish Anthropose as a bridge,” says Suraj.

The problem of brain drain added in another layer of reasoning. They believed that if they were able to create a business that would solve this problem, it can flourish into something bigger and could be a good example for youth. This, he believed, could provide multiplier effect to change the mind-sets of people who were thinking nothing can happen in Nepal.

 

Building partnership

To materialize it however, partnership with Tilganga Institute of Ophthalmology was essential, and they secured it in a three minute meeting with Dr Sanduk Ruit. “It was difficult in getting touch with him,” he recalls, “We wanted to talk to him in person. But the timing was always off. He is a very busy man. But finally, he agreed to meet us.” They went in, they pitched idea, they explained the problem and what they want to do about it, he listened to it, he grasped the idea and  he assured he would do whatever is in his powers, and finally, that kick started the venture.

 

Viewing the Good Samaritans

With a team of five, they started working on it. The team comprises of Suraj Shrestha, the CEO and founder of Anthropose, Sodhan Manandhar the CTO and co-founder, Amun Thapa and Subal Chitrakar, the co-founders, and Ramesh Sharma Chaulagai, the Chief Procurement Officer and Co-founder.

Although Sasto Deal also has the same core team, Anthropose is not a part of it and works as a separate entity. The two businesses are different in terms of their visions, working styles and objectives. But they do share the same office space.

 

Inspecting the obstacles

They’ve found it hard to explain the difference between a social business and the CSR activities of a ‘for-profit company’. The team says, “Maybe it’s because this model is relatively new, there are few companies that function this way in Nepal. The challenge is to make people understand the difference and why ‘for-profit-socially-good’ companies are important.”

Since their products are designed in Nepal while the production base had to be in China, the challenges were imminent. First, they had to find good manufacturers when they started. They visited China and stayed for one and half months. During the time, they studied different factories to find the best alternative since choosing the right one would benefit them in the long run. Second, it was difficult for them to communicate the design in terms of value. To tackle this issue, they have established a direct contact with the designers and the manufacturers. Suraj speaks Chinese and that has made it easier for communication.

They’ve also realised that a lot of Nepalis do not trust Nepali products.

Despite these challenges, they still chose to soldier on due to glimpses of endearing and satisfying moments they encounter doing what they do. One of such instances was when they were able to operate their first patient with their funds and she could see after suffering for years due to cataracts. Suraj remembers her saying “sawarga dekhe maile” (“I saw heaven.”).

 

The Site for sore eyes; Camp details

In the past two years, whatever they learnt about product development and the challenges they faced have been more or less been of a social economical nature.

Their cataract operation camps got cancelled three times for a year and a half. The challenge is when the camp gets halted, they need almost three months of window period for the next camp to cover up for that particular eye camp. The camp was cancelled the first time due to the constitution announcement which caused political instability in Gorkha. Then they had to find another place to conduct the camp. When they found another place, they advertised for three months on their arrival in the villages. They then had to screen the people to see how many surgeries they should prepare for. So they set out their second eye camp, but this one got cancelled too due the earthquake.

However, the third camp was a success. Now, they are planning to set up another camp in the next few months.

 

Bringing Change

Anthropose encourages new startups to be established with similar model of a ‘for-profit-socially-good’ company and build an industry with healthy competition and practices. They believe, “In the initial phase when there is the birth of a good revolutionizing idea which aims to change lives for the better, companies or startups should not take it as a competition but should embrace it and collaborate to bring about a positive change in the industry and society.”

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Guest Wednesday, 08 April 2020