As we reached Navalbhai & Hiraba Eye Hospital at Bareja, about 21 kms away from Ahmedabad to meet Dharmendra, it was difficult not to notice the energy Dharmendra exuberated at the hospital and be infected by it! Dharmendra promptly took us to his office which seemed to be bustling with activities which he controlled with precision and swiftness. He cheerfully shared his journey from Orissa to Gujarat.
This sensitive, 20-year-old boy from Orissa had barely finished college when he decided that he wanted to pursue an academic program on community health at Vellore. It was after this that he had a chance meeting with an alumnus of EDII who told Dharmendra about this specialised course of NGO management. Dharmendra realized that this course was extremely focussed and would help give further direction to his aspiration to bring about a change in society through health.
Living up to the quote that good things come in small packages, Dharmendra is ever smiling, empathetic and also a financial whiz that has made his present assignment not only sustainable but profitable. His parents were also supportive of the idea and encouraged him to join EDII’s course. He was lucky to get 100% scholarship by SIDBI to fund his course. He recalls how the rich curriculum ensured that the class visited over 20 organizations during their one year term. This broadened their horizon and helped the students acquire a better understanding of the development sector.
It was during his internship that Dharmendra studied Blind People’s Association’s recently launched eye hospital at Bareja. Dharmendra shared the project evaluation presentation with the BPA management and emphasized on both its social and economic value creation. He suggested a complete paradigm shift to a business model that would make the venture self-sustainable. He also offered a plan to develop a Save Sight fund to make the hospital sustainable. An inclusive approach was also suggested where people with other disabilities would also be covered through the community based rehabilitation approach.
Impressed with the presentation, BPA offered Dharmendra an opportunity to develop the Bajera initiative. Dharmendra recalls that a total of 5 staff members provided service to 10 villages, and conducted 500 surgeries annually. He realized that technology upgradation could increase this number multi-fold. He proposed that modern PHACO machines be introduced but the management was initially sceptical about the idea. Dharmendra rented a machine and supporting technology and conducted a pilot run and proved the financial and technological viability of the project. This also increased the confidence of the funding agencies as well as patients on seeing the results after surgery!
Dharmendra acknowledges the vital role that EDII faculty played as mentors and guides even after the students left the campus. The constant support, linkages and encouragement from the alumni left a great impact. Under EDII’s partnership with Oklahoma University’s Economy Empowerment Program, three participants were selected across India. Dharmendra was one of them. He visited USA and took great benefits from their Community Hospital. He studied the state-of-the-art technology, the quality control management, hygiene, patient-doctor relationship facilities at their community hospital and tried to replicate it in India. His entrepreneurial mind is now struggling to find ways to get the US made machines at a lower cost to India. A new surgical wing has come up under his supervision and has both laminar and modular design, making these facilities equal to national standards and become a role model to others. The Bareja hospital has been awarded for the best quality of eye care services.
To his amusement, with no formal training in medicine, Dharmendra is popularly known as Dr. Jena courtesy his knowledge. He sits on the board of Vision 2020, Association of Community Ophthalmologists of India and is very active in the Gujarat chapter. He is also in the Quality Control Protocol Development team. Dharmendra admits that his training in project planning at EDII has been extremely useful in his work life.
NGO management had instilled in him an understanding to collate issues even in the periphery. He did not restrict his focus on blindness and eye care only but addressed all kinds of disabilities. He used his understanding of Self Help Groups (SHGs) in a unique way. Inclusive involvement of persons from cross disabilities in the SHGs has left a great impact and this model is being replicated in other parts of the country.
Married to a local Gujarati girl who shares his passion in healthcare, Dharmendra looks content. His two children are smart and lovable and add to his own cheerful temperament. Despite his busy life, Dharmendra is pursuing his Ph D from Raffel University after adding a MA in Sociology to his profile. Very unassuming and constantly wanting to learn more we share his achievements of making this venture become truly profitable despite a no profit motive. The turnover in last 10 years has risen from ₹5 Lakhs to ₹5 Crores. From staff strength of 5, he has expanded to 93 and a reach of 10 villages to a 1000. His vision centre approach is leading Ahmedabad to be a blind free region. He is soon to launch a Doctor’s Fellowship Course in PHACO Surgery and Optometry College which will introduce a four year course.
Dharmendra lauds the efforts of EDII in continuing to bring the academia and corporates together with their students, even after they leave their nest. He leaves a message to budding social entrepreneurs and students that use all your energy creatively and develop your lateral thinking abilities. Meet all your challenges with conviction and never give up.