‘I didn’t set out to become an entrepreneur. I saw a problem and wanted to change things.’ Suraj Shrestha, CEO and founder of Anthropose, could have easily taken over the family business if he wanted to. He could have taken up any stable profession. Instead, he chose an unconventional path and founded Anthropose because it was something that he believed in.
While studying in the United States in 2014, inspiration struck Suraj Shrestha when he learned about TOMS, a for-profit company with the slogan ‘with every product you purchase, TOMS will help a person in need.’ Back to Nepal, on visiting the Ministry of Finance, Suraj Shrestha realized two things. First of all, he realized that most of our money was coming from foreign donations. Secondly, there wasn’t much investment in eye health at all. 200,000 people were visually impaired and the available treatments were straight out of their affordability range. Thus, came the idea for Anthropose, a for-profit company that provides free cataract surgery to a person in need in the rural Nepal for every 10 pairs of eyeglasses sold.
Anthropose wanted to collaborate with Tilganga Institute of Ophthalmology and Dr. Sanduk Ruit to ensure the quality of the services provided. They couldn’t get in touch with Dr. Ruit at first but Suraj Shrestha finally pitched the idea for Anthropose in a two and a half minutes meeting with Dr.Ruit. Their purpose of changing lives got a definite direction after Dr. Ruit embraced the idea as inspiring and necessary.
The team realized that making an impact on the society was even harder than making a profit. First of all, Suraj Shrestha was faced with a conundrum of teaming up with people who shared the same value system as the business demanded. To ensure this, he made sure to sit down with every potential employee to get them know better and try to judge if their aspirations aligned with the business’s purpose. It was difficult for the idea to grow financially in the beginning. People tended to approach better to the social cause but skeptics doubted if the idea would work. It took a great deal of convincing. ‘I took an original Ray Ban and asked the people to find the difference between my line of sunglasses and the Ray Ban. I asked them to throw Anthropose made sunglasses to convince them.’ shares Suraj Shrestha. Advertising was another issue. As a business that aimed for returns not measured by profits, Suraj Shrestha didn’t want to approach media to promote himself or his company. They decided to go to colleges and talk to people directly, tying with various student bodies.
Despite all odds, the immense support from the customers has encouraged the team to continue in their endeavors. Anthropose has managed to provide 47 cataract surgeries till date. They plan to provide a total of 600 surgeries this fiscal year. As for the future, they aim for a change driven image and aspire to change how people shop for sunglasses. Suraj Shrestha and his team believe that budding social entrepreneurs should have a data-driven strategy, be wise about things and definitely try to balance the business aspect and the social impact.