Shakti: Combating Blindness, Empowering Women
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Earlier this year, CBI collaborated with key partners to launch an exciting new initiative to address the severe shortage of eye health professionals in remote, low-income regions.
The “Shakti” initiative offers a self-sustaining business model for reducing preventable blindness by bringing vital eye-screening personnel and technology literally to the doorsteps of people in remote, rural areas. It achieves this by training teams of women technicians who go door-to-door in villages to conduct vision screenings using a smartphone-based screening survey. If needed, these technicians also dispense eyeglasses and make referrals for follow-up treatment.
“Shakti could be a game changer in advancing CBI’s mission by dramatically increasing vision screenings among the most vulnerable, underserved people,” says Reena Chandra Rajpal, CBI’s executive director. “It also creates pathways to prosperity for the women vision screeners of Shakti, which means ‘power’ in Hindi.”
At the heart of Shakti is Dr. Shroff’s Charity Eye Hospital (SCEH), which recruits, trains and equips the women vision screeners, and serves as the main operational and logistical partner. Students in SCEH’s Certified Ophthalmic Paramedic Program served as Shakti’s very first screening team during Phase 1.
“In a relatively short time frame, this talented team of young women screened 2,841 people who otherwise would have little to no eye care,” says Umang Mathur, MD, Shroff’s executive director.
The “brains” behind Shakti is the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater chapter of Enactus, a global student/business organization dedicated to entrepreneurial social action. The savvy team of UW-Whitewater students designed the self-sustaining, scalable business model that literally will “power” the Shakti initiative, so it also can be replicated in other countries.
In fact, the students won the 2021 Enactus national championship with their groundbreaking work on Shakti, and they will represent the United States at the Enactus World Cup in October.
“Shakti was a big win for the students, and will be an even bigger win for Combat Blindness International and the people it serves,” says CBI board member Choton Basu, who is a professor of information technology at UW-Whitewater as well as the Enactus faculty advisor on campus.
And SAP, a world leader in enterprise software, was a crucial technology partner in Phase 1 through its One Billion Lives social entrepreneurship initiative. SAP technology provided the foundation for the mobile survey used by Shakti screeners in the field.
“The Shroff team, SAP and the UW-Whitewater Enactus students were great partners in this effort,” says Reena. “This is what CBI does best: collaborating with others and experimenting with new ideas to change the status quo when it comes to preventable blindness.”