In celebration of 10 years of service at MedShare, Co-Founders, A.B. Short and Bob Freeman sat down to reflect on the memories, milestones and events that shaped who MedShare is today.
What was your initial vision for MedShare and how has that evolved over the past 10 years?
A.B.: Neither Bob nor I have background in healthcare or international aid, but we both came into this with extensive nonprofit skills. Our vision emerged from conducting thorough due diligence and verifying that there was indeed surplus in the healthcare industry and also a great need internationally. Every hospital that we approached wanted to be on board with what we were doing. That confirmed that we needed to push ahead. The other thing we did was establish a Board that would take ownership of the vision and be the driving force for the growth and development of the organization, and I believe that was a crucial decision in the fast growth of MedShare.
BOB: A.B. and I were fortunate enough to start Cafe 458 together and have always shared and lived by three common of values: Hope, Transformation and Dignity. I believe those values carried over to MedShare. And we also had two basic rules when starting MedShare: We had to have fun and pay attention to our families.
Was there an “ah-ha” moment or event that triggered you to move forward in starting MedShare?
A.B.: On the operational side, we met with Dr. Bill Foege, now Senior Fellow with The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. That was pivotal in shaping the values and focus of MedShare. At that lunch, he stressed the importance of shipping medical items that the recipient needed, rather than simply shipping what supplies we had. This changed our operations to focus on using technology; meaning using a web-based inventory that allows the recipient to choose what medical products goes into their shipment.
BOB: I would say a huge moment was when Glen Reed came on our Board. He was a partner at King & Spalding who focused on healthcare, and he set up meetings for us with hospital CEOs in Atlanta where we got the opportunity to tell our story and vision for MedShare.
Did you foresee MedShare getting to the point it is now – a $3 million organization shipping almost 500 medical containers to 78 countries?
A.B.: Here’s the funny answer to that question: I stood up at a Board retreat a couple years back and said, “I never dreamed we would be where we are today.” Then Bob Freeman, jokingly said “I thought we would be farther along than this.”
BOB: We really weren’t thinking about the lofty possibilities, because in the beginning it was a question of survival and sustainability.
A.B: But to add to that; in any entrepreneurial effort, you have to take risks. If it was a sure bet, then everybody would be doing it.
In the 10 years MedShare has been in operation, what has been your favorite MedShare moment or story?
BOB: From my standpoint, when new board members joined MedShare, it always reminded me “this is why we do what we do”. For example, when Tom Asher joined, he couldn’t stop talking about how great our operations are and how special MedShare is because we are not providing services, but providing materials around the world with very challenging issues to overcome.
A.B.: A few things stick out in my mind. One story is about Dr. Kirker from Chicago, who, at the request of the President of Niger, went back to the hospital where he served years ago in the Peace Corp to bring it back to life. Through Dr. Kirker’s efforts, he found MedShare and we partnered with him to get this hospital operating again. It’s a beautiful story of how you don’t work or succeed in isolation. You succeed in partnerships and in joining forces to make a difference.
Another powerful story occurred in our third year of operations. A doctor from Africa was touring MedShare with a Board member. She reached down and picked up a little plastic piece that opens up breathing and said, “If I’d had this a few weeks ago, I could have saved that baby’s life.” That reminded me of the life-saving potential these supplies have once in the hands of a skilled physician.
Can you share some of those defining moments or events that really shaped the growth of MedShare?
BOB: In our second year, we were struggling financially and went to a major local foundation for help. We had all the right people from our Board with us, and told them our story. They listened and ended up giving us a $250,000 grant to get us “over the bridge” and said don’t come back asking for more.
AB: I remember in December 2000, we were almost out of money and had a Board meeting to discuss it. One of our Board members stood up and said, “I’m willing to take out a line of credit on my house to get us through this period of time because I believe in the organization that much, and I believe that we’re going to make it.” That blew me away. I mean, how many organizations have a board that committed to the mission? Luckily, this sacrifice wasn’t necessary, because we got the grant.
What is the “big picture” that you see for MedShare?
BOB: Our first future challenge is to continue in our expansion plan. The second challenge and goal is to grow during these tough economic times. Not just survive, but to grow.
A.B.: There’s a lot MedShare is looking at for the future. We are in the process of identifying regions around the world to focus on and be more proactive in developing relationships with other NGOs that are on the ground doing quality work in those countries where we want to work. We are also open to having regional representatives in those specified regions that help do evaluations, deal with customs and such. We’ve found that biomedical equipment is a huge need overseas, and plan to place a heavier emphasis on more sophisticated biomed staffing and providing additional support on the equipment once we send it overseas. Our future holds more formal partnerships with corporations and nonprofits, because success in making a difference comes from joining forces.