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Mixed Emotions about Living in Emergency


As I’ve written before, movies are a powerful way to tell a nonprofit’s story. Some motivate you to take action. Others leave you feeling inspired as hope overcomes adversity. I’m still trying to sort out how I feel about Living in Emergency: Stories of Doctors Without Borders, Mark Hopkins’s new documentary about the Paris-based humanitarian group, Doctors without Borders.

On the one hand the documentary presents us with the well-known inspirational story that the New York Times summed up as “physicians meet the consequences of war, epidemic and natural disaster one patient at a time.” This is the story we’ve come to know over the years: doctors overcoming extreme adversity to be among the first on the scene to administer medical coverage in times of war or natural disaster.

But this movie also tells a story all too common to many nonprofit organizations—demand for services far exceeding available resources—and, in this case, human limitations. We follow the challenges of four young doctors, primarily in Liberia, a country just recovering from a brutal civil war, and the Congo, where strife is still ongoing, as they confront not only disaster relief but two countries essentially bereft of any basic health infrastructure. This is not just a temporary emergency but a systematic breakdown. Despite the heartbreaking scenes of people desperate for basic health service, we see the group ultimately pull out of these two assignments in a realization that they are beyond their resources and capabilities.

Short-term medical attention versus long term health care. What a terrible choice to have to make.

Bob.jpgThe preceding is a guest post Bob Ottenhoff,  Chief Executive of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy. With an entrepreneurial spirit, strong technology focus, and a quest to make an impact in the world, Bob has the ability to take an organization and lead it into strong performance, sustainability, and industry leadership.

Topics: Just Because