EO members are helping to drive the MillionLives.org project, which aims to deliver personal protective equipment to front-line health workers. Written for EO by Molly Nur.
Our body’s natural response to danger is always the same: fight, flight or freeze. Several EO members have banded together and are responding to the COVID-19 crisis with a fight of epic proportions. Their goal is to mitigate the risk to millions of lives around the world. Here’s how.
In early March, when the COVID crisis hit the US, Andy Steggles of EO DC was completing the final part of Harvard Business School’s Owner/President Management (OPM) programme. Harvard shut down the campus, sent students home, and postponed classes and graduation. Before leaving campus, Andy and his fellow students discussed a variety of ways they might help with the many challenges the pandemic brought. They realized their collective global network was their biggest strength and decided to start from there.
After returning home, Andy was in constant contact with several classmates who had similar ideas, some of which had direct connections with factories manufacturing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and others had connections or experience related to various logistical barriers. The lack of sufficient PPE supplies for front-line health workers emerged as the problem the group was best positioned to address. Together, they created a campaign, named their project MillionLives.org, reached out to their network, and started a Go Fund Me campaign. Within a week, the initiative had raised over US$100,000.
Andy’s company, Higher Logic, provides organizations with customer and member engagement software, to allow members or customers to engage and collaborate with each other. While that’s a far cry from manufacturing masks, gloves and goggles, he didn’t need manufacturing capability. Instead, he brought his expertise around large group collaboration as well as his contacts to the MillionLives.org initiative—and other team members brought theirs.
The group moved quickly to respond to medical personnel’s immediate needs starting in six countries—Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico, Nigeria, Paraguay and the United States. These were locations where the MillionLives.org initiative had team members in place, connections, and from where a significant portion of the donations originated.
Currently, the MillionLives.org leadership team includes about 120 people from 33 countries. Although it began with a cohort of HBS students, it quickly expanded. The effort involves several EO members, including Jose Alberto Berrondo, EO Queretaro and Alex Mehedff, EO Rio de Janeiro, in addition to members of the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO), and representatives from other leading institutions. Everyone involved is a business owner, many are entrepreneurs, and all are committed MillionLives.org volunteers.
Focused on the vision of helping to prevent millions of people from becoming infected with the coronavirus, the team developed a clear mission: To source certified PPE materials from major suppliers and deliver them to medical facilities, virus epicentres and strategic distribution centres, with little to no overhead costs.
Operating from the ethos, “#MillionsThatMatter” the MillionLives.org leaders are overcoming numerous logistical, financial and regulatory challenges to move supplies to where they are needed most. Some medical facilities had money, but suppliers were unable to reach them through traditional channels. Some were overwhelmed with offers of masks, gowns, and protective gear, but the offers were either not genuine or the quality of the materials was substandard. Sometimes the supplies simply were not reaching their destinations fast enough to keep up with exponential demand.
In other cases, the taxes incurred on importing PPE-related equipment were overwhelming for facilities that urgently needed more supplies than they ever had before. In other situations, the cost rose dramatically from the original negotiated price, or the supplies had been snatched up by another facility.
One by one, the MillionLives.org team has addressed the problems and found solutions guided by strong ethics, transparency, collaboration and optimizing resource allocation to the best of their ability. They are learning as they go, and each delivery is both a celebration and an opportunity to reflect on and refine the process for the next time.
One by one, the MillionLives.org team has addressed the problems and found solutions guided by strong ethics, transparency, collaboration and optimizing resource allocation to the best of their ability.
MillionLives.org is trying many different approaches. Some of their supplies are purchased, and some are donated. They try to verify standards or certification of materials themselves to ease the burden on hospitals. Sometimes the team moves forward with verbal pricing agreements instead of waiting on written contracts to expedite the process and get the supplies to medical personnel faster. They are trying to deliver supplies directly, reduce risks for the medical facilities, and use donations and donated gear to expedite delivery by accepting payment after the fact and use the funds to buy gear for the next site.
The fact that many on the leadership team are entrepreneurs is no surprise. “Most entrepreneurs are by their very nature, creative, innovative thinkers,” explains Andy. Everyone involved, he elaborates, is doing what they can locally with their own skillset and resources, collaborating with new players, and responding quickly to changing conditions and requirements, all while keeping their focus on the MillionLives.org goal: Expanding the ability to address urgent PPE needs in a variety of settings.
MillionLives.org has accomplished something unbelievable―an international network providing both exceptional service and delivery of large quantities of life-saving supplies, using an all-volunteer model. While much of the world is isolating at home, they are facing and resolving continuous, monumental logistical challenges to deliver life-saving materials during a worldwide pandemic.
Their first shipments arrived at approximately 30 locations in Ecuador, Mexico, Boston, Washington, DC and New York. Since launching the Million Lives initiative on 26 March, they have donated and delivered about 8,000 N95-quality level masks and other PPE items and have about 30,000 more currently en route to hospitals, clinics, first responder organizations, and government agencies around the world.
A Network of Action
So, what exactly is the leadership team of MillionLives.org doing to achieve such success?
- They are leveraging their connections.
- They are using their expertise.
- They are committed to creative problem-solving.
What’s next? Andy says, “We’ve broadened our initial goal and are now working toward raising US$5 million by focusing on donations from global businesses and business leaders. We’re also looking at other areas where we might be able to mitigate the COVID-19 related impact, such as senior living communities or other areas that cater for the most at-risk groups.”
So we ask: What is your expertise? And who could you work with to creatively address some aspect of this crisis? We all matter, and we all can help. You can reach the MillionLives.org project at [email protected]ves.org.