Category Archives: Chairing ReSurge International

A New Gig given the #ImmigrantBan

I had plans to write a totally different post today about the Gig Economy related to some work I had done for my new book, Thriving in the Gig Economy.  But the political events of the past weekend changed my thinking.

I had a Board Meeting on Saturday for ReSurge International, where I am the Chair of the Board. (It is one of my gigs, as a member of the Gig Economy myself.)  The Resurge mission is twofold: we provide reconstructive surgery to the poor around the world, but just as importantly, we train developing world surgeons in the latest techniques of plastic surgery.  By doing this we are building medical and surgical capacity in parts of the world that are in dire need. Our patients, whether treated by our volunteer surgeons or the international partners we train, want to undergo a transformation that will improve life for themselves and their families.  And in that desire they are like many immigrants and refugees; they just want to create a better life for their families.

After our meeting we had a Board dinner at my home.  The wife of one of our newer Directors was a bit late, because, as an international law attorney, she had signed up to help represent immigrants, and so had been called to the San Francisco Airport to help out amidst the chaos.  Her description of her day dealing with the concerned and sometimes traumatized families of the immigration ban victims was riveting and led to many discussions of the immigration ban and the confusion  and angst that now surround it.

However, the other thought I had during these discussions was gratitude for the generosity of this lawyer, and hundreds of others like her across the country,  who just jumped in  to help people caught up in this awful mess.  That's the American spirit the resonates with me.  That's the commitment to helping others that I see so regularly in my Board work with ReSurge.

It struck me that for those who do not have the legal skills to help in this  situation, there are other options.  Protests may make a symbolic point, but they don't help those people in need. There are other ways you can help the people in need.  Several companies have taken strong steps:

You can help by patronizing those companies.  I for one, have always been a regular Uber customer.  Somehow I could never get past the weird pink mustaches that Lyft drivers hung on their grills  in the early days.  Now I will become a Lyft customer as well. And, right after I post this I may go out and get myself one of those new  cascara lattes at Starbucks.

You can also support the international humanitarian NGOs that support people who need help around the world.  Speaking as a Board Chair,  the not for profit world always needs donations, so making a donation will help.  But donations are not just financial, though that is always welcome.  Donations , the saying goes, include treasure ( money ),  talent, and time.  You might want to think about the talent and time part of the equation as a potential new gig.  Organizations differ regarding the type of volunteer expertise they need. One option is to join the Board of one of these organizations.  Skilled professionals with financial, marketing, technology and organizational skills who are willing to donate their time and talents can help advance the mission of these organizations dramatically.

As I  read about the chaos, protests, and signs of ill will toward the US around the world from what seems like an action that is counter to everything our country stands for, I am thankful that I have had the opportunity to help people around the world through my Board Service at ReSurge. Even though our government may seem heartless now, I know there are so many caring Americans who do want to help people around the world, whether they are immigrants, refugees, or impoverished families with no access to surgery. These Americans are making a difference, these Americans are inspiring.  You can be one too.

ReSurge – Transforming lives through Reconstructive Surgery and Training


resurgeHere s a great video of our ReSurge Gala last month.  It was a tremendous success and honor to be in a room filled with so many people passionate about our mission to transform the lives of the poor around the world by not just providing reconstructive surgical care, but more importantly, training the next generation of plastic surgeons in the developing world. It is our Global Training Program that makes us unique.  It is our commitment to advocating the need for Global Surgery, a need that the WHO and the Lancet Commission is now recognizing. Our partners, plastic surgeons, anesthesiologists, pediatricians, nurses, translators and donors, share the satisfaction of knowing we are not just helping people now, but we are building a solution for the future.  Please enjoy this wonderful opportunity for us to celebrate our work.

The Value of Non-Profit Board Service

As the Chair of ReSurge International I attended a great event this week called Board Match put on by The Volunteer Center. The event brings together not for profit organizations looking to add board members and individuals interested in joining a board.  There was one moment in the evening where I surveyed the scene, looking out on a trade show like assembly replete with animated conversations and thought how lucky we are for the wonderful spirit of service there is in America.

Well...yes and no...We were lucky and spoke to several qualified candidates who had done their homework on our organization and truly wanted to see how they might add value to our Board and help advance our mission.  Although I don't know how many of these folks will follow-up and proceed through our board vetting process, I am confident that our time was well spent.

On the other hand, there were several candidates who responded when asked why they wanted to join a board, that " it was the right move for them in their career". As I used to tell my students at USF, if you only take one thing from  the class, take this -- serving on a non-profit board is not about you. Rather it is about 4 things -- to make it easy to remember, it is about the PEGS.

P  is the fact that you need to be passionate about the mission.  ReSurge transforms lives by providing free reconstructive surgery and medical training, so it is very inspirational, and it was easy for me to feel passionate about the mission.  Alternatively, I served on the Board of the American Liver Foundation, a very laudable organization that funds research for liver disease.   Having no personal connection to liver disease, it was hard to be a great ambassador for the cause.  When I contrast the two Boards,my role and my engagement level,  being passionate about the mission makes all the difference.

E is about extrapolating from your experience.  As I said in a Ted Talk at my Haas Business School reunion, with the great training we get in our MBA program, we can offer so much to the non profit sector. But your expertise could come from other areas beyond business, including your own volunteer activities.  We all have many gifts to offer.

G is for the fact that not only do we offer our expertise, but we gain learnings as well.  My first board role was with an emergency homeless shelter for families. Since I was in the human capital space I volunteered to provide some guidance on HR policies and employee benefits.  Based on my private sector experience, I was quick to point out that their sick leave allowance was way too generous.  I was informed that given all the sicknesses the residents, especially the children, were bringing with them, staff really needed all those sick days.  It was a great learning not just about the different workplace cultures, but also how best to make observations - now I ask why first.

S is for supporting governance.  It is an adjustment for some new board members to understand that a board governs, it does not manage.  The staff runs the place, not the board.  The board provides strategic guidance, fiduciary oversight, and supports, selects and evaluates the CEO.  Good governance is like the lighting in a museum; you couldn't see the art without the lights, and when its bad, you notice.  When it is good it is effective, effortless and elegant.

So if you are considering board service, think of the PEGS and be sure your peg fits the opportunity.

Imagine what the #Xfiles and #Resurge International have in common

Perhaps it was not so surprising to have an "out of body" experience when watching the premiere of the new X Files mini-series.  At one point, Dr. Dana Scully is reviewing  patient photos for an upcoming procedure on a child with microtia, a condition where the external ear does not form.  Given the subject matter of the show, the child's head, devoid of ears, looked  like an alien head, reminiscent of alleged images of aliens who landed in Roswell New Mexico in the 50's.

The plot line and alien innuendo aside, kudo's to the X files for shining a light on a condition that is known to very few outside of the world of reconstructive plastic surgery. Microtia is a very real congenital condition that affects people around the world. In certain cultures, these children born without an external ear structure, are shunned because of this deformity.  In some cases their families are shunned, and some parents may suffer from unfounded emotional guilt, feeling responsible for the disfigurement that plagues their child.

Just before watching the show, I had been at a Board meeting for ReSurge International, where we talked about microtia. At ReSurge International , we not only provide surgeries to remedy the condition, but through our Global Training Program, we  teach surgeons in  developing countries how to handle this type of reconstructive plastic surgery.  In fact, in October of 2015 we  convened our first program to train plastic surgeons in Vietnam on the proper way to handle an ear reconstruction.  At one Board meeting, our Consulting Medical Officer, shared photo's from the session, where the attendees were practicing fashioning external ears from potatoes.  Once they mastered that, they would do the same with cartilage.  The results were amazing.

As a result of that training, these surgeons will be able to provide a surgery that will eliminate this deformity for their patients, and in so doing transform their lives.  No longer will they be shunned, no longer will they look like aliens.  That is the power of reconstructive surgery.

Jennifer Lawrence, you are forgiven

Several years ago at my kids' urging, I read The Hunger Games  books and loved them. Not only were they a good read, I saw a wonderful connection for ReSurge.  In the final book, The Mocking Jay, the protagonist, Katniss Everdeen is engulfed by flames during a battle. In her world, Panem, they ease her scars and suffering by replacing her skin, because they can

In our world that doesn't happen.  In fact in most of the developing world, there is no acute care for burns.  Burns kill more women in Africa than HIV and malaria combined, but the first world does not know this.  If untreated, a burn scar will contract; a child burned at the elbow, for example, will never be able to move his joint again.  A plastic surgeon is needed to release the contracture and add in a skin graft to enable mobility. The photo below is an untreated contracture.

Similarly, I have seen  a young woman in Vietnam whose face fused to her chest after a cooking burn went up her torso.  When our doctors released that contracture and she could look into her mother's face once again, there wasn't a dry eye in the recovery room.  Burn victims go though so much, but there can be happy endings.  Although it took years of surgeries, a boy in Bangladesh who once could not move his arms is now  a young man en route to a career in healthcare thanks to ReSurge.


I had visions of a great Public Service Announcement (PSA) that would play before the movie.  Jennifer Lawrence could look solemnly into the camera and say "In Panem, they could replace my skin, but in our world we need reconstructive surgery to transform lives. " The challenge was making the connection to Jennifer for her to see the affinity between ReSurge and the climax of the trilogy.

Through WPO, I was able to get to the President of CAA, Jennifer's agents.  He couldn't make it happen, but he agreed to set me up with the CAA Foundation, the channel through which his stars coordinate philanthropic efforts.  There were several conference calls, and after each one the participants seemed increasingly in favor of the idea.   Finally,  the  foundation was willing to intercede for me with Jennifer's agent.  I begged to be able to talk to the agent directly, since I knew I could sell the concept better then the well intentioned foundation staff could, (CEOs are great sales people after all...) but they assured me they were the ones that had to handle those discussions.

Ultimately, it never happened.  It was not clear to me whether the agent passed on it or whether Jennifer did, but I was crestfallen. Yes, I was asking a celebrity to lend her name to something, but the connection was so explicit, the potential reach so global, and the impact it could have had on the visibility of this issue in the world was so profound, I just thought it would happen.  (CEOs are often optimists too...)

So part of me was not enthusiastic about going to the final movie in The Hunger Games saga. Imagine my surprise, when that moment I had envisioned for so long was nearly left out of the movie.  You got a sense that Katniss was injured, but no mention was made of the massive conflagration that incinerated her skin and the subsequent medical procedure to replace it.  To make sure I was not crazy, I went back and reread the ending after the movie, and yes, my recollection was accurate, but artistic license had eliminated this element of the story for moviegoers.

Ironically, the fact that the directors chose to minimize the burn back story is illustrative of the global burn crisis in reality.  It is a grim subject that is neglected in many ways by the global public heath system.  The pictures aren't pretty and in fact can be quite painful to see, as aptly demonstrated by the first photo in this post.  Many foundations are not interested because burns are not "a disease state."  Building awareness of the issue remains a challenge, despite the fact that every 3 seconds someone is severely burned.

So maybe Jennifer and her agent knew the filmmaker's direction nullified my PSA idea. Maybe it wasn't the cause to which she wanted to attach her name. That said, I am hopeful that at some point we will find a celebrity willing to use the power of his/her stardom to help us combat this global health crisis. Did I mention I am an optimist?

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