How the global health organization grew from makeshift clinics to a state-of-the-art cancer center in rural Rwanda, and what lies ahead (Hint: Still more mountains)
People as enormously successful as Dr. Paul Farmer and Ophelia Dahl often temper discussions of their accomplishments with lines like, "Who could've imagined we'd make it this far?"
So it could initially feel like a discontinuity of character when the intensely modest founders of Partners In Health -- the international organization that directly serves 2.5 million people in 10 countries -- go a little bit Kanye West, offering no such disclaimer. They realized long ago that their organization would become what it is today, because it needed to.
For Farmer and Dahl, it's not about swagger -- it's about meliorism. A belief that the world can be made better by human effort. Before you begin to confuse their resoluteness for arrogance, Farmer will tell you, "It's not rocket science to think out social justice strategies."
If you could go back to the 1980s and tell the twenty-something versions of Dahl (now President and Executive Director of Partners In Health) and Farmer (now Chief Strategy Officer) -- as students treating patients with malaria and tuberculosis in a provisional "clinic" in rural Haiti -- that by 2012 they'd have a pediatric cancer center in Rwanda and be treating HIV in sub-Saharan Africa with higher medication compliance rates than in parts of the United States, they probably would've given you little more than a straight-faced, "Cool."