Interview Ahimsa Forum: Kevin O’Brien by Diego Cortez

Interview Ahimsa Forum: Kevin O’Brien by Diego Cortez

Kevin spent 17 years doing for profit work in the USA and 9 years doing development work in Southeast Asia. These are different ventures but in his opinion share thing in common, for example the drive to maximize revenues and reduce expense. He admitted being someone that loves making money, and also helping the poor. Kevin finds himself blessed to have a way of doing both on his current mission, which is to build sustainable hospitals and schools in southeast asia.

Kevin works with the Handa Foundation (TheHandafoundation.Org), which is a good source for volunteer opportunities, they are open to listen to people that want to help.

Can you tell us about the work you have been doing with the Handa Foundation?

In 2008 the Japanese philanthropist I work for was spending about three million USD to provide about six million USD of service to the poor, with the extra coming from Global Fund support at a large free adult hospital in Phnom Penh. This level of impact had existed for more than ten years prior to my arrival. Today these projects continue to receive about 3 million USD from Japan, but have new sources of income that now total about 15 million USD per year. In this period, the staff count increased from 360 to 880. Today the projects include facilities in the capital such as the free adult hospital, seven clinics that generate profit for the free hospital, an orphanage, and the country’s largest English language university. Additionally, facilities have been added in the province of Battambang including the country’s largest trauma hospital, a medical center, a model farm and a sports center. The country of Cambodia is growing rapidly, and the expansion described above has come predominantly from the creation of for profit businesses that generate revenues to support the expansion of free services given to the poor.

What would you say were the drivers to such a big career change?

I found that my life was lacking meaning. The discussions of people I was surrounded often superficial and money related. Reading the book of Luke was a big milestone, and I also would say that my faith supported me through the process. When the opportunity came to start with the management of a hospital, I had no doubt it was the right thing to do.

What are the learnings and recommendations from an American that moved to Cambodia?

I believe it is important to be humble and mindful of the impact you are bringing to the local people. It is common for foreigners to have the vision of themselves as the “hero” from abroad and undermine the difficulties or negative impacts that might be harmful for the native. You should evaluate a net sum of both positive and negative impacts.

 In addition, it is important to have a support group and develop true friendships, even better if it is possible to be with people unrelated to your professional activities. For me, it was my group of friends for sports. You must be aware of different motivations people might have before getting associated with you, either by the nature of your work or the money that was coming into the country from donors.

What kind of help would be required to support or improve your projects?

Certainly, the In-kind donations of medical supplies or equipments are always welcome. In addition, find “long-term” volunteers that can come for 6 months or an year. It is better when those people have it planned in their careers and come prepared for a longer period of time, which involves them making some sacrifices. There is a really need to doctors and professionals from the developed world that could plan a sabatical year, willing to accept a pay cut, to have an experience abroad.

What is your recommendation for the youth ( the new generation) ?

Consider to come to developing contries in order to have a job there. I recommend you to first have a few (5-10) years of experience and then bring something to contribute within their area of expertise, for example training nurses, or doctors. Otherwise there is the option to be a language teacher.

World in about you vision to the world in 30 years from now ?

In 30 years, I see the developed world full of individuals who are greatly disconnected from their local communities and instead connected by their ideologies and preferences by particular national or even global virtual communities that exist online. Because of this realignment, I ponder what kind of day to day life and health and traditions these individuals will have if their connection to other human beings is primarily through an electronic gadget. I would have to imagine movements will subsequently arise that are designed to reconnect people to their local communities, and these will seem revolutionary! During this same time, I also see the developing world moving further online but expect the local communities in more rural areas will continue to involve close knit families. The world is surely getting a lot smaller and I pray this increased connection will bring more bad than good, as people will have the chance to collaborate on a greater scale and at a faster speed – for worthy causes.

What about your role as Ahimsa ambassador?

Ahimsa is a way to break down the walls and promotes the conversation, especially with people that think differently, and value different things. It certainly challenged me and helped me to understand the world better, and I hope it keeps growing.

2018-01-30T09:57:09+00:00October 30th, 2017|Leaders|