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First Person: Ron Sconyers

Updated: August 2, 2013 - 3:54 pm

Posted: August 2, 2013

Sconyers, a retired Air Force brigadier general, has worked for the organization since 2004. The organization then had four employees and a budget of $750,000. Now it has 20 employees and a budget of $10 million.

On the mission

We are an international nonprofit that is focused on helping people help themselves. Our core emphasis is training local medical professions in high-impact areas of health care. By doing that we enable communities in developing countries to really have access to care services that people in the U.S. take for granted. I joined in February 2004.

People who retire from the military have the opportunity to join a defense contracting business. Instead, I was looking for something that had the same sense of core values that the military has. I was interested in working for a company where it's not all about you, but about others. I saw that in the non-profit community. At the end of the day, after working at Physicians for Peace, I go home every single night knowing we impacted someone's life. The most difficult part of this job is knowing there is so much need and not enough resources to meet the need. I have a staff of 20 that works hard, is likeminded, committed and passionate about helping others.

On the disability rehabilitation program

We have a program called Walking Free, which is an amputee rehabilitation program that was started in Turkey by our founder, Dr. Charles Horton. He was asked to come to Turkey to help with a problem created in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. Primarily children were losing limbs due to mines and gas attacks in the war. The program was started in the early 2000s and has grown tremendously.

Physicians for Peace is one of the leading organizations internationally that trains prosthetists, people that work with prosthetics. We partner with other organizations around the world to train people how to do this. As we speak, the ribbon is being cut on a brand-new facility in Haiti at St. Vincent's School for Handicapped Children that we helped create before the earthquake. All those people who work there were trained by volunteers.

We work with Old Dominion University School of Physical Therapy, which provides therapists to help train individuals. We don't go into a location and say this is what we do. We go into a location and ask, how can we help you and what are your primary needs? We find a solution to that need and find people who can assist. We are collaborators or partner developers.

On Seeing Clearly program

This program is only in the Philippines. We go into schools and train teachers how to use eye charts with their children. So often a child is labeled as a slow learner when, in fact, they can't see. When the teachers identify a child with vision impairment, we refer them to our trained staff, and they get free glasses donated to us by other organizations. Now you have a child who is happy.

On the future

When I came here in 2004, we had four employees, and today we have a little over 20. Our annual budget was $750,000, and today it's about $10 million. We have an incredible board that recognizes the need to invest in this program. The last 18 months have been transformational for us. One of the first things we did was to bring an outside consultant in to do an impact evaluation of our programs, which allows me to give donors specific information about how successful our programs are. We also brought in new staff that has expertise in public health, development and marketing. We have been able to assemble a group of experts to grow Physicians for Peace.

The drug company Merck has a fellowship program where it selects a dozen senior executives and embeds them in organizations like Physicians for Peace. They stay with us for three months and work on our behalf. They bring certain skills that are beneficial to our company. It's great that Merck recognizes our potential for growth.

On staying motivated

I'm a 75-hour-a-week person. What motivates me is my staff. We have a group of people committed to our core values and passion. I'm also motivated by our volunteers because they give up their time and talent to do work in the field. They do it unselfishly and willingly. They recharge me every day when I talk to them. The other motivators are the donors who see Physicians for Peace for being such a powerful force for empowerment.

On sharing experiences

Her name was Kharisma and she lived in the Philippines. She was training to be a nurse. She had a medical problem and went to a doctor who discovered she had cancer in her leg. Kharisma's leg was amputated from the knee down. At this point in her life, she thought she had no future whatsoever. Physicians for Peace happened to be there training physical therapists and prosthetists on how to help people like her have a productive life. I saw her a year ago. You wouldn't even know she was an amputee. Kharisma is currently a medical transcriptionist.

The organization was able to make a difference in her life. These stories touch me because they show how people's lives are changed. It's a pay-forward attitude that we have. We train people to go out and train others and vice versa.nib