Seva Foundation's history of Compassion in Action
In 1978, after working with the World Health Organization (WHO) to end smallpox in India, Dr. Larry Brilliant (currently President, Skoll Global Threats Fund), and his wife Girija Brilliant, a public health specialist, published an article entitled Death of a Killer Disease. It was a personal account of their decade in Asia, first as youthful travelers, then as spiritual seekers, and eventually as part of WHO's successful smallpox eradication team.
They concluded the article with an appeal to readers to find the compassion and understanding to support international health programs to benefit those struggling with poverty.
Readers were moved, and soon $20,000 of donations arrived in Larry and Girija's mailbox — with the first $5,000 coming from not-yet-famous computer inventor, Steve Jobs.
An Eclectic Rolodex
Inspired by the supportive response, the Brilliants convened a conference of friends and colleagues to consider what to do next now that smallpox had been eradicated — how could they best be of service?
Using their personal Rolodex of health professionals and cultural activists, the Brilliants invited an eclectic group that included the World Health Organization’s Dr. Nicole Grasset, spiritual teacher Ram Dass, and Berkeley activists Wavy Gravy and Jahanara Romney.
The Sight Program is Launched
Dr. Grasset introduced the group to Dr. G. Venkataswami, a retired eye surgeon in India known as "Dr. V" who was just setting out to fulfill his vision of making cataract surgery as "ubiquitous as McDonalds," and therefore affordable to the poor. That was the beginning of Seva's partnership in the high-volume eye clinic that would become the internationally known Aravind Eye Care Systems.
Since then, Seva-supported programs and partners have helped over three million people to see again through affordable cataract surgeries. In just the past year, Seva's Sight Program has provided over one million people with eye care services worldwide.
Native American Program
Seva's work with Native Americans began in 1982, when we helped establish the Porcupine Clinic on the Pine Ridge Reservation — the first Native American operated health clinic in the country.
Seva launched the Diabetes Talking Circles, a highly effective training that helps Native people develop self-managed strategies for diabetes prevention and treatment.
In partnership with the Centers for Disease Control, Seva has brought the Diabetes Talking Circle model to over 75 tribal sites and has trained nearly 600 health care professionals serving Native populations across the United States.
Today, Seva's Native American Community Health Program builds sustainable health programs focused on food justice and the prevention of diabetes.