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  • John Wood

How to Save Lives, From Your Sofa

Dear Friends Around the World:

At a time of a global crisis few people other than science fiction writers could have imagined, we have witnessed both the best of humanity, and the worst. On the dark side, we’ve seen failure of leadership, finger-pointing, blame-mongering, counterfeit products, and people stealing PPE from hospitals for resale. On the bright side, we’ve seen heroic and selfless service by millions who are on the front lines; the mass mobilization of volunteers in Britain, the likes of which have not been witnessed since WWII; and some shining examples of companies not afraid to step up, be bold in the face of crisis and leverage their positions to help communities even while their own businesses face precarious futures.

Four recent headlines that caught my eye:

- A Hong Kong-based tech CEO who refused to cancel their summer internship program even though it’s not yet clear how to make it work at a time of crisis. His theory - “So many people helped me when I was young, so I can’t use this as an excuse to not do the same for this generation”.

- To help children adapting to home schooling, whether they are in Jakarta or Juneau, Room to Read has published over 200 of our UNESCO-award winning children's book titles online. My personal favorite is a title from Indonesia featuring Bubu the Ambulance.

- We’ve seen active-wear brands using their power to inspire, plus some cold hard cash, to help people with both their physical and mental health.

ANNOUNCING OPERATION MASK-LIFT! We’ve also been inspired by the number of individuals who are getting creative and giving their time, money and passion on front-line projects that show immediate benefit. As one example, Amy and I launched Operation Mask-Lift and have been overwhelmed with how quickly it has turned into a global effort.

Jacobi Hospital, Bronx, New York - courtesy Kana Kimoto, one of our "final mile" champions in New York

Just three weeks ago, Amy heard from a paediatrician in Oregon that he had been ordered to make one mask last for two weeks. Another friend told us that his sister, a nurse in Chicago, had been told that the N95 masks were for use only by the doctors, and that she should tie a bandana around her face. We quickly channeled our disbelief and outrage into a call to arms to our immediate network, offering to source high-quality masks from across the border in China in order to send them directly to front-line medical staff around the world.

Operation Mask-Lift has gotten off to a staggeringly-fast start. We aimed to get four key factors right from the beginning:

1. A reliable supply chain of trusted manufacturers

2. Guaranteed access to the very limited airplanes flying across the Pacific

3. An “Adopt a Hospital” funding stream that allows individuals to sponsor and donate life-saving masks to their local hospitals and health care workers

4. On-the-ground volunteers who work "the final mile" and make sure the masks are where they need to be

Photo courtesy Michael Scissons, one of our strongest collaborators and a true PPE hero, connecting donations and need all over North America

Since our first shipment of 50 masks (to our friends in Oregon!) went out we haven’t looked back. Here is Operation Mask-Lift by the numbers:

- 160,000 masks now in the hands of front-line health care workers

- 50,000 masks “in transit” and landing within the coming days

- 31,000 more masks on order for delivery in the next week. There are our first donations to Italy and Spain, two wonderful countries where we've been blessed to travel.

- Over $350,000 in funds raised. This includes >$50,000 for our Neediest Cases Fund, which sends masks to poor hospitals, nursing homes and community organizations that are helping vulnerable populations but not blessed with large resources and sponsorship

- Several hundred people involved in 12 countries as donors and volunteers

- A zero overhead operation with every penny spent on what’s important!

It's Time to Mobilize!

As I wrote about in my book on Purpose, most of us reach a point where we want to move ‘from success to significance’. If we show people solutions to problems and how they fit in, they can quickly be galvanised to take action. We will one day look back on these epochal times and ask ourselves, “What did I do? Was it enough?” It seems clear that now is a time to think big, take risks, and to commit our time, treasure and talent to help the world get through this crisis. Now is the time to find or to amplify our purpose. Tiger King and that warm indent on your sofa will still be there waiting for you next month! Stay strong, stay safe, stay sane, and please look out for others!


If you’d like to donate to Operation Mask-Lift, or know an organization in need of PPE, please drop Amy and me a line: and

An ecstatic Dr. Shirley Chen in Kirkland, WA who had been using the same N95 masks for weeks while caring for COVID-19 patients. Masks funded through crowdfunding by a group of Columbia/Berkeley MBA alums.

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