Lenny Rhine admits that working for a non-for-profit isn’t always easy. “Yeah” he tells me over the phone, “there are times when it’s hard…I can tell you stories about being in Nigeria when the power goes out. I have my war stories.”
Before Lenny started regularly finding himself in third world countries without power, he was a librarian at the University of Florida. Lenny says, “Thirty of my 32 years there I was at the Heath Science Center Library.”
If you meet Lenny the first thing you notice is that he’s not shy. The second thing you notice is that he’s not the kind of guy who can sit still and say he’s having a great time. He’s always moving and thinking, using his arms and his eyes to help tell a story.
So it makes sense when he tells me that he got restless at the library. According to Lenny, “I needed more challenges. I had everything running smoothly…and I had the budget organized. I needed something else.”
That’s when Lenny started to take stock of his needs and his skills. He wanted to give back and make a contribution to society and he also knew a heck of a lot about medical research, journals, websites, and resources. It wasn’t long before Lenny realized what he could do.
“I found outreach a great way to challenge myself, and as a librarian it was easy.” He started talking to people involved with the University of Zambia and together they built the Essential Health Links Gateway—an online list of annotated links and resources health professionals in low-income countries needed but couldn’t necessarily find on their own. Additionally, Lenny helped develop workshops that helped new users navigate the gateway.
As Lenny’s passion for distributing important information to developing countries grew, he retired. This could be the end of Lenny’s story, but he refused to let his skills off to pasture. He wanted to continue sharing what he knew and, chances were he probably wouldn’t be able to sit still at home and say he was having a blast.
That’s when a chance meeting turned into an opportunity Lenny couldn’t say no to. In 2005 Lenny met Barbara Aronson in Brazil who spearheaded a small project called Hinari with the World Health Organization called. Hinari’s primary goal was simple. They wanted to give free access to online medical journals to people in developing countries. That just so happened to match Lenny’s goal.
“I talked to her for two and half hours” Said Lenny. “She encouraged me to help [Hinari] train.” It didn’t take long for Lenny to agree.
“I retired and I got a grant from the Elsevier Foundation [in 2005]…to work on training material for Hinari.” Lenny tells me proudly. The Elsevier Foundation’s grant was dedicated to e-learning training initiatives for Librarians Without Borders which is affiliated with the Medical Library Association.
Lenny joined four other trainers who design and give workshops to medical professionals around the world. Today, Hinari helps 109 countries get free or low cost access to over 7,000 journal titles.
“It’s hard to measure our success,” Lenny explains, “It is hard to quantify the impact of the training.” But it’s not hard to see how an organization like Hinari can be invaluable. If trainers like Lenny can help a doctor get the information he needs quickly and without cost in an environment where internet connections and power are a luxury rather than a second thought lives can be saved and research can be conducted.
That’s why Lenny ends up in countries like Nigeria with his fingers crossed; hoping that there is electricity and the internet is working. Without it he can’t teach effectively.
But non-profit work isn’t all about hoping—it also demands a very strict allocation of resources. “I have a finite amount of money and I have to split it between my travel and my salary. It’s nominal—but it’s something I love. I get a lot out my job, so it’s worth it.”
Lenny continues, “The ability to make a contribution—give back —and travel keeps me going. When I see physicians look at articles they have been [trying to find] for over 10 years, they are just drawn in—and it’s a good feeling…The ability to contribute to a situation makes it better. We are only here once.”
Hinari has a huge mission and they don’t have a lot of resources, yet they still have a lot of momentum and they’re always growing and finding new opportunities. Lenny reasons that it’s because “everybody knows the agenda, egos don’t get in the way, and everyone really tries to do what’s best with whatever they have.”
It proves that a strong agenda, a rallying point everyone can agree on, can hold everything together even if it all hangs on a shoestring.
For more information about Hinari watch the video below.