Deane Marchbein, MD, an anesthetist from Massachusetts, is the President of MSF-USA’s Board of Directors and has completed field missions in DRC, Syria, and, most recently, Afghanistan.
Unlike most US non-profit boards, which are largely composed of major donors, MSF-USA’s board is chosen by the association, a group largely drawn from returned field workers that is responsible for providing oversight and electing the board.
Most board members have significant field experience, a clear understanding of field realities, and a strong commitment to the mission of MSF. A majority of board members must, by statute, have medical backgrounds as well. But we recognize that we need professional skills that may not be represented in the association, so we appoint a treasurer and a secretary who may ultimately join the association but are not necessarily drawn from it.
The board oversees a budget of approximately $200 million a year, so it’s important that the treasurer has a strong background in finance and can, when needed, provide a different perspective and ask difficult or challenging questions. The same is true for the secretary, who focuses on governance and legal issues. MSF-USA’s secretary has traditionally come from the law firm of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP; one of the firm’s partners was a founding member of MSF-USA and the firm continues to provide the organization with enormously valuable pro bono legal services.
Perhaps the most important function the board serves is selecting MSF-USA’s general director, the leader of the US office and our representative in the international movement. They also contribute to the strategic plan and approve the annual plan, which articulates the goals of the office—and by extension, the organization.
The founders of MSF believed that commitment to the social mission and field perspective were absolutely crucial to making sure that MSF could stay relevant and evolve while staying true to itself. So, having a board that’s composed of people who not only intellectually understand the work but also feel it in their gut is a way of making sure that we hold to our principles.