Dr. Kinari Webb On How To Leave a Lasting Legacy With a Successful & Effective Nonprofit Organization

Distribute the data: For us this isn’t just publishing the data in a top-tier academic journal. Distributing data is about making sure the word gets out at conferences, academic centers, consortiums of NGOs and government agencies. One time we got called by an activist organization called Right to Health Action that was looking for a […]

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Distribute the data: For us this isn’t just publishing the data in a top-tier academic journal. Distributing data is about making sure the word gets out at conferences, academic centers, consortiums of NGOs and government agencies. One time we got called by an activist organization called Right to Health Action that was looking for a proven model for how to prevent pandemics at their source. They were so excited about our model that language from our approach ended up in a draft bill in the House. Fingers crossed it will go through.


For someone who wants to set aside money to establish a Philanthropic Foundation or Fund, what does it take to make sure your resources are being impactful and truly effective? In this interview series, called “How To Create Philanthropy That Leaves a Lasting Legacy” we are visiting with founders of Philanthropic Foundations, Charitable Organizations, and Non Profit Organizations, to talk about the steps they took to create sustainable success.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kinari Webb, MD, Founder of Health In Harmony.

Kinari developed the vision for Health In Harmony on an undergraduate trip, studying orangutans at Gunung Palung National Park in Indonesian Borneo in 1993. Dr. Webb graduated from Yale University School of Medicine with honors and then founded Health In Harmony in 2005 to support the combined human and environmental work that she envisioned. Kinari also co-founded Alam Sehat Lestari (ASRI) with Hotlin Ompusunggu and Antonia Gorog. Kinari currently splits her time between Indonesia, international site assessments, and the San Francisco Bay Area.


Thank you for making time to visit with us about a ‘top of mind’ topic. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today?

Growing up in northern New Mexico, I shared a horse, Pinto, with one of our neighbors. One day, I was riding Pinto and something spooked him.

I’m not sure if you’ve ever heard the term runaway horse, but it is real: Pinto set out into a full-out gallop — straight for the edge of a cliff. I knew for certain that we would both die, if we went over the ledge and if I jumped off, neither of us would survive. But in that moment, I remembered something I once read: It is impossible for a horse to run with something hanging from its neck. I swung both feet over, grabbed his mane and hung myself down under his neck. Miraculously, Pinto slid to a stop, just feet away from the edge of the cliff.

That day I learned that even when things look hopeless, it is possible to avoid a disaster. It’s with that lesson in mind, that I work every day to stop the biggest crisis our generation will need to solve: Reversing global heating.

The next life experience comes a year after I was stung by the deadliest creature on the planet — a box jellyfish, my survival was still in question. But seeing death face to face was making it clearer that I needed to expand my work of addressing the health of the planet by enacting the solutions of rainforest communities. That listening had led me to create a program in Indonesian Borneo where people could learn sustainable agriculture and pay for healthcare at a clinic where communities got discounts for stopping logging. As I saw the dramatic impacts, hope for our planet began to seep in.

You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? We would love to hear a few stories or examples.

Listening, empathy, and what I call “Eyes on the Prize.” Listening is first. I have the humility to know that I don’t know what the solutions should be. Therefore, I’m always listening to the team and together we figure out what the best solution is. This allows me to recognize when someone has a great idea.

Another is empathy because I consider my role as a leader to always be watching out for people’s emotional well-being. If they love their work, are passionate about it, and feel safe, amazing things will come out of it.

The final thing I work on a lot as a leader is keeping my eyes on the prize. I’m always pulling the team’s thinking out of the weeds and up to the level of where we want to go and why. Constantly reorienting to the bigger goals, aligns all the day-to-day work and help us to not get distracted by the small stressors. It also means we are willing to pursue multiple strategies simultaneously because we don’t always know which technique will get us to the big prize. In our case, that big prize is actually reversing rainforest loss in the timeframe of global heating.

What’s the most interesting discovery you’ve made since you started leading your organization?

Radical Listening really works. When I first started nearly 15 years ago, I started our non-profit on the fundamental philosophy that rainforest communities would know best what the solutions were for protecting forest and improving their own well-being. But, in the beginning that was more of a philosophy than a proven methodology. Since then, Stanford studied the 10-year impact of our work and showed that indeed this was dramatically the case. Logging households declined 90%, infant mortality went down 67% and they saved an estimated 65 million dollars in averted carbon loss in the primary forest alone. This did not count the 52,000 acres of rainforest that grew back.

Can you please tell our readers more about how you or your organization intends to make a significant social impact?

At Health In Harmony, we recognize that human health and the Earth’s health are deeply interconnected, so to reverse global heating, we need to address the health needs of some of the most important and yet some of the most underrepresented voices in the climate crisis: Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLCs).

Using our Radical Listening approach, we seek to know and understand the voices of those that have lived, worked and protected the rainforest for centuries and invest in their recommended solutions, which range from access to healthcare to improved agricultural education.

For example, in Brazil, when IPLCs leave their land unattended for medical care, the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest becomes vulnerable to encroaching cattle ranchers, small-scale gold miners, and loggers — activities that lead to deforestation. To support the health of the rainforest and community, Health In Harmony, implemented telemedicine capabilities, established mini-rainforest pharmacies to make medication accessible, conducted emergency healthcare expeditions, and worked with local coalitions and universities to get IPLCs prioritized for COVID-19 vaccinations.

The results have been dramatic. In Indonesia, Health In Harmony cared for more than 120,000 patients and in doing so helped decline illegal logging households by 90% and prevented 104.8 million pounds of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere.

If scaled fast, the global impact of this model is truly world changing. We are working on mechanisms for doing this so that each and every one of us can partner with rainforest communities.

What makes you feel passionate about this cause more than any other?

This is the reality: We are facing extinction of the entire human species and nearly all the biodiversity on the planet. Not only is this the highest probability of what will happen, it’s already in motion: Our oceans are acidifying, our fresh water sources are drying up, our shores are eroding.

Our survival as a human race and as a planet relies on our ability to reverse climate change, and despite rainforests only covering 2% of the surface of the Earth, they support 50% of the world’s species and hold 25% of the world’s carbon. Trees, and especially tropical rainforest trees, are our best friends in halting the climate crisis and the way to protect them is to partner with the Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLCs) who live and have defended the rainforest for centuries.

Without naming names, could you share a story about an individual who benefitted from your initiatives?

One of the more remarkable stories comes from a man who joined our first two organic farming trainings that had been requested by the communities as one of the solutions for decreasing deforestation. I noticed his strange gait and limp at the first training but at the second one he stood up and passed out. Luckily, I was able to catch him before he hit the floor. In the clinic we discovered that 12 years previously he fell from a coconut palm tree and broke his back and smashed his foot. While he had healed enough to get around, all those years he had an infection festering in his foot that would occasionally cause sepsis as the bacteria flooded his bloodstream. This is what was happening then. We put him on IV antibiotics, and he improved dramatically but would still need a long course to fully heal. However, he insisted on returning to the training because the first one had so improved his economic well-being — even to the point of being able to send his children to school.

This story illustrates how synergistic our work is. The economic improvement helped him, but without healthcare his family still would have been devastated and he likely would have died. But it goes the other way too, if we only provided enough healthcare to keep him alive, that would not have allowed him to thrive. Protecting the rainforest further helps him by decreasing illness and increasing the water flow to his farm. This is why intersectional work, as designed by the communities, returns a much greater impact.

We all want to help and to live a life of purpose. What are three actions anyone could take to help address the root cause of the problem you’re trying to solve?

In addition to laws to protect forest and company policies to absolutely eliminate deforestation from their supply chain, it is also critical to support rainforest communities. Our experience at Health In Harmony is that rainforest communities all over the world want to protect forests, they just don’t always have the capacity to do so because of the long history of colonialism which has left them with few resources and they often a lack of tenure over their land.

When rainforest communities have ownership of land and the resources to thrive, they are the absolute best guardians of the trees and the protectors for the health of our planet. These communities should be in the drivers seat as they know the best solutions for their specific region. When they lead the charge, their communities and the forest simultaneously thrive.

We all have a role to play, and it can begin with eating less meat, divesting from banks that are supporting deforestation, listening to Indigenous and local rainforest communities, and recognizing that we are all interconnected.

Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Create A Successful & Effective Nonprofit That Leaves A Lasting Legacy?” Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Have great data on impact: See the story above about doing research with Stanford to show impact.
  2. Distribute the data: For us this isn’t just publishing the data in a top-tier academic journal. Distributing data is about making sure the word gets out at conferences, academic centers, consortiums of NGOs and government agencies. One time we got called by an activist organization called Right to Health Action that was looking for a proven model for how to prevent pandemics at their source. They were so excited about our model that language from our approach ended up in a draft bill in the House. Fingers crossed it will go through.
  3. Think innovatively and dare to challenge the status quo: We are in the process of completely disrupting the whole model of conservation by creating a platform (app) called the Rainforest Exchange where global citizens can directly see and support the solutions of rainforest communities. Using the app, people will be able to see outcomes on carbon, forest loss, biodiversity, and community-determined well-being. This anti-colonial transparency of community-determined solutions and outcomes is shockingly not available now and the organizations with the best marketing, not the best outcomes, get the funding. We are working to flip the script.
  4. Stick to your principles: As one gets larger and more and more organizations want to partner, it can be tempting to soften the key reasons for being successful in the first place. For example, we practice something we call Radical Listening. This involves precisely implementing the solutions the communities identify. It means going into listening sessions without an expectation about outcomes and a willingness to truly trust the communities. However, other organization have wanted to use our methodology — sort-of. They already have their plan and then want to fit Radical Listening within that. It doesn’t fit.
  5. Love your staff: Happy people create lasting impact.

How has the pandemic changed your definition of success?

I wouldn’t say the pandemic has changed my definition of success, it has just made me more aware of how critical our work is and how fragile our global ecosystem is.

How do you get inspired after an inevitable setback?

Playing with my son. Having a child at this time on Earth is an act of extreme hope, so playing with him is keeping my eye on the biggest prize of having a livable future for him.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world who you would like to talk to, to share the idea behind your non-profit? He, she, or they might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Can I ask for two? I would love to talk to Al Gore and Greta Thunburg. I want to talk to Al Gore because he has so many connections that could help governments and large organizations to support this work. Then, I’d love to talk with Greta because she has the ear of the world’s youth (and not just the youth), and I want her to see that there are solutions which work and could work fast.

You’re doing important work. How can our readers follow your progress online?

Visit us at www.healthinharmony.org and engage with us on social media:

Twitter @HIHngo

Facebook @HealthInHarmonyNGO

Instagram @healthinharmonyngo

Thank you for a meaningful conversation. We wish you continued success with your mission.

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