February 17, 2012 |

Woman of the Week: Dr. Joan LaRovere

She co-founded the Virtue Foundation in the wake of September 11, 2001.

It takes a certain brand of optimism to see the most devastating terrorist attack in United States history as a moment of inspiration. Dr. Joan LaRovere has that particular optimism in spades.

After September 11, 2001, Dr. LaRovere launched the Virtue Foundation, a testament to the virtuous side of humanity that revealed in the aftermath of the attacks.

“The name came because of the basic human virtues you saw after the attacks,” she said. “The kindness people had towards each other, and how concerned they were for one another’s well-being.”

A London resident at the time, she and her co-founder Dr. Joseph Salim began organizing events that explored America’s place with respect to the rest of the world.

“We wanted to create a forum for discussion about global issues and how they impact us here, and what can an individual do,” she said. “This was ten years ago; it was a very different atmosphere in the U.S. Now a lot of people think about global issues, because they’ve seen how they impact their lives.”

Through seminars and conferences, an action arm quickly emerged to support work on health care, education, economic empowerment and justice. But Virtue Foundation is not your typical donor organization. Rather than simply review proposals and dole out grants, the Foundation actively engages the expertise of its volunteers, supporters and committee members when designing and implementing its projects.

“For any project we’re involved in, we think it through collectively with our partners on the ground and with individuals across the globe who can create the solution,” she said. “We’re much more involved strategically and operationally, in bringing together the right partners for the right solution.”

For example, Dr. LaRovere herself has worked in Ghana, where Virtue Foundation has substantial programming, including an Institute for Innovation and Philanthropy. In the northern and western parts of Ghana, she said, one in seven children dies before the age of five. From her experience as a pediatric cardiologist, the problem was easy to diagnose: there were no intensive care facilities for children.

“If a child comes in with respiratory failure, they have no way to intervene,” she said. “No equipment, nothing.”

After discussing various issues with local staff – power supply, disposability, human capacity -- they found a solution. While there are few doctors, there is a lot of nursing staff. A handheld portable ventilator could be used without having to put the child to sleep, which would require a doctor. Instead, the nurse easily slips it over the child’s face. In three weeks, out of 25 children who came in, only one died, a decline from 14% mortality to 4%.

“It’s taking my clinical skills, the kinds of things I do at bedsides of patients, and using them in other settings,” she said. This personal investment, she believes, sets Virtue Foundation apart.

“People are tired of just making donations. They want to know, how do I use my skills as an investment banker, as a risk analyst, or as a corporate lawyer? How can I be helpful in development? At Virtue Foundation, we’re harnessing the abilities of individuals and other organizations around the world, because global change begins with each of us.”