Each year since 1999, America’s iconic Time Magazine has compiled a list of 100 people its staff deems to be the most influential in the world.
When giving the 2010 edition
a cursory glance it’s easy to be distracted by the big names: Obama, Clinton, and Winfrey are all there, and have consistently made the cut multiple times in the past decade.2010’s edition also includes the popular (Lady GaGa), the newly unpopular (General Stanley McChrystal) and the populist (Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck). The inclusion of these celebrities, powerful media figures, and influential statesmen is essential to the integrity of the list as their images are ingrained in the collective consciousness of the United States and in some cases, the entire world.Once you examine the list more thoroughly, you’ll encounter some names that are unfamiliar. You may ask how important and influential they can be if they’re not household names like Barack Obama or Sarah Palin.One does not need to be a public figure to wield an enourmous amount of influence. After reading more about these relative unknowns, you will understand exactly why they are on this list. No matter what their field, discipline, or profession may be, their impact is tremendous.What is most interesting about this year’s list is the inclusion of a relatively unknown Canadian. What piqued my interest even further is that he is from Toronto, and the organization which he founded in 1998, and has led ever since, deploys to disaster zones around the world.
Rahul Singh, along with a team of volunteers, operates GlobalMedic, a humanitarian aid organization that specializes in providing relief to victims of natural disasters, out of their headquarters in Etobicoke.Getting in contact with Singh was the simple part. Finding a suitable time in his packed schedule to conduct an interview was significantly harder.Luckily, I was able to have a brief conversation with him over the phone as he was racing from one meeting to another; a typically busy day for one of the world’s most influential people.Singh begins by shedding light on how the idea for the organization was born. His best friend, David McAntony Gibson passed away in February 1998 and Singh felt like creating an aid organization would be the most appropriate tribute to his friend’s life.“I talked to David’s family and told them I wanted to set up this foundation in his honour to help people in Third World countries by delivering emergency medical services which they would otherwise not have access to,” he explains.GlobalMedic’s official name is the David McAntony Gibson Foundation.As their website bio states and Singh reiterates, the foundation’s goal is to be an efficient aid agency that delivers the maximum amount of aid with a minimum operating cost.
Through large donations, positive coverage in the media, and Singh’s own dedication, he has been able to assemble a team of highly skilled and dedicated volunteers which has led to GlobalMedic’s exponential growth since its founding.Over the past 12 years, GlobalMedic has deployed in 36 countries spanning four continents. They’ve provided emergency relief to victims of floods, tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, and military conflicts.When responding to natural disasters they’re equipped with water purification systems, inflatable field hospitals, and K-9 units which are all manned by a highly experienced and skilled group of volunteers.GlobalMedic was responsible for providing safe drinking water to hundreds of thousands of Haitians. It was this mission in Haiti, following the January earthquake, that gained Singh the recognition in Time Magazine.Though obviously elated when he heard about his placement on the list, Singh is modest about the achievement and quickly reminds me that the honour belongs to all GlobalMedic’s volunteers.Since its founding, GlobalMedic has expanded its vision and now operates capacity building programs in multiple developing countries. These programs have included water sanitation projects in Cambodia and Gaza (the latter of which is ongoing) and emergency medical training in more than 10 nations.“We really want to permanently improve conditions in these countries through these capacity building programs,” says Singh.Singh’s organization is not as inclusive as other non-profit aid agencies. Volunteering with GlobalMedic is not as easy as becoming involved with Habitat for Humanity.“Prior experience as a paramedic is a must before being deployed with us. New recruits also must complete training sessions that deal specifically with providing relief in disaster zones,” he says.A standard training day consists of three one-and-a-half hour sessions. Each session is further broken down into three stations which encompass disaster-zone safety and instructions on how to properly use equipment like their inflatable hospitals and water purification pumps.New recruits are not the only ones showing up to the training sessions. GlobalMedic volunteers also attend to hone their skills or get a refresher prior to a deployment.His organization operates in far-flung regions of the world, and Singh regularly travels to developing nations and disaster zones where GlobalMedic is needed. Through all this he maintains his job as a full-time paramedic.It is completely ordinary for him to work 12 hour days, five days a week. Perhaps this is why he sounds so modest when he speaks of his humanitarian work. He travels to some of the world’s most dangerous places to save lives, yet at the end of a mission he still returns to Etobicoke to work full-time.
Despite his incredibly busy schedule, Singh is jovial and good-natured throughout our conversation. While he is explaining the history of GlobalMedic his phone cuts out for at least five minutes. To my surprise, when I finally get him back on the line he’s incredibly apologetic.“Sorry buddy, I’m in the middle of nowhere and the reception is terrible,” he laughs.“Let me start from the beginning,” and without skipping a beat, he delves back into the organization’s history.While speaking to Singh over the phone it is apparent that his confident personality and exuberant yet modest attitude toward his work surely help his team when they encounter circumstances as dire as the situation in Haiti following the earthquake.Although Singh currently has no plans to expand GlobalMedic’s base of operations, the organization will continue to recruit, solicit donations, and deploy to disaster zones whenever they are needed. But wherever they go, the world will be watching and hoping they succeed.