A. B. Short, MedShare founder
A. B. Short has a missionary’s zeal and an entrepreneur’s imagination.
But early stints as both a minister and a businessman left him feeling
frustrated and out of place. Only while helping Bill Bolling launch the
Atlanta Community Food Bank in 1979 did he discover his perfect niche:
His first start-up, with longtime collaborator Bob Freeman, was Cafe
458 in 1988. This still-thriving MLK-district establishment—more
restaurant than soup kitchen—also serves up warm clothing, a mailing
address, counseling, and substance-abuse support groups.
But it was through his next venture—organic farming and helping start
the Morningside Farmers Market—that Short learned that the U.S.
healthcare system has surplus issues with equipment, much like the
inefficiencies he’d combated in the food supply chain. Short and
Freeman went to their friend Dr. William Foege, former director of the
Centers for Disease Control. Foege believed that a lot of “charitable”
redistribution of excess medical supplies was really a form of dumping:
Agencies shipped materials and devices that the recipients could never
use, doing little more than shifting environmental liabilities to
developing countries. Foege challenged Short and Freeman to devise a
more efficient solution, which led to their founding of MedShare in
1998. Says Short, “We follow a very simple concept of having products
pulled from us rather than shipped out—a pull mentality rather than a
MedShare developed inventory-management software that enables
healthcare providers around the world to order exactly what they need,
from sutures and rubber gloves to autoclaves and anesthesia machines.
Hospitals and manufacturers donate eight tons of usable surplus medical
goods each week, which are sorted and packed by hundreds of volunteers
at warehouses in Decatur and San Leandro, California. This win-win
strategy has resulted in the distribution of $65 million worth of
supplies and equipment (no pharmaceuticals) to eighty countries over
the past ten years—all while earning the highest possible efficiency
ratings from nonprofit watchdog Charity Navigator and keeping all that
steel and rubber out of our landfills. —Betsy Riley