Skoll Foundation


Health Leads

Skoll Awardee(s): Rebecca Onie
Award Year: 2011
Issue Area(s) Addressed: Health

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“The impact of poverty on health is not a developing world issue. It is a challenge faced by poor people everywhere they live in the world.”

Sub-Issues: Health delivery, Integrated health, Product and technology Poverty compounds the effects of illness, even in the shadows of some of the world’s most prestigious medical centers. Health and healing are stymied by hunger, unsafe housing, environmental conditions, and other poverty-related issues.

The Skoll Awardee: As a college student working in a legal services office, Rebecca Onie saw up close how a child’s asthma was aggravated by unsafe housing, a case of pneumonia aggravated by lack of heat in the home, and other illnesses lingered because the patient couldn’t afford both rent and medicine. She founded Project Health (now Health Leads) with Dr. Barry Zuckerman, chair of pediatrics at Boston Medical Center. Health Leads bridges the gap between medicine and social work, equipping clinics with volunteers and family help desks, so that primary care doctors can prescribe not only medicines, but also services such as food, fuel, and housing assistance, and patients can get help to support their healing and long term health. By 2011, Health Leads had served more than 6,000 clients in major US cities including Boston and Baltimore, and trained more than 750 health care advocates – many of whom went on to study for careers in healthcare and social work, committed to furthering the Health Leads model.

Impact since joining the portfolio in 2011:

  • Served more than 23,000 patients, including 11,000 patients and families served in 2013.
  • Recruited and trained nearly 1,000 college student volunteers to provide resources and services in 20 clinics across 6 cities. 90 percent of volunteers go on to work or study in the fields of health or poverty elimination.
  • 4,000 alumni working as healthcare providers, clinical researchers, community health workers, policy experts, pharmaceutical experts, and hospital administrators.
  • 57 percent of patients obtain at least one service within 90 days.



© 2015 Skoll Foundation.