Lou Mitchell: A true icon in the field of development

June 27, 2014

Lou Mitchell was a true icon in the field of development. He physically and mentally towered above his colleagues as a thought leader who pushed the margins, asked difficult questions, searched for new paradigms and moved agendas. His heart, mind and soul were in perfect harmony in his commitment to make the world a better place for all. His commitment to the world’s most marginalized individuals and groups led to true and measurable differences in people’s and communities’ lives.

I will always account Lou to completely changing the paradigm on the HIV/AIDS epidemic. In the early 90s when everyone was talking about HIV/AIDS as a medical issue, Lou had the vision that the epidemic could only be stemmed through the involvement of communities and civil society. He pushed to change the agenda from a medical solution oriented approach to a behavior change approach. Nowadays, it is common practice to involve communities in the response against HIV/AIDS. He was a harbinger who changed a false paradigm. As a result, he has saved thousands, if not millions of people’s lives.

Lou’s legacy is even greater than this significant paradigm change. Lou had acute sense of intuition that was often right. Because of this, he took risk. Because he took risk, he believe in people and gave them chances that they many never have had. He looked beyond the CV and into the eyes of the integrity of the person. He placed his trust in people who shared his vision of a more just and equitable world. He placed his trust in people who had a deep commitment to addressing poverty and were genuine. He was fundamental to growing an institution that now serves millions of people in most challenging and poorest countries throughout the world.

Lou inspired. He inspired me to continue my own journey to address some of the world’s most difficult problems. He took a risk with me by sending me overseas without the long list of experience that would normally be required of someone who was given such a high level or responsibility as he gave me. If he had not taken that risk, there would not be more than half a million poor women entrepreneurs in Myanmar increasing the wellbeing of their families through growing their small businesses, there would not be an anti-corruption law in Cambodia, there would not be a freedom of information act in Ukraine, there would not be lives saved in Thailand due to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and there would not be the number of poor women throughout the world who see a bright vision and future for their families. 

One person’s seemingly simple decision at one point can change the world. Lou was one of those iconic people who accomplished that. He will be dearly missed but in the wake of his sailboat, he created so many other Lous who continue to carry out his legacy and take the calculated risk needed to positively change our small planet earth. It all starts with one small decision by a great leader. He was that great leader.