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Dr. James Orbinski

Humanitarian Advocate & Former President of Doctors Without Borders

Dr. Orbinski is a globally recognized humanitarian practitioner and advocate, as well as one of the world’s leading scholars and scientists in global health. He is a veteran of many of the world’s most disturbing and complex humanitarian emergencies. He is a founding member of Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) Canada and accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the organization in 1999.

Toronto, Ontario, Canada


Creating the Space to Be Human Join the extraordinary journey of Dr. James as he travels the world in a quest to discover how we can become more “human.” He argues passionately that we must find a way to become more human in our increasingly small, global community. He promotes active and engaged citizenship, accountability for our actions and inactions, and the value of bearing witness and speaking out. He challenges audiences to consider what we permit ourselves, our community and our country to do when we keep quiet about atrocities, large or small. An Imperfect Offering: Humanitarian Action in the Twenty-first Century Dr. Orbinski explores the nature of humanitarian action and asserts that we all recognize that those people who have been failed by our systems, are humans with rights, and wishes and needs, who deserve our help and our compassion. Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontiers – The Story Through his numerous roles with Médecins Sans Frontiers / Doctors Without Borders (MSF), including that of president, Dr. Orbinski has witnessed and served in some of the most tragic humanitarian crises the world has known: Somalia during the 1992-93 civil war and famine; Afghanistan in 1994; Rwanda during the genocide of 1994; and Goma, Zaire in 1996-97 during the refugee crisis. In this presentation Dr. Orbinski looks at the founding of the organization. He shares his passion for actively engaging in and shaping the world in which we live to make it more humane, fair and just. On Leadership and Vision Dr. Orbinski led Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders, ultimately accepting the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the organization. In 2012, he was named Laurier’s Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) chair in Global Health at the Balsillie School of International Affairs in Waterloo. In this role, he continues to work to advance the health of people around the globe. In this presentation, Dr. Orbinski will draw on his decades of international humanitarian work to share the essence of what leadership means to him. Why What You Do and Who You Are Matters Fueled by seeing injustices round the world, from the failures in Rwanda, to the famine in Somalia and the war in Afghanistan, Dr. Orbinski shares the narrative of what he has seen and experienced, and how that inspired him to action. Confronted by pain, injustice, political and economic impasses, Dr. Orbinski had to make choices and delve within himself to define who he was as a man, a father, a husband, doctor and humanitarian. Choices may or may not be easy in difficult situations, but they must be made. He challenges to take on the responsibility to choose, to act and to be involved; in your own life and in the lives of others, to make the world a better place.

Platform Plus

Panelist/In Conversation


Royal College | Teasdale-Corti Humanitarian Award

Blum Center for Poverty Alleviation | Human Security Award

Order of Ontario

Officer | Order of Canada

  • By delivering a powerful and insightful speech, he contributed to shaping the very substance and significance of the discussion. Indeed his speech provided meaningful connections between the horrors of the past and the current humanitarian challenges - we are grateful for that. The feedback we received spontaneously from ICRC staff and others present at the event, almost invariably mentioned his speech as an outstanding highlight.

    - Policy Adviser, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)
  • An inspired and passionate speaker. He is able to tell stories in such a way that you stay open to it, even though the details would normally be considered horrific. He takes his audience on a journey with him. He was exceptional at weaving his stories and making them relevant to our organization - from hospice to humanity and what out real role is as citizens of Canada. A very thought provoking and thoughtful presentation.

    - Executive Director, Hospice Association of Canada
  • by all accounts, one of the most gifted and articulate speakers many in the audience had ever heard. He was gracious enough to stick around after the event, speaking to several people. He also took the time to weave our message into his own - something I was deeply grateful for.

    - St. Mary's Hospital Foundation
  • His moving and passionate speech… addressed the neglected needs, faced by too many around the world today, in situations of both war and social crisis and challenged us to use our unique position, as members of The Cochrane Collaboration, to respond to the needs of others less fortunate than ourselves.

    - The Cochrane Collaboration

Summary Profile

In the late eighties, Dr. Orbinski was one of few doctors working on the ground in Africa to characterize the signs and symptoms of HIV/AIDS in children. It was a time when very little was known about the epidemic. He taught local health care providers so that when he left the region, the children could still find relief. After extensive field experience with Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF), Dr. Orbinski was elected MSF’s international president from 1998 to 2001. Today, Dr. Orbinski is the CIGI Chair in Global Health Governance at the Balsillie School of International Affairs, and a professor at Wilfrid Laurier University. He is also a professor at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health. Dr. Orbinski believes in humanitarianism, in citizenship and in actively engaging and shaping the world in which we live, so that it is more humane, fair and just. His tireless work has spawned numerous health initiatives which have helped improve the lives of countless people around the world. Dr. Orbinski believes that access to health care and to essential health technologies is critical to global health issues today, and most especially for the less fortunate. He is an inspired and passionate speaker who delivers thought-provoking presentations. Dr. Orbinski shares stories from the frontlines of humanitarian crisis around the world and emphasizes the relevance and key learnings for his audiences. He will challenge audiences to use their unique positions to respond to the needs of those less fortunate. Dr. Orbinski’s award-winning and internationally acclaimed documentary film on medical humanitarianism, titled “Triage” was screened at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, and won the 2008 Amnesty International Gold Medal Award. His bestselling book, An Imperfect Offering: Humanitarianism in the 21st Century, won the 2009 Writer’s Trust Shaunessy-Cohen Prize for best political writing in Canada.