Danielle Butin (STEINHARDT ’85)
Repurposing Medical Supplies for Those in Need
By Lindsy Van Gelder
Portrait by Christopher Domurat
“I was always the kind of person who talked to people I didn’t know on the subway,” says Danielle Butin. So on a family safari vacation to Tanzania, it was only natural to her to approach a woman who was sobbing as she held a glass of wine and ask her what was wrong. The woman was a volunteer physician from London, there for a month to help with local healthcare, frustrated to tears by the lack of medicine and supplies.
Butin had worked as an occupational therapist and executive in the New York City healthcare system, and she knew that the stringent regulations with which she was familiar cause an enormous amount of unavoidable waste in the kinds of equipment and supplies that would have made that British doctor’s service far more useful. Butin decided to connect the supplies to the need, and in 2007 the Afya Foundation (the name means “health” in Swahili) was born. It has become her life’s mission.
Butin, who was named a 2018 NYU Alumni Changemaker, began by contacting hospitals. She was nervous. “I was also honest,” she says. “I said to them, ‘What I’m about to ask you is going to make you do more work.’ ” Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and NewYork–Presbyterian Hospital have since become her biggest donors, and virtually every other hospital in the city also contributes. Ultimately it’s a win-win, says Butin: “We are their green solution, and they are saving lives.”
Butin and her staff have had to learn to be savvy about everything from getting goods through customs to spotting situations in which corrupt officials will try to hoard or resell them. Some 3,500 volunteers a year help load shipments at the nonprofit’s Yonkers warehouse.
Butin and her staff have had to learn to be savvy about everything from getting goods through customs to spotting situations in which corrupt officials will try to hoard or resell them.