Virtual Doctors Blog - Ian Kerr

This blog will capture the many diverse roles played by employees and volunteers across the Virtual Doctors. I’m a recent graduate, now working in digital marketing, and fascinated by the incredible work done by the Virtual Doctors. Here is the fifth instalment in a series of blogs about the organisation and its staff.


For this month’s blog update, I had the pleasure of speaking to Ian Kerr, Chairman of the Virtual Doctors. Ian has contributed 45 years of work to the charity sector and it was fascinating to hear about his career, the positive impact he has had on the Virtual Doctors and his bold vision for the future.

It’s safe to say that Ian is no stranger to charity work. Since founding the, now incredibly successful charity, Action Aid in the 1970s, he has established a fundraising consultancy which specialises in assisting overseas charities and served on the Board of a number of different charitable organizations. Furthermore, his more recent work with an anti child trafficking charity gave him the opportunity to help vulnerable people in Nepal and Thailand. It is this particular experience which Ian feels best prepared him for his role with the Virtual Doctors.

Ian came to the role with an incredible array of skills and the expertise needed to lead a small charity with a bold and ambitious mission. As chairman of the Virtual Doctors he organises board meetings, manages relationships and, most importantly, assesses the charity’s strategy. It is therefore his responsibility to ensure that they continue moving in the right direction, making decisions that best suit the organisation’s mission and values.

Ian’s determination to make a difference to people’s lives is something that has grown in him from a very early age. His father was a vicar and spent his days helping people as well as trying to convert them to Christianity. Ian says, ‘I’m not particularly interested in converting people but I do really want to help those in need’. While challenging at times, this is work that he has found to be incredibly fulfilling.

A prime example of this rewarding aspect of the work came about a year ago on a visit to Zambia. Ian was out there to visit clinics and speak to those working in the field. One healthcare worker had particularly positive feedback for Ian about the work of the Virtual Doctors. This was Kennedy, a Clinical Officer working in Zambia, who told the team, “I’m almost at the point where I don’t need your help anymore”. Kennedy’s skills have improved so much using the Virtual Doctors service and the specialists trust him to treat patients just as they would and Kennedy feels confident in doing so. Ian says, “This experience confirmed the fact that the Virtual Doctors really are achieving something.” They are leading a sustainable project that is most definitely making a difference.

The good news does not stop there. In the three years that Ian has been Chair, the charity has made substantial progress. They have expanded from Zambia into Malawi and hope soon to be in Kenya. While this expansion does bring with it important strategic questions, being approached by more African countries highlights the positive effect that their work brings to communities. The achievement which Ian is most proud of is that they now have some loyal funders whose regular support covers all of the charity’s UK costs meaning the major of other donations will go directly to those who need it in Africa. This certainly places the Virtual Doctors a step above many other charities.

When asked about the future of the charity, Ian explained that there are important questions the team need to address. For example, the charity started in a very rural area and the model has been designed for Clinical Officers who are completely isolated with no access to help. However, they are now being approached to work in more peri-rural or semi-urban settings. Given that the need for their help is greater in rural, isolated areas, the Trustees need to ask themselves whether this is the direction they want to go in. While these strategic questions need to be answered, they certainly do not threaten the future of the Virtual Doctors. Ian says, “I have no doubt that the charity will continue running long into the future. There is no question about it.”

Ian is doing his bit too, to help raise funds!  On 11 September this year he is embarking on the beginning of a 100 mile walking challenge in Spain and has set up a fundraising page (see link below).

My conversation with Ian left me thinking about the sheer number of people that he has made a difference to over the last few decades. So many lives have been changed for the better and will continue to be thanks to the Virtual Doctors’ work now and in the future.

Livi Woosey

Volunteer Digital Champion

August 2019

Livi Woosey