The sky’s the limit – interview with Wings of Hope CEO Bret Heinrich

Bret Heinrich
Wings of Hope Limited Edition
Reading Time: 5 minutes

The partnership between Oris and Wings of Hope will help change the world, says the humanitarian organisation’s president and CEO Bret Heinrich. Wings of Hope’s aeronautical humanitarian mission has changed countless lives.

Bret Heinrich
Wings of Hope Limited Edition_mood

Higher power

Today, Wings of Hope reaches more than 65,000 people a year, bringing vital medical support to remote and underprivileged communities using the power of aviation.

The origins of its mission lie in the late 1950s when Catholic missionary Mike Stimac travelled to Kenya, which was then experiencing terrible drought. Stimac, an American, realised aid efforts hampered by poor transport links would be greatly improved by aviation, and so returned to the U.S. to raise funds and awareness.

Oris Wings of Hope Limited Edition
An idea takes flight Wings of Hope uses aviation to support remote communities

By the early 1960s, the seeds of Wings of Hope had been sewn and a new aeronautical humanitarian tradition had begun.

In the six decades since, the organisation’s influence has spread. It now operates all over the world and counts luminaries such as Elizabeth Dole, Harrison Ford and Kurt Russell as members of its honorary council.

Wings of Hope also provides education to the next generation of pilots, engineers and humanitarians. Last year, 90 students discovered humanitarian aviation through its Soar into STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programme. At every turn, a message of hope prevails.

Bret Heinrich
Wings of Hope president and CEO Bret Heinrich wears the Wings of Hope Limited Edition with reference 01 401 7782 6081-Set

Wings of Hope CEO Bret Heinrich

Bret, tell us a bit about yourself…
I grew up in Illinois in an amazing family that was hugely committed to serving others. I’ve spent my career in the non-profit sector; I’m a university teacher; and I’m also an ordained minister. I’m married with three children.

What is Wings of Hope?
It’s a global humanitarian organisation dedicated to saving and changing lives through the power of aviation. We want to see a world in which all people have access to the resources they need to create a better life. Since it was founded in 1963 in St. Louis, Missouri, the organisation has provided humanitarian assistance using aircraft in more than 50 countries, reaching more than 65,000 people in need annually. In recognition of this, Wings of Hope has been nominated twice for the Nobel Peace Prize.

How is it funded?
Wings of Hope’s $3.2 million annual operating budget is funded primarily through the generous contributions of corporate and private foundations and individual donors. We also generate revenue through events and sales of donated aircraft. The other major contribution that fuels our work is the incredible gift of time we receive from more than 350 dedicated volunteers.

How does the organisation operate?
Our service model is unique. Rather than build and staff Wings of Hope field bases all around the world, we invest in local NGOs so they become sustainable and can serve the people of their country far into the future.

Can you give an example of this?
Yes, sure. We work with Flying Medical Service in Tanzania and visit 27 Maasai tribal settlements every two weeks to provide preventive care such as vaccinations, healthy baby checks, and medicines. We conduct the health clinic under the wings of the aircraft.

You also transport patients…
That’s right. A big part of our services involves transporting patients to receive medical care not available in their communities. We also conduct medical brigades, which involves bringing the care to the communities. For example, in Colombia we work with the Colombian Civil Air Patrol to fly medical equipment and volunteer surgeons to very rustic hospitals they transform into surgical theatres.

How much do patients pay for this?
Nothing. That’s thanks to the generosity of our donors and the incredible commitment of our partners and volunteers around the world.

What impact has the pandemic had on Wings of Hope’s mission?
During the early months, it had a negative impact on our work across our entire Global Humanitarian Network. On the positive side, it forced us to innovate. We’re now preparing drones to take anti-venom and other lifesaving medicines to indigenous tribes in the Amazon Rainforest. This solution can be applied all over the world.

Why do you think the likes of Elizabeth Dole and Harrison Ford have backed you?
We have a 60-year proven track record, and with that comes a sense of achievement that is appealing to people who, like all of us, have limited time and other resources to commit. They know that at the end of the day, we are going to deliver on our promise.

Tell us about the Oris partnership…
I am incredibly grateful and honoured to be working with one of the world’s leading watchmaking companies. Ours is a close and committed partnership to change the world. And I believe there is much more to come.

What do you think of Oris’s Change for the Better mission?
What impresses me most about Oris is its commitment to making the world a better place. Our brand identity is very important to us, and working with such a highly respected brand that is so perfectly aligned with our mission is a very special gift to us and hopefully to the world.

How will the Wings of Hope Limited Edition watches help your mission?
I often say that Wings of Hope is the nicest two-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee that very few people have heard of. Making the Wings of Hope watches available to an international audience is a great gift and will be a huge support to our brand identity. Broader familiarity with Wings of Hope will allow us to move faster in building relationships that we count on to be able to save and change lives.

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