Dr. Suzanne Gilbert: A Career in Service, Spirit, and Science.

Photo: Suzanne Gilbert, Jahanara Romney, and Girija Brilliant prepare for the 1982 Board meeting outside the first Seva office.
Photo above: Suzanne Gilbert, Jahanara Romney, and Girija Brilliant prepare for the 1982 Board meeting outside the first Seva office.

This summer will begin a new chapter for Dr. Suzanne Gilbert as she retires from the Seva Foundation.

Dr. Suzanne Gilbert grew up in Washington DC., an auspicious beginning to a career in health and service. In her teen years she dropped out of high school so she could devote her time to attending congressional hearings and typing transcripts that came from Vietnam for the Liberation News Service. In 1972, Suzanne graduated from Oakland University and married her husband Tim. Together they traveled to Nepal on Suzanne’s Fulbright grant to study health-related beliefs and practices related to early child-rearing. Though she was studying anthropology, Suzanne shifted into public health. 

Upon their return, Suzanne attended the University of Michigan, earning her Master in Public Health in Health Education and PhD in health behavior and epidemiology. On campus, she met Girija and Larry Brilliant and became part of the fledgling Seva Foundation. Suzanne returned to Nepal in 1980 to participate in the Nepal Blindness Survey. ”Working with Seva brought together so many of my ideals about service, spirit, and science. It was a thrill to be part of conducting the first ever national systematic study of blindness in any country,” Suzanne said.

Suzanne’s focus throughout her career has been to build resilient partnerships to strengthen service, training, and research. She launched Seva’s Global Sight Initiative (GSI) which began as an idea shared among some of the giants in eye health. “It’s important to do pathfinding. We deconstructed the essential elements of eye care service sustainability and convened focused cross-learning sessions among partners from every region of the world. Then we moved into looking at how we’re making a difference and using resources well. My work for the last decade has been to popularize the notion that just as service delivery and training are important, research into the impact of that work is also vital.” Launched in 2006, GSI provides a package of investment, training programs, and capacity-strengthening services to GSI network members, now up to 136 eye clinics and organizations in 19 countries.

Her many roles at Seva include Executive Director, Program Director and Senior Director of Research. She chaired initiatives with the American Academy of Ophthalmology, International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness, and served on numerous World Health Organization committees. She’s been widely published in public health and eye care with articles in major global journals and multiple invited book chapters. 

The teen who came of age demonstrating for human rights grew to make a career of amplifying the voices of people who work for the greater good, right in their own neighborhoods. Along the way she and Tim had two children and are grandparents to three kids.. “The whole thing I’ve loved about Seva from the beginning is creating a community of service that is genuinely effective. Skill development, motivation, and planning . . . Seva is good at doing this by enlisting other partners in the world. With Seva’s legacy and the innovative team who are in place today, the future is bright.”

“The whole thing I’ve loved about Seva from the beginning is creating a community of service.”

– Dr. Suzanne Gilbert

3 comments on “Dr. Suzanne Gilbert: A Career in Service, Spirit, and Science.

  • Joan Wolf says:

    Congratulations Suzanne! Sending love and fond memories of our time together in the Seva cabin on Spring Lake. Wishing you and Tim and your family all the best in this new chapter.

  • Janet Carr says:

    Wishing you Abundant Blessings as you continue to open your Spirit of Embracing in new
    and exciting ways.

    You truly and dearly embody the Essence of, ” The effect of one good ~ hearted person is
    incalculable.” O. Arias

    Let You Luminosity Shine On.!

    With a Deep Bow,
    Janet Carr

  • Suzanne, your light continues to inspire and guide me – meeting you in Hyderabad in 2012 was a pivotal moment in my role as Editor of the Community Eye Health Journal. Thank you for everything you have meant to me over the last 12 years, and for championing our work even in the very last week or your full-time role at Seva! Your guidance and advice will continue to light the way for many people; however I know your family will be so grateful to have more time with you in the coming months and years. Enjoy – and treasure every moment!


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