Our story starts with three reproductive health pioneers, Tim Black CBE, Jean Black and Phil Harvey.
Tim Black CBE was a medical doctor who, in the late 1960s, was working as a district health officer in the Sepik district of New Guinea. There, after saving the life of a three-month-old girl, he was shocked that her widowed mother – who already had five children and no steady income – had not expected her to survive.
“My shock was absolute,” he recalls. “By saving the life of that child, I had actually compounded her problems, not solved her problems.”
In realising, in his own words, that “preventing a birth could be as important as saving a life,” Tim decided to switch his career to reproductive choice. In 1969, he was awarded a fellowship to study for a master’s degree at the University of North Carolina. While in the States, he met Phil Harvey, and in 1970 they co-founded Population Services International (PSI).
After implementing PSI’s first USAID-funded condom social marketing programme in Kenya, Tim returned to London. There, in November 1975, he learnt that a historic building in central London was closing due to financial difficulties. The building was the Marie Stopes Mothers’ Clinic in Whitfield Street, central London, which in 1923, Marie Stopes, a non-medical doctor, had opened despite opposition from a male-dominated medical establishment and the Catholic church. Here, women could access nurse-led advice and contraception without visiting a hospital or doctor’s office for the first time.
Together with Jean Black and Phil Harvey, Tim purchased the lease to the building and from it, built Marie Stopes International. In the naming of their organisation, our founders chose to recognise the origins of the building from which they started.
Today, the legacy of Marie Stopes, the woman, is deeply entangled with her views on eugenics: opinions, which though not uncommon at that time, are now rightly discredited, and which stand in direct opposition to our core principles of choice and autonomy. MSI is instead built on the views of our founders, who believed that by treating women as individuals – and providing client-centred, high quality, compassionate care – they could empower women to take control of their lives and pursue the future of their choice, on their terms.
Their vision was to build a global organisation with women at its centre, and in the 45 years since we were founded, MSI has enabled millions of women to determine their own futures. Around the world today, 32 million women are using a method of contraception provided by us. That’s 32 million women who can finish their education, learn a new trade, start their own business or take care of their family while enjoying a healthy sex life without fear of an unintended pregnancy.
Around the world today, 32 million women are using a method of contraception provided by us.
But there’s still work to do. Every year, over 22,000 women die from complications from unsafe abortion and complications from childbirth continues to be the leading cause of death for girls aged 15-19.
As our founders believed, until all women and girls have access to contraception and safe abortion services, we cannot achieve gender equality. Our role is to lead the way in expanding access to these services so that everyone is free to make decisions about their body, health and future.