As the name suggests, Mobility Outreach International has its efforts spread around the world.

Haiti. Sierra Leone. Bangladesh. Vietnam.

But what many may not know is that it all begins in a nondescript office on Nickerson Street.

Since its founding in 1989 by Dr. Ernest Burgess, the nonprofit has directly helped more than 30,000 people through surgical treatment, physical rehabilitation, and prosthetic and orthotic services in under-resourced areas of the world.

But long-term, the goal is to reduce the dependence on external actors for assistance in every country they’re in, says executive director Heidi Peterson.

“We’ve always envisioned leaving the country better off than we found it, “ she said, “not necessarily creating huge infrastructure, but really creating the technical training and the knowledge that would allow the local environment to be self-supporting.”

The organization will hold its annual auction and gala Saturday at the Meydenbauer Center in Bellevue.

The event is the nonprofit’s lone major fundraiser each year, bringing in around $400,000 of its $1 million budget. That figure accounts for about 90 percent of MOI’s unrestricted resources (as opposed to grant funding, which typically comes with specific purposes).

“This is kind of our one big shot to make a splash,” Peterson said.

MOI currently operates four programs (in addition to a new pilot program that launched in January) across the aforementioned four countries, with plans to launch in Senegal in the near future.

The organization’s clubfoot program had MOI’s largest direct impact in 2016, providing corrective treatment for more than 2,500 children with the birth defect.

“If it’s caught early enough, which is the best time to catch it — even two weeks after birth is not too soon — the kids can have their feet grow in a way that are completely normal and walk normally for the rest of their lives,” Peterson said.

Another 2,000 people benefitted from the network of mobility repair centers in predominantly rural or semi-rural locations, launched with the assistance of the nonprofit.

“We were finding that people were coming from great distances to have simple repairs to their prostheses … And some of these people were taking eight hours each way to go to a capital city where there’s a prosthetics workshop instead of having someone locally in the community who could just address those challenges,” Peterson said.

With MOI defraying the startup costs for locals — primarily those from the disabled community — the centers are able to transition over the course of several years to fully-owned and privately-operated businesses. It’s a program that Peterson is particularly interested in seeing grow, because it creates jobs, provides an important service, and it helps people gain independence, “especially in overlooked, marginalized, and vulnerable places outside capital cities,” she said.

Nearly 150 people received a limb or brace through the prosthetics and orthotics program, while more than 60 were treated through the orthopedic surgery program, in which volunteers provide their own expertise and cover their expenses to perform complicated procedures.

Finally, the organization received a two-year grant to launch an online resource and training hub, to aggregate the best training and informational content for rehabilitation professionals. Peterson cited the example of francophone Africa, where there is just one country, Togo, in which you can receive certification through the International Society of Prosthetics and Orthotics.

“Once people go and get certified, they typically come back to their country and their training ends,” she said. “There’s no more training, it’s not available, they can’t afford it, it’s not provided to them, and so unless an organization like ours comes in and provides funding for that sort of training, the continuous learning process stops for newer equipment, and places to get much-needed supplies.”

While MOI has already completed its assessment and is now seeking funding to expand its operations to Senegal, Peterson says the nonprofit is very deliberate about how and when it enters a new country.

“We try to use an approach that’s more focused on quality and really investing in a place where we work, so we’re not spreading our resources too thin,” she said. “Given sufficient funding we would love to go into several more countries, but we also don’t want to do a poor job at a very narrow level when we could be creating a much more comprehensive solution.”

A broader hope for Peterson is to have a presence in three more countries in the next five to seven years.

“We want to make sure that we don’t overpromise and under deliver and any sort of growth we experience is taken on in a very thoughtful and staged way,” she said.

In addition to the annual fundraiser, there’s more incentive for donors to give during the month of April, with a pair of $100,000 matching pledges — one from board president Dr. Robert G. Veith, the other from an anonymous donor — matching every dollar 2-to-1.

But even for those who can’t contribute financially, Peterson hopes people will spread the word about the word they’re doing.

“Marketing yourselves to other groups of people in the United States is expensive and we don’t have money to spend on any great amount of that,” she said. “So if people want to help, it’s not only with your pocket book, it can also be with a click of a mouse.”

To learn more about Mobility Outreach International, visit, like them on Facebook at, or follow them on Twitter at @MOiSeattle