In memory of our trustee Jess Search

Impact   |   2 August 2023   |   3 min read

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Jess Search, trustee of MSI Reproductive Choices and former chair of the MSI United States’ board sadly died on July 31st aged 54, having been recently diagnosed with a brain tumour.

Jess was a legend in the documentary world and firmly believed in the power of great filmmaking to transform individuals and societies. In 2005, she co-founded Doc Society, an organisation committed to supporting and championing filmmakers to tell critical stories and harness the power of film for social change.

After 18 years of what Jess described as “nonstop creative collaboration, dedicated craft, joyous partying and fierce camaraderie”, she publicly announced her diagnosis in July, in a rallying cry to us all to remember that “There. Is. No. Time. Like. The. Present.”

Jess knew the power of convening people and exchanging ideas to create long-term, sustainable change and was a regular moderator at The Skoll World Forum, IDFA, the Thompson Reuters’ Trust conference and Doc Society’s Good Pitch.

She brought that same energy to MSI, remaining a committed supporter of our mission from her first visit to one of our clinics in Nicaragua in 1988 where her mother was working for us. She was passionate about fairness, justice and inclusion and consistently challenged, pushed and inspired us to think differently, do more and be better.

While at Doc Society (formerly BRITDOC) Jess supported documentaries such as the Academy nominated Virunga, The Square, The Look of Silence, and the Academy winner CITIZENFOUR. Together with the Ford Foundation and Sundance Institute, she also helped create and run the Good Pitch, which connects filmmakers with NGOs, foundations, and brands.

Prior to her appointment as CEO of BRITDOC in 2005, she was commissioning editor at Channel 4 and a founder of Shooting People, the online filmmakers network.

She was also a board member of the UK think tank IPPR and crowdfunding company Kickstarter and had an MBA from Cass Business School.

Simon Cooke, CEO at MSI Reproductive Choices said:

“Jess was part of the MSI family. Her mother, Henrietta was a long-time employee so she, Jess, grew up with the mission in her blood. As a member of the MSI Board and in her role as US Board Chair, Jess was a passionate and inspiring contributor, unafraid to speak up for those whose voice she felt needed to be heard, and always an energetic and enthusiastic presence. Most recently, she and I discussed our shared interest in Stoic philosophy – when she came back from the Skoll Forum, (and just before her diagnosis) she gave me a ‘Stoic’ lapel badge, with the legend ‘A badge of honour for those who are calm and brave in the face of overwhelming pain; for all those who keep their cool when fate turns against them’.

“How prophetic those words sound now, but I am glad that she had the rare inner strength to face her illness with such incredible bravery. She was a remarkable individual who will be truly missed.”

Everyone at MSI is so proud and thankful for the huge support and contribution Jess gave to our work around the world. Our thoughts are with her friends and family.


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