Dr. Hermann Gmeiner was born on 23rd June 23, 1919 in Vorarlberg, Austria. He was five years old when his mother died. He experienced the disaster for himself – how a child’s world falls apart when he or she loses his or her mother. His 16-year-old sister Elsa took the mother's place for her younger brothers and sisters. As destiny would have it, she became the role model for Hermann Gmeiner's idea of an ideal SOS mother.
As a youngster and a young man, Gmeiner philosophised about “being good” and spoke on the fact that a man must “use his intellectual powers for the sake of ennoblement” and when he did so he was regarded as idealistic and utopian by his environment. To the farming community, his ideas could be seen as out of touch with life.
In 1946, Dr. Gmeiner began his studies in medicine with the goal of becoming a pediatrician. At the same time, he was also engaged in youth welfare work and was exposed to the plight of the youth and children in a war-ravaged world. He was particularly moved by the condition of destitute children, and realized that providing them with just the basic needs was not enough. He felt only a proper home with a caring mother and company of siblings could ensure the vital physical, mental and emotional growth of a child.
He founded the first SOS Children's Villages in 1949, at Imst, Tyrol with the support of many friends and donors. Soon thereafter, he gave up all other pursuits and dedicated himself entirely to constructing more Children's Villages in Austria and many other European Countries.
The SOS idea was also greeted enthusiastically in many other countries of the third world. Soon SOS Children's Villages came up in other parts of Asia, and Africa and South America as well.
SOS Kinderdorf International, the umbrella organization of SOS Children's Villages, was founded in 1960 and from then till 1984, Prof. Dr. Hermann Gmeiner coordinated the worldwide task as its President.
In recognition of his lifelong dedication, he was conferred numerous honorary degrees and awards. He was an Honorary member of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, an Honorary Doctor of two Universities, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross by the Federal Republic of Germany, among many others. Dr. Hermann Gmeiner died in 1986.