In Chapter 5 of 16, social entrepreneur and '03 Stanford graduate Michael Olsen starts a non-profit, Kilifi Kids with his brother to provide secondary school scholarships to Kenyan children. After working with Rotary International on scholarships, he references his Stanford International Health class and his studies on high impact, low cost interventions. Using notes, Olsen steers his organization to finance deworming medication for 30,000 school children at 25 cents or one quarter per child.
Erik: What did an international health class at Stanford University do to shape your aspirations? Michael: It planted a seed. So in – I graduated from Stanford in 2003, and in that last term, it was at the very end of my career and I wasn’t all that interested in academics anymore, but I took a course in international health and it was a really fascinating course. And the thing that sticks out the most in mind is that they showed the efficacy of a, it’s like a two-cent intervention. So, a lot of kids have, especially infants, have deficiencies in vitamins or nutrients. Zinc is a big problem, Vitamin A. If you give them just one pill then that prevents death, that prevents mental disability and these pills cost one-cent, two-cents. So, the idea that you could use something that is so cheap and have such a huge impact, that just showed me that health really is a way that you can have low cost, high-impact interventions. So, fast-forward a couple of years and I’ve been working with an organization called Kilifi Kids. Now, I started Kilifi Kids with my brother Marc in 2006. And it’s based in Rotary and it’s based in a connection that we’ve built with Rotary Club in Kilifi, Kenya. It’s just on the coast of Kenya. And Kilifi is really one of the poorest areas of Kenya, which is a very poor country, so it’s really one of the poorest areas in the world. But they have lots of assets in that they have this Rotary Club. They have a whole network of non-profit organizations that are really doing fantastic work. So, we started this connection, this organization and we started with scholarships, which were great. We were sending kids to secondary school, which was not free, we were giving them opportunities that they didn’t have. Each of those – it cost about a thousand dollars for each of those kids – we were thinking about what can we do next and all of a sudden, this class from college I still, I kept the, what do yo call it, all of the articles and all of my notes and what have you. And I was able to go back and remember these low-cost interventions. So, what we came up with was the power of a quarter. We found that you could de-worm – a lot of kids had intestinal parasites and food security is such a problem and there’s lots of malnutrition, so the parasites made it worse. But with just buying them a pill, buying kids a pill for one quarter that can get rid of their parasites, and it’s been shown that that adds the equivalent of a month of schooling to their school year because they’re less likely to be absent, they have better health, better attention in class. And so, with this evidence we could make a huge impact and so that’s what we did. We -- instead of focusing on -- we were giving scholarships to about 50 kids. So, we balanced that with giving de-worming medication to about thirty thousand kids and so we had the really intense -- Kilifi was built on a really intense, rather expensive intervention, given our size, and the less expensive, very broad intervention, which was in health. And so, that really, that idea of helping thirty thousand kids, I mean, that made every moment that I put into Kilifi Kids worth it. That really… that’s helped define who I am at this point. And so, it all kind of started with that class in international health.