Article by Chesca Colloredo-Mansfeld, CEO and co-founder of MiracleFeet

When I founded MiracleFeet, I had just finished working with two highly successful internet start-ups.

It was thrilling at the time because I was working with small businesses that were leveraging everything the internet had to offer in the mid-1990s. Amazon had just been founded; it was the era of the first internet corporations, and I was a part of it.

Getting MiracleFeet off the ground required me to not only leverage my industry skills, but also shift my focus from financial impact to social impact. I needed to recruit the right people and partners, research existing systems and funding mechanisms, and most importantly collaborate with industry specialists who could provide technical expertise.

The first leap of any entrepreneur’s journey is to find funding. It was crucial to be able to pitch and sell an idea to investors using language they understood and could related to. Little did I know how often I would draw on my corporate and high-tech experience when meeting with individuals and groups to share the MiracleFeet story. Now, we’ve raised over 42 million dollars to support clubfoot treatment for children all over the world.

Of course, with any venture, people want a good return on investment. In philanthropy, this is measured in terms of social or human impact. MiracleFeet treats young children at an average cost of $500 per child. This investment not only allows a child to walk and run, but also unleashes lifelong potential – to attend school, play sports, be involved in the community, and eventually obtain gainful employment. This return on philanthropic investment is tremendously appealing to many donors.

More broadly, my experience as a business entrepreneur made me more comfortable taking risks and being brave enough to develop something from scratch. Being in an entrepreneurial environment energised me – it was a great thrill, and I gained some stamina to tolerate a certain level of risk in exchange for the possibility of success.

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My next task was to figure out how to integrate and leverage technology, which was quickly evolving, to improve our processes and services.

Clubfoot has a very low-tech solution: the Ponseti method, which is an affordable, non-surgical- treatment, involving a series of casts for 4-6 weeks to gently reposition the feet, followed by a simple procedure to release the Achilles tendon. Lastly, infants wear a foot abduction brace to prevent relapse. The method is and the gold-standard of care endorsed by leading health agencies and provides full mobility in 95% of cases.

Since the treatment method was already tried and tested, MiracleFeet’s job was and still is to implement that treatment across the world. To achieve this, we worked with experts to roll-out and scale access to treatment efficiently without compromising the quality of the care. This is when design came into play.

When we first started, braces in the US cost between 350 and 1600 USD each. This price point isn’t realistic for most families in low- and middle-income countries. We tried using locally made braces, but quality and inventory control were hugely challenging as we expanded to multiple countries and continents.

To address this, we designed a MiracleFeet brace in partnership with Stanford University’s Design for Extreme Affordability Program. Using a human centered design approach, we collaborated with parents, children, and providers to design an affordable, high-quality brace prioritizing ease of use, durability, and comfort. Thanks to the generosity of our manufacturing partners, Suncast, Clarks Shoes, and ByFoot, the brace is now being mass-produced for 20 dollars – a fraction of the cost of US or UK braces – and is in use in 20 countries around the world.

During the early years of MiracleFeet, when we only had a few clinics, we could visit them in person to keep updated with patients and their progress, and to ensure we were meeting the high standards of care we set for ourselves. But as the organisation grew, this became increasingly difficult. We needed a streamlined data collection tool to support and track patient progress across our growing global network of clinics and providers. Designing the tool was a long and involved process, but thanks to a fortuitous Google.org grant, we were able to develop a mobile data collection app, CAST, which allowed us to transform how we gather and use data worldwide and helped us amplify our focus on treatment precision and program quality. This technology was made available by Dimagi, a tech firm specializing in creating systems for low-resource environments.

As the technology reflects patient treatment in real time, it’s easy to see and monitor the status of each child’s care; we can simply check on our phones. This has allowed us to scale quickly without sacrificing quality.

If something is flagged in CAST, the centralised team can work with the local teams to find a solution. The in-country providers know what solutions will work best in their area and use this knowledge along with the information shared on the platform to drive decision-making – a much more streamlined way of working.

Not only does this help with internal monitoring and reporting, but also the data we can mine from the programme is a fantastic way to demonstrate transparency with external stakeholders. It’s important to show investors what we’ve been doing with their money, and who we’ve been helping.

During the pandemic, this technology and data were especially useful. It allowed work to continue without the need for the central team to visit the clinics in person, as all processes were fed through the app. Because everything could be done online, the team didn’t skip a beat.

Looking ahead to the future, we are currently working on a brace sensor that can detect if a brace is being worn properly, and how often. Data from the sensor feeds back to the digital system and providers can counsel parents on the importance of correct use. This is still in the preliminary stages of development, but we see a lot of potential for a technology like this in helping prevent relapse.

About the author

Chesca Colloredo-Mansfeld leveraged everything the internet had to offer in the mid-1990s when she worked on two highly successful internet start-ups. But in a bid to make a meaningful difference with her life, Chesca leveraged her strategic and high-tech skills learned through her business entrepreneurship to shift her focus from financial to social impact.