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Interview with Innovator Dan Ogola

Aired March 4, 2012 - 14:00   ET


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN ANCHOR: What do an African dance troop, hand crafted jewelry business, travel agency and state-of-the-art hospital all have in common.

Well, they were all created by this man, the innovator in Eastern Africa who sparked an economic boom simply by seeing opportunities where others saw only obstacles.


DANNY OGOLA, FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, MATIBABU FOUNDATION: This hospital since we started it, last year, the cost of land before one acre used to go for about 40,000 penny shilling. Right now, it goes for about 240,000 penny shilling within a period of less than two years.

I'm Danny Ogola and I'm the founder and executive director of the Matibabu Foundation. Matibabu is a Swahili word for treatment. Matibabu Foundation is a community health initiative that creates a healthy productive and prosperous society. I'm trying to address two things. One, is health. Two, is the education.

HERNANDO GARZON, MD., DIRECTOR, KAISER PERMANENTE GOBAL HEALTH PROGRAM: We learned a long time ago that if you have an unhealthy community the potential for economic development is less, if people are out sick days, children not attending school because of illness and high illness rates, then the chances for economic development and prosperity are less.

OGOLA: The community are unique in many ways. It has the highest HIV prevalence of about 26 percent compared to the national average of 6 percent. It has one of the highest infant mortality in the region and very importantly, we lose a number of our population from vaccine preventable diseases. The people are very cool.

GUPTA (voice-over): The Matibabu team in Western Kenya is tackling these problems head on.

OGOLA: Matibabu was formally founded in 2006 and we have offered health services to over 60,000 population with about 200 lives saved.

GUPTA (on camera): With the support of his U.S. funders, Dan has built two health clinics, employed 800 in home health care workers and opened the community's first hospital, to serve his hometown in a district called Ugenya. The building prosperity takes more than just health care. OGOLA: This center is a facility that targets the people that are never given a chance to be in school. It offers them opportunity to come and learn and know how to read and write.

The youth friendly center targets out of schoolchildren with health education, health screening services and very importantly, build their life skills. The other thing that makes Matibabu truly unique is that it's us dealing with our own problem, founded by us for us.

GARZON: The funding for Matibabu may come largely from the United States, but the board of directors for Matibabu, the employees, many of the decision makers, are Kenyans so they really take ownership over it and that's made it more successful.

OGOLA: My role is a connecting dot. Connecting my community and communicating our plight to those people abroad like the doctors in Kaiser Permanente Hospital to come and see for themselves and walk with us, partner with us, to improve health care in my region.

GARZON: I think Dan is many things. I think he is a community activist. I think he is a social entrepreneur in a way and perhaps not to create profits for himself, but certainly with the idea that he's contributing to economic development of a community. So I think there's a lot to learn from Dan in the way that he's done what he's done with Matibabu.

OGOLA: As a kid when you see somebody beat your mom and you're powerless, you can just think of the frustration that you go through.




OGOLA: Poverty is so disempowering. It brings in hopelessness. It brings in serious desperation. It's so wasteful. I grew up in a house like this. Grass hut house with no light, no electricity. Very importantly, my mom used to make moon shine.

My mom's was typical. A number of women either were either making moonshine, others would sell their bodies to provide for their children. It's not just about the moonshine that was very challenging.

But the level of harassment she was facing from the police. As a kid when you see somebody beat your mom, and you are powerless, you can just think of the frustration that you go through. I became so much interested in medicine when we lost our first -- my brother.

My neighbor started my infant brother diet from the evil eye. It wasn't true. It was malaria. I wanted to be a doctor. It was difficult because of a lack of learning materials, but I really worked so hard and I passed -- I passed and I was called to do clinical medicine. But the same year that I was called for this, I lost my dad. Yes, so I couldn't proceed with the clinical medicine. Instead, I got a job in Nairobi. But I promised myself, that I will do something about health in the rural community though I couldn't go and do medicine, yes.

RYE BARCOTT, AUTHOR, "IT HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO WAR": I think the natural reaction for anybody to feel walking into an environment like this which is often called a mega slum, is just to be completely overwhelmed by the place, completely overwhelmed by the sights, by the sounds, by the deprivation, the raw pain, but also the enormous energy and compassion and community of the place.

That's what I didn't expect when I first went there and I met this fellow Dan Ogola and he had been living there three years because he came to Nairobi like so many other young people in search of more opportunity.

GUPTA (voice-over): Dan found a job, a good one, conducting quality control it tests for a Nairobi base pharmaceutical company. It paid $1 a day. But when an aerosol can exploded in his face his life took a dramatic turn.

OGOLA: With my eyes red having suffered the explosion on my face, I realized a number of young people go through tough time and that's why they decide to go and drink and go into drugs, just to deal with the hopelessness and the frustration that they never expected.

So the big question was, should I join them or should they join me? I founded community support group to empower the people by sharing knowledge and also providing platform for people to explore their talents. My thinking was that was another way of breaking the vicious cycle of poverty.

GUPTA (on camera): Dan began by organizing basic health and hygiene programs, teaching his neighbors to make their lives better taking better care of themselves.

BARCOTT: He forged the partnerships. He figured out how to work with the CDC. He figured out how to work with local doctors and doctors volunteer doctors from elsewhere around the world and then he used those -- that synergy to help build capacity locally. In the end that's what's really key.

GUPTA (voice-over): From health services, Dan expanded into sports and educational programs then into business. He launched a travel agency, a dance troupe, even a jewelry business, all to support and empower his community.

OGOLA: Unlike many people's expectation. The life here is a normal life like any other life. People wake up, go look for job. Kids play.

It's only outsiders that when they come in they think that people live in complete sadness, that wealth it's so great and so -- I mean in times of social richness, this is the place. In terms of economic challenges, yes, this is also the place.

GUPTA: Recognizing many of his neighbors were just like him, strangers to the city, desperate for jobs, Dan searched for a way to stop them from ever coming here into the first place

OGOLA: I decide to deal with the health, which was a major problem in the region where I was coming from, and use health to create employment and prosperity in the rural so create jobs in the rural.

GUPTA: A creative solution for a problem that's plagued Nairobi for generations and Dan's first step toward realizing a life-long dream, quality health care for his hometown.

BARCOTT: The town is universal, but opportunity is not and nobody best exemplifies that than Dan. He had nothing behind his name, except for a lot of drive, a lot of ambition. I was deeply moved when I met him. I knew he was a special person and I'm so proud of him for always being able to accomplish now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think Dan Ogola, he's great. I don't have much to say about him, but he has really helped us, the girls.




OGOLA: I think my mom really inspired me to appreciate women in the community. The kind they put in place to support their children. Traditionally, when they call they do all the domestic chores. The community to some extent has been so unfair to the gals in that their voices are gone.

GARZON: Women have such a significant role in so many communities in developing countries and influencing their lives, influences the lives of their children and the lives of the community that they support so if you educate a girl that could pass on to her children much more so than if you educate the boy.

OGOLA: Matibabu has a school by supporting the girls to be conscious of their health and also how they can avoid pregnancies.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think Dan Ogola, he's great. I don't have much to say about him, but he has really helped us, the girls.

OGOLA: If Jacquelyn wasn't in school, probably she would be in one of the cities in Kenya, Nairobi or working as a house help or probably she would have been married off and at the age of about 23 she could be having five or so children.

JACQUELYN, STUDENT: There are so many girls who have not gone to second level of education and they have gotten married so early. I want to be a journalist after my graduation.

GUPTA (voice-over): For boys and girls like Jacquelyn, eager to learn even after the school day ends, Matibabu has started two youth friendly centers from computer classes to sewing programs.

OGOLA: Some of the products they make are consumed internally like they make the uniforms for the nurses and the doctors. Others are sold to schools like school uniforms.

GUPTA: Matibabu is also building an adult education center or smart center where anyone, no heart how old, can learn to read and write. Until it's finished, students are crowding into a mud hut nearby.

OGOLA: Women are streaming in and taking advantage. They want to learn because they were never offered opportunity to be in class. Education is very important for Matibabu. It's easier to communicate if the community is educated.

For the children, it opens for them an opportunity when they grow up to be employed. And if that happens, then they can come and consume the services that Matibabu is offering and that leads to sustainability of our health program.




BARCOTT: Dan came from such humble roots without a support network. He was very much on his own and he took on this daunting mission to create a hospital, you know, hundreds of miles away from Nairobi in his homeland.

OGOLA: The reason we have created the hospital is because the community wanted it so, so much.

GAIL WAGNER, MD., CHAIRMAN, THE MATIBABU FOUNDATION: The first module has all private rooms. It's 10 beds and it's going to be a pediatric short stay unit. This will keep all these little babies with malaria from dying because they can't get to another hospital.

OGOLA: Having this hospital here, will mean a lot. One, it will be an opportunity for the community to access quality health services very close to their doors. It will also be an opportunity for some of the community members to be employed and by extension, it will boost the economic development of this community.

WAGNER: The long-term plan is that it would have at least 100 beds, operating rooms, delivery rooms, full-service lab.

GARZON: What's really amazing is to see how the whole community has sort of become more awake, that there's more activity around the center of town, all of which is due to everything that Matibabu is doing.

WAGNER: Businesses are sort of migrating towards the hospital. When I was there a year ago, they were building a hotel, a hotel. It's really phenomenal.

GARZON: Any time you have a program that's as successful as Matibabu you have to look at it and ask why.

I think that's really one of the brilliant things that Dan has been able to accomplish there, because he has been able to navigate a system that's difficult to navigate where there's corruption, where there's apathy and really get people to be interested in what he's offering.

OGOLA: The beautiful challenge for me actually is I'm dealing with such a complex thing. How do I offer holistic health services to my community, the agricultural component, the education component of it.

There's lack of infrastructure so at times it's annoying you're trying your best, but never addressing the full scope or full scale of the community.

GARZON: Most people I don't think could ever have imagined that Matibabu would have been as big or successful as it is today when the idea was first kicked around.

WAGNER: A long-term goal for Matibabu is to become sustainable. We need to find for profit activities that can support the clinical activities and Dan is working very hard on that.

OGOLA: I want to communicate the health situation of my people with anybody. It's something that I love so I don't need to push myself to say. Any time I meet you I want to share with you.

I'm Dan Ogola, I come from this community and I don't say it when I'm shy. I say it with a lot of vigor because I love my community. The goodwill that we have, yes, those make Matibabu truly.


GUPTA: Dan Ogola, making a difference in the physical and economic health of his community. Dan is one of a unique group of people driven to do more with what they love doing. Sometimes they find that passion by accident and other times born to do nothing else.

In the end, Dan is an agent of change and that's what earns him a spot on THE NEXT LIST. For more on this episode and other agents of change go to

You can follow us on Twitter @cnnthenextlist and on Facebook at next list. Also my life stream, Thanks so much for watching. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. See you next Sunday right here on THE NEXT LIST.