The Skype connection to Kenya crackles. Mikkel Vestergaard Frandsen, the 38-year-old CEO of a Swiss company that bears his family name, tried to make himself heard. His excitement is palpable.
“Watching this unfold is crazy,” he tells me. “There are so many things we’re trying out here, things we’ve never done before, things that no one has ever done before.”
Vestargaard Frandsen is a Swiss for-profit company that’s in business to save lives in the global south. Its products include LifeStraw, a water filter and PermaNet, a long-lasting bednet to protect people from malaria.
Ordinarily, it sells these products to aid organizations and governments. Then they’re given to people in need. This time, Vestergaard is trying something different: It’s directly giving away about 1 million LifeStraws, at a cost of nearly $30 million, mobilizing thousands of local people to do so, tracking results carefully and expecting to be paid back in the form of carbon credits. Mikkel’s right–this has never been done before.
How this came to pass is interesting. Founded in 1957, family-owned Vestergaard Frandsen originally produced material for work clothes. About 20 years ago, it started a line of relief products like blankets and tents. By 1997, when Mikkel became CEO, the company had phased out conventional textiles to concentrate on relief aid products.
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