In 2004, a colleague approached Chesca
Colloredo-Mansfeld in her office at the
University of Iowa’s business school with
a video in hand.
“We hear you have a passion for Africa,”
he said, “and that you’re a strategy person.”
At the time, Colloredo-Mansfeld was
director of the Hawkinson Institute, an
investment banking program at UI’s Tippie
College of Business, after having spent
four years at the internet startup e Toys.
The visitor explained that a doctor at the
university, Ignacio V. Ponseti, had pioneered
a comprehensive technique for treating
clubfoot in the 1940s. Clubfoot is a birth
defect that causes one or both feet to turn
inward and upward, making it difficult
to walk properly. It affects one in every
800 newborns worldwide.
Using gentle manipulation and serial
casts, Ponseti’s technique gently and
gradually guides a child’s tendons, ligaments,
and bones into proper alignment without the
need for major surgery.
“The colleague showed me a video of
a boy standing in a doorway, and he had these
t wisted feet,” recalls Colloredo-Mansfeld,
who received her MBA from Stanford GSB
in 1992. “He was about 10 years old, and you
could see through the door way all these
other kids playing while he was standing
there with his head hanging down.”
Of the 175,000 babies born with clubfoot
worldwide each year, 90% are from countries
with limited access to proper treatment.
Colloredo-Mansfeld learned that Ponseti, in
his 90s at the time, had a dying wish to export
his treatment to low-income countries, where
for about $250 it offered a highly effective but
low-cost solution to what otherwise can be
a lifelong affliction.
Moved, she began thinking about how
to solve that problem. In 2010, Colloredo-Mansfeld left behind her academic career to
launch MiracleFeet, a nonprofit that so far
has helped 35,000 children in 26 countries
by partnering with local healthcare
professionals to create clubfoot programs.
MiracleFeet, based in Chapel Hill, North
Carolina, now has 19 full-time employees.
An additional 20 people are based in India.
“I had been given these amazing
opportunities, including a spot at Stanford
GSB, but having a job and having a lovely
family was not enough,” says the mother of
three. “People had invested a lot in me, and
I thought it was important to give back.”
Talk us through the early stages of
developing MiracleFeet, from idea to
funding to execution. By the time this
colleague came to ask for my help, the Ponseti
method had finally been established as the
gold-standard treatment in the U.S. When
I got involved, doctors were basically saying,
“Now that this method is totally embraced
in the U.S. and Europe, we can take it to the
rest of the world where very little treatment is
available.” I started working with a handful of
people in the orthopedic department at Iowa,
but I actually got very frustrated.
Why? The University of Iowa is a big research
institution. A significant portion of funds
raised goes to the university; that’s what
universities do to cover their overhead.
I argued that we needed to set up a separate
nonprofit and decide if we were training
doctors or treating children, because our
donors would need to see the impact we were
having. But none of this went down well with
the orthopedic surgeons. It was frustrating.
So they needed your help to take it
worldwide? That makes me sound like I’ve
played a bigger role than I have. What I saw in
this was that Dr. Ponseti had done the difficult
part finding a better treatment. And I thought,
how hard would it be to get something that
makes so much sense out to the rest of the world?
Compared to a lot of the world’s problems,
solving clubfoot is not that difficult, although
it has certainly been more challenging than
And then your husband (an anthropologist)
took a job at the University of North Carolina
and you left Iowa behind — but not the idea
of helping solve this problem. I just couldn’t
get the image of this child out of my head, and
I kept thinking this is what I really wanted and
needed to do. My husband’s work often took us to
Ecuador, and I’d see kids with untreated clubfoot
and think, “This is nuts. There’s a solution for
this.” I had grown up in Africa [as the daughter of
a British diplomat] and always thought I would
work in international development. Like many,
I got caught up in a corporate career and raising
our kids, but inside me was a deep desire to make
a difference in the kind of places where I had
grown up. Perhaps naively I thought that with
the management and business skills I’ve been
lucky enough to develop, I ought to be able to
make a difference.
At some point, you connected with a group
of parents who shared your interest in
creating a nonprofit to tackle this issue.
Yes. Fortunately, I was put in touch with some
parents who had children born with clubfoot,
who wanted to make sure all kids had the
treatment their children had had in the U.S.
They had even come up with a name for the
organization they wanted to create: MiracleFeet.
After meeting them in New York, we started
talking about the fact that we really needed
to hire someone to focus on this full time to
actually make this happen. As I was flying back
on the plane, I thought, “This is my chance.
If I don’t do this now, when? I should just quit
my job and offer to do this.” This is what led to
the creation of MiracleFeet in 2010.
What appealed to you about that challenge?
This seemed like an implementation issue.
There are so few problems where you have an
obvious, low-cost, easy solution. I thought
someone with an MBA ought to be able to roll
this out. It was a good match with my skills. We
didn’t have to solve the problem; we just had
to bring the solution to the kids who needed it.
And the return on your investment?
MiracleFeet combines a simple solution with
Finding a Low-
Chesca Colloredo-Mansfeld’s journey from
online retail to academia to a healthcare nonprofit
has paid off in ways that can’t be measured.
BY MARTIN J. SMITH
Photograph by Lissa Gotwals