Olson Global Communications
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A Life Committed to Communication

For as long as I can remember, I have been interested in communication in different forms. As a child on a farm in southwestern Minnesota, I was a voracious reader and journal writer. At the age of 17, I published a history of my Swedish family that homesteaded that farm in 1881. As a college student, I declared a major in journalism because I was curious and thought journalism was my vehicle for changing the world. After graduation, I worked in newspaper journalism for three years. I joined the Peace Corps to have an adventure. But after two years in Africa, I decided that I needed something more than journalism to help me change the world. Thus began my career in international development.

Since I started that career 30 years ago, my love of communication has manifested itself in many different ways:

  • Working as a reporter on my college newspaper and host of my own jazz show on college radio.
  • Spending two summers in college in Europe, working and living in Holland and France, and learning French.
  • Working on daily newspapers writing and editing all types of stories, editorials and a Sunday column.
  • Teaching agriculture to Togolese adolescents as a Peace Corps volunteer and leading a training program of U.S. Peace Corps volunteers in Benin.
  • Collaborating with subsistence farmers in Mali on sustainable horticulture and afro-forestry.
  • Leading a major evaluation of a grass roots communications network across sub-Saharan Africa for Oxfam U.K.
  • Leading the design and implementation of HIV/AIDS, family planning and child health social marketing programs in Zambia, Bangladesh and Paraguay.
  • Speaking on social marketing, global health and health communications to hundreds of students at Yale University, George Washington University, Johns Hopkins University, University of Maryland, Syracuse University, Hunter College and Vanderbilt University.
  • Discovering my ancestral village in France, connecting with my relatives there and telling that story twice on "Envoye Special," the most popular TV magazine program on French television, in 2002 and 2012.
  • Providing media training to health researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and speaking on nonprofit communications at Harvard Business School.
  • Designing and leading strategic communications planning in Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Eritrea, Nigeria, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Russia, Swaziland, Vietnam, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
  • When attacked by political and social conservatives for my nonprofit's HIV prevention practices, fighting back by telling our story on Capitol Hill and getting out the evidence.
  • Promoting and advocating for HIV prevention and family planning in international and regional conferences in Berlin, Marrakech, Bangkok, Toronto, Mexico City, Dakar, Vienna, Rome, Washington and Addis Ababa.
  • Advocating for global health at G8 and G20 summits in Italy, the U.S., Canada, France and Mexico.
  • Writing a speech for Global AIDS Ambassador Ashley Judd that she delivered at the National Press Club in Washington.
  • Je parle francais, hablo espanol y falo um pouco de portugues.
My career has been characterized by carefully designing communication strategies based on knowledge of the audiences, applying those strategies in a highly targeted way and measuring their impact. (click on "My case studies" at left for specific examples of my work.)

My professional experience started in newspaper journalism, moved into grass-roots development in West Africa (primarily in agriculture, forestry and wells construction) and then into health social marketing in Africa, Asia and South America. When I returned to my home country in 2001, I also returned to my communications roots while developing new skills in strategic planning, advocacy and new media. Here's my career at a glance:

Since 2011: Independent consulting for Olson Global Communication, providing services that produce measurable results in strategic communications and policy, social marketing, social and behavior change communication and project implementation. 2019 clients include DKT International; Palladium and Hyderus. Writes for Huffington Post, Impatient Optimists (Gates Foundation), Fast Company, Washington Post and others, and has over 3,300 followers on Twitter @davidjolson and Instagram @davidjolson. Member and secretary of Board of Directors of Christian Connections for International Health.

2009-2011: In charge of policy communications at the Global Health Council, the world's largest membership alliance of global health organizations, and responsible for formulating, managing and leading efforts to communicate the policy positions of the Council. I represented global health at G8 summits in Italy, Canada and France; the NGO Forum on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Development in Berlin; the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh; the White House and the World Health Assembly at the World Health Organization.

2001-2009: Managed the public affairs department of a major non-profit, charged with highly targeted communications through a variety of media and developing the capacity of our overseas programs to do the same, which led to tangible results. Later, founded and led the organization's successful effort to advocate for evidence-based global health policies and started telling its story through social media.

1992-2001: Led social marketing programs in Paraguay, Bangladesh and Zambia. While I was based in Zambia, I used that platform to convince donors and governments in Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe to support social marketing programs. Those four countries now account for more than 20% of all the organization's health impact worldwide.

1983-1992: Created a successful grass roots development program in Mali that is still going strong, taught agriculture as a Peace Corps volunteer in Togo, led the training of new volunteers in Benin and led a major evaluation for Oxfam U.K.

1978-1983: Worked in just about every conceivable position in three daily newspapers in North Dakota and South Carolina.

That adds up to 36 years of communications and nonprofit management experience in four languages and in 40 countries on five continents - at newspapers from North Dakota to South Carolina; in rural villages on the coast of Togo, the sands of the Sahara Desert and the Parana of Paraguay; and in the power centers of Washington, New York, London, Frankfurt, Berlin and Geneva.


David J. Olson
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David Olson in Maine 2012