Why Oath: A Founder’s Story
The path to founding Oath started with New York salons and Ebola.
My experiences in small, intentional communities have profoundly shaped how I see myself and how I experience the world. Living in NYC in my early 20’s, I was introduced to salons — small groups of 7–10 women who met every other week to carve out time for deeper conversation.
The two questions that formed the foundation of each salon were: what, to you, is a life worth living and how are you going about living that life? These salons were the first time I had the experience of being deeply vulnerable with strangers and feeling fully seen as well as profoundly loved for who I was, mess and all.
That same year, I worked on the ground during the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, partnering with Doctors Without Borders to build a tech platform for contact tracing. I saw how health, which was something I thought of previously as happening on an individual level, actually happens in community. The deeper I dug, the more apparent this became. In fact, researchers now believe that not just your friends, but their friend’s friends have a direct and measurable impact on your health outcomes.
Then I came across information on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and my world split open. As Dr. Nadine Burke Harris describes so powerfully in her TED Talk:
In the mid-’90’s, the CDC and Kaiser Permanente discovered an exposure that dramatically increased the risk for 7 out of 10 of the leading causes of death in the United States. In high doses, it affects brain development, the immune system, hormonal systems, and even the way our DNA is read and transcribed. Folks who are exposed in very high doses have 3x the lifetime risk of heart disease and lung cancer and a 20-year difference in life expectancy. And yet, doctors today are not trained in routine screening or treatment. Now, the exposure is not a pesticide of a packaging chemical. It’s childhood trauma.
How had we held the key for over 25 years to transforming health outcomes, beginning in early childhood, and not managed to use it in clinical practice? While it is true that the issue of childhood trauma is complex, it turns out to have some relatively simple antidotes, including the presence of trusted community. Specifically, the presence of one or more adults who can effectively “buffer” the child’s stress makes the single greatest difference in whether that stress becomes toxic.
Then, I met my Co-founder, Michelle Stephens. By chance, we sat down next to each other in the back of a Chinese restaurant during a mutual friend’s birthday party. I started talking about Oath and she revealed that she had just completed her PhD at UCSF in (you guessed it) ACEs, and specifically how to measure the biomarkers that correlate with them.
I could not believe that I had managed to sit next to one of the handful of clinician-researchers who had studied ACEs deeply. It won’t come as a surprise that the vision I had for Oath was one Michelle had been dreaming of as well. We wanted to use the lever of community to deeply understand human wellbeing and meaningfully improve health outcomes for the next generation of kids. Very early on, we knew we would dedicate our lives to building this company together, and we’ve been at it ever since.
Oath is born from our own experiences with the transformative power of small groups and the research of how tight-knit community can transform not just health outcomes, but our very understanding of human wellbeing.
We’re just getting started.
Oath is building the social and digital technology to enable intimate community and expert support at your fingertips, from pregnancy to pediatrics. Join us for the journey at oathcare.com.