The apparent solution to poor education? Give students the textbooks and other school supplies they need. But it wasn’t that simple for Michael Kremer, former economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Kremer began by testing the theory that access to textbooks improves education. He split schools in Kenya into groups that received textbooks and groups that did not. When he revisited the schools years later, he was surprised to find no improvement in the groups with textbooks.

Then he considered another factor. Six hundred million children in the world are infected with worms. Worms sap nutrition from the body, causing anemia, stomachaches and stunting. What if deworming were the key to better school performance instead of textbooks?

When Kremer tested his theory, the results were clear. He found that when infected students took a 49-cent deworming pill, their grades improved — and it even affected their future earnings. In contrast, textbooks can cost as much as $2 to $3 each.

Kremer went on to create Deworm the World, which has helped to deworm an estimated 40 million children in 27 countries.

Have an idea to solve a problem in your community? Take tips from Kremer:

  • Test your idea. Evidence-based ideas, backed by data, may get more support.

  • Consider cost. The most expensive solution is not always the smartest one.

  • Keep it simple. Simple solutions empower the community to tackle problems.