FOB-ANGE(RED)...(RED)ACTED?ANGE(RED): A letter from Susan Smith, CEO, (RED)

In the November issue, Celia Farber wrote about the color red and shared an opinion about (PRODUCT) RED that is far from reality.

First, she stated that (PRODUCT) RED emanated from Bono and the Bush White House. While Bono is one of our founders, the Bush White House was not involved with the creation of (RED).

(RED) was created by Bono and Bobby Shriver as a brand to engage the private sector in the fight against AIDS in Africa and to raise money and awareness for the Global Fund. Our founders' advocacy work with DATA (Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa) to raise much-needed resources for the Global Fund kept hitting a wall as the Global Fund had initially been established as a public/private partnership, yet in the first four years there was next-to-nothing coming from the private sector. Governments said they would not increase their own contributions until there were substantial funds from the private sector. Hence, (RED) was born to engage the private sector in a sustainable way.

Farber shares an opinion that (RED) "flopped spectacularly." This assessment is way off-base. In its first four years, the Global Fund had raised just $5 million from the private sector. In just two years, (RED) has increased that 20-fold - generating more than $112 million for the Global Fund. This makes (RED) the fourteenth largest annual donor to the Global Fund, above countries such as Australia, China and South Korea.

We've also continually added partners, with three global brands - Microsoft, Dell and Starbucks - joining this year.

(RED) is clearly delivering on its goals. And, I can tell you that the people I met in Rwanda who are now receiving lifesaving antiretroviral medicine because of (RED) and the Global Fund do not consider this a failure.

Thank you,
Susan Smith Ellis


(RED)ACTED?: Celia Farber replies

I based my assessment that project RED was a failure on the following facts:

It was reported in Advertising Age on March 7, 2007 that the collective marketing outlay for the RED campaign was at least $100 million, whereas the worldwide tally raised one year after its launch was a mere $18 million - nowhere near the hoped for "hundreds of millions." This was, by all accounts, the result of a deep rejection by the public of RED's core assumption that increased consumption of luxury goods pumped into already over-loaded pharmaceutical programs was either humane or productive.

The greatest causes of deaths on the African continent are malnutrition, malaria and diarrheal diseases caused by contaminated water. There is a grossly disproportionate budget for funding of anti-retroviral drugs, compared to the much more necessary implementation of infrastructures that address clean water, basic nutrition, and improved sanitation.

Many people working in philanthropic projects in Africa, myself included, wish fervently that Bono would stop and listen to the real issues that affect African health. If he took the time to read the scientific literature and listen to actual Africans, he might re-focus his admirable efforts in the direction that all consciousness is headed, namely away from the pharmaceutical juggernaut and back to classical solutions rooted in improved sanitation, infrastructure, and a swift end to the flawed and racist model that allows westerners to dictate to Africans that they are dying from a sexually transmitted disease.

The global pharmaceutical HIV/AIDS snowball has pulled so many elements into itself that it is hard to distinguish where it all begins or ends. Bono famously persuaded George Bush to increase the already infuriatingly over-blown HIV/ARV budget, which he did - increasing Congressional funding for HIV/AIDS from $15 billion to $30 billion in 2007, and marking the event by hanging a 28-foot-high red ribbon on the White House. Bush appeared on the cover of Bono's guest edited Vanity Fair RED issue in 2007, creating the impression he was integral to the campaign, hence my use of the word "emanated." I concede that I should have used a more accurate word since he was not one of the founders of the project itself.

I regret the error.

Next story loading loading..