Last April, Ashton Kutcher made history when he challenged CNN to a race to a million followers on Twitter and won. While certainly a coup for Ashton and for new-versus-traditional media, the real winners of the Twitter race are families in Africa.
As @aplusk amassed followers, he also encouraged Twitter users to donate mosquito nets in honor of World Malaria Day on April 25th -- making "malaria" a Trending Topic. What followed was an incredible demonstration of the power of social media to galvanize the online community around a cause.
As a result of the generosity of thousands of people on Twitter, Malaria No More is now distributing 89,724 mosquito nets across two health districts in Senegal -- enough for everyone across the districts of Saraya and Velingara to sleep under a net. And as each net usually protects at least two people, that means tens of thousands of parents will be able to tuck their children in safely at night by World Malaria Day 2010.
Social media has proven itself to be an outstanding force for good in recent weeks, revolutionizing the way in which individuals participate in humanitarian causes. Millions of people took to the web to share news and donate aid to recovery efforts in Haiti. Platforms like Facebook Causes have made it easier for individuals to fund raise for specific events and charities. And the non-profit Network for Good, where I serve as Chairman, reported that the number of individual online donations increased by a whopping 92% this year, even as the average dollar value of donations decreased due to the economy.
One of the biggest questions donors have is: how do I know that my gift is having an impact? At Malaria No More, it's important for us to show each and every one of our donors how their gift is making a difference -- from those who made big gifts like @aplusk and @mrskutcher, @oprah and @RyanSeacrest, to individuals who chose to skip a trip to Starbucks in order to donate a $10 mosquito net.
So to thank every person who made the Twitter Net distributions possible, we decided to bring a little bit of Twitter with us to Senegal. As we work with the Peace Corps, Tostan and World Vision to distribute nets to families, we want to share the impact that Twitter is having on the lives of children in Senegal. Check out our photo album to see how Twitter is changing lives.
Malaria is a devastating disease, killing hundreds of thousands of children in sub-Saharan Africa every year. But it is preventable and treatable -- we have the tools and we know they work. This is malaria's moment. As the world works to end malaria deaths in Africa by 2015, every individual can help with as little as 140 characters.
I visited Senegal several weeks ago, in preparation for the Twitter Net distribution, and met with a doctor at a local clinic on the way to Saraya. He showed me his log book from November 2008, five pages filled with names and the same diagnosis over and over: malaria. He then flipped to November 2009 and showed me the list of malaria cases. It didn't even fill half a page. The difference? In 2009, his health district had received a mass distribution of mosquito nets -- enough for every person to sleep under every night. In Saraya and Velingara we are accomplishing that same level of coverage, thanks to the generosity of Twitter users around the world.
Our goal is to make malaria no more by 2015. Thank you for tweeting and helping us get there.
To find out more about malaria and Malaria No More, or to donate a $10 mosquito net, please visit MalariaNoMore.org.