04/30/2007 02:29 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Making Connections

REDlogo.jpgIt'll take 22.5 hours -- not counting the 10 hour layover in London -- to get to Swaziland. That's a lot of air miles. But the point of the trip is to lessen the distance between (RED) shoppers around the world and the (RED) shareholders in Africa. Like most businesses, (RED) exists to generate returns and create value. Our dividends are a bit non-traditional, however, as we measure them in number of "lives saved."

I fly to Swaziland today to meet some of the moms and kids that have been saved since inspired, empowered people started purchasing (RED) items from our brand partners -- Gap, Motorola, Converse, Emporio Armani, Apple, and American Express -- generating $25 million for the Global Fund to invest in HIV/AIDS programs in Africa. We may only have launched last year, but already (RED) shoppers have helped make us one of the top 15 contributors to the Global Fund. And 100% of (RED) funds go directly into the field to activate efforts that represent the best performing and neediest programs in the Global Fund's portfolio.

Swaziland was chosen as the second country, after Rwanda, to receive a (RED) grant through the Global Fund. With a population of 1.1 million, Swaziland's HIV prevalence is 33 percent, and life expectancy is 42. Among pregnant women, HIV prevalence is at 39 percent. More than 70,000 children have been orphaned by this treatable, preventable disease. These data may seem daunting but (RED) consumer power is already making an impact. With an initial disbursement of $5.3 million, (RED) funding has already provided the medicine needed to keep 17,000 people with HIV/AIDS alive, in addition to providing the medicine to ensure that the children of HIV positive moms are born healty, and providing support for over 59,000 vulnerable children.

But numbers only tell part of a story... usually the dry part... so over the next week we are going to share the pictures and words and feelings that make the fine connection, which is the poetry of understanding. I want to bring each and everyone of you with us virtually on this journey because understanding is a two-way street or, maybe a better way to say it, is that understanding is "linked hearts" like the West African Akoma Ntoso symbol featured on some of the (GAP) RED shirts.

We want (RED)'s shareholders in Swaziland to feel connected to the (RED) consumer community, just as we want the (RED) community to feel connected to the people we'll be meeting in Swaziland. We know it's important to "show the money," so all can see that (RED) is working. But showing the money, we hope, will also make clear that these connections are real in a much deeper sense. Central to (RED) is the idea that all participants in the value chain get embraced (RED) -- the purchaser, the corporate partner, and those impacted by HIV/AIDS in Africa. This world needs more embraces.

More from the Manzini, after meeting up with my travel companions: Christy Turlington (RED) ambassador; Adele Sulcas from the Global Fund, and Julie Cordua (RED). Nicole Hahn, who was with us on a May '06 trip to Rwanda and Lesotho will also be joining to help us gather this chapter on film. Stay tuned... Christy and I will be posting frequently here as our trip progresses.