Combating the AIDS epidemic can seem insurmountable, with over 6,800 new HIV infections and 4,500 AIDS-related deaths everyday. That's exactly what I thought in 2004, as I watched government cash to the Global Fund trying to keep pace with the demand for such funds and private contributions severely lagging behind.
(RED) arose from that desperate moment of challenge. And in a little over a year, (RED) customers have impacted the lives of over one million people. By buying (RED) products, shoppers have helped provide life-saving medicine, and education, counseling and testing services to women and children with HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. They have generated $50 million in cash for the Global Fund. This is nearly eight times more than the previous amount raised from the private sector in its first four years of existence. This means that (RED) is working.
A study by Compassion International says that only one-third of Americans believe that individuals can effectively address the HIV/AIDS crisis affecting other countries.
(RED) customers are challenging that.
If someone told me a decade ago that by buying something I already wanted I could help save lives, I wouldn't have believed it. Today, we are witnessing the rise of pro-social brands, where companies give shoppers an opportunity to support initiatives with their purchases. Proceeds from the sales of (RED)-branded items can now help buy antiretroviral medications for a person in Africa living with HIV/AIDS. The list of possibilities -- either purchases or causes -- is great. Pro-social brands, such as (RED), are business models that can be replicated around the world, delivering sustainable resources not typically engaged in these fights.
These business models complement the work of charities. They cannot, however, be viewed as substitutes. It is a choice about what you are already buying.
If not for our partner companies -- American Express, Apple, Converse, Gap, Emporio Armani, Motorola and Hallmark -- (RED) would not be the 13th largest contributor to the Global Fund in 2006-2007. Acting together, these companies did more than countries such as Australia, Russia or China. But it is not all about conspicuous consumption. (RED) brings another dimension to everyday purchases, whether it is a Hallmark card or Emporio Armani sunglasses.
We take the World AIDS Day mission as our goal everyday: to educate, motivate and mobilize people in the fight against AIDS. Some people don't know how to help; others don't feel they can make a difference. We exist as proof to the fact that the simplest activity of buying a shirt can help save a life.
The worst thing any of us -- individuals or companies -- can do is do nothing. AIDS isn't a fad to fight once a year...we can do something every day of the year. One of those things is (RED).
Chairman of (RED)