The following is a conversation between Gayle Smith, President and CEO of the ONE Campaign, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer WNYM in New York City.
Denver: Can a nonprofit organization that raises no money from the public, doesn’t even ask, has no programs on the ground to serve people, and provides no grants to other organizations still be effective? Well, the answer is Yes! And we’ll hear how from Gayle Smith, the President and CEO of the ONE Campaign.
Good evening, Gayle and welcome to The Business of Giving!
Gayle: Thank you so much for having me, and I love the setup.
Denver: So, now that we know what you don’t do, tell us what ONE does do.
Gayle: Our official name is the “ONE Campaign,” so think of that word campaign and imagine campaigns that have the great advantage of not including politicians. What we do is we run campaigns to get things done, and in getting things done, we deliver one of three things:1) either more money, more resources that can go into global development and then move us further in our mission to end extreme poverty and preventable disease; or 2) put policies on the table that will make a difference in a more systemic way; or third 3) mobilize more citizens because we all know that an active citizenry is the best way to get a government to take action.
I can give you a couple of examples because I’m sure that sounds really good but totally out of step.
Denver: Please do.
Gayle: A couple of examples we’re working on right now that have to do with money. One was a more defensive campaign. There was a move in Washington to cut our foreign aid budget by $4 billion. That’s a lot of money to take off the table in an area where foreign aid for the United States is an expression of our values, but also very much in our interest. We mounted a campaign that was part public but also part an inside game by working with Democrats and Republicans on the Hill to stop that and succeeded. So that was kind of protecting a big chunk of money.
On the side of putting more money on the table: In October, there will be the what’s called a “replenishment” for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria. The way to think about that is it’s a little bit like an IPO or something. It’s every three years, this big multilateral organization that was built by the entire world to really make a dent, particularly in the AIDS epidemic at a time when the world was way behind, does a reoffering and replenishes its funding. Their target is $14 billion. It’s a lot of money. But to date, the Global Fund has helped save the lives of 32 million people. This new replenishment is 16 million people, and not only do we enable those people to live on ARVs, but the more people who are tested and treated on AIDS, the more you reduce the spread rate. So, it’s a huge win.
Now, what we’ve seen at a time when a lot of countries are distracted is that most donor countries are increasing their investments from the last time by anywhere between 10% and 15%. We’ve run a massive campaign on that for months. It’s an inside game. We’re going constantly to these donor countries in all of the key places because we’re based all over the world. But we also run a public campaign and asked the public to join in and tell your decision-makers that you actually care; you want to see us end the AIDS epidemic. So that’s the outside campaign.
The last thing I’ll mention in terms of mobilizing citizens. ONE has always done a great job of mobilizing people in this country. I served in the White House twice and was at the other end of the ONE Campaign where they were advocating to me and to us that we do things. The fact that they had lots and lots of American citizens– and I might add donors– behind them matters. It makes a huge difference, both in encouraging decision-makers, but then also giving them credit when they do the right thing.
We have the same situation in Europe, but we are now building ONE out in Africa. This is so exciting because we’ve got a ONE team in Nigeria, for example, where literally millions of Nigerians are mobilizing and trusting their own government, that has put more money on health, and they just had a huge victory on that. So that mobilizing citizens isn’t just organizing for organizing’s sake; it’s organize because that’s how you get change.
Denver: It makes all the difference in the world.
I think the sheer outrage, the oneness – the fundamental oneness – that on the same planet where you and I live, you could have millions of people literally starving to death I think inspired him to say, “I got to do something about this.”
Denver: If there’s one thing that everybody knows about ONE, it is Bono. Tell us about his involvement and how ONE first got started.
Gayle: So he’s really an extraordinary man. Now, he happens to be an amazing singer and frontman for an extraordinary band.
Denver: I’ve heard.
Gayle: I suspect that you, too, heard that he’s been on the road for a long time.
The turning point for him – and I met him many years ago – I think, like for many of us, was the famine in Ethiopia in the mid-1980s. So, this was the largest, greatest famine in written history. It was an obscenity. I was in the midst of it, on the side of the lines where there was also a war for a couple of years, and nothing has changed my life more than that event. I think the sheer outrage, the oneness – the fundamental oneness – that on the same planet where you and I live, you could have millions of people literally starving to death… I think inspired him to say, “I got to do something about this.” That was one piece.
The other piece at the time was there was a huge debt crisis where the world’s poorest countries owed massive debt to wealthier countries and to the international financial institutions. Many of these debts were built up in the form of bad loans or over-lending. So while, yes, governments were somewhat responsible, the lenders also had some great responsibilities.
There was a campaign that Bono became involved with, along with another co-founder Jamie Drummond on dropping the debt. And that turned into one of the greatest contributions I think to this thing called development in a long time, which was an arrangement that said that we will forgive your debt if the proceeds, if the payments that you no longer have to make to us, go into things like health and education. So, with this two-for, countries got out from under a tremendous debt burden, but also made important and relatively huge investments in health and education. So, it created this pathway on development that hadn’t existed before.
So ONE was born – I mean, there was a precursor – but ONE was born out of those kind of two momentous events with a simple theory: that organized citizens that are smart on policy, wise on politics, have a creative edge – so use pop culture and other things that capture the popular information rather than wonkiness – can actually secure real change.
He’s still quite involved. He’s very active. One of the things that I have always liked about him – I’ve known him for quite some time that he’s a rock star. He’s a passionate man, and he’s very funny, but he knows his policy.
Denver: He’s very smart. He does his homework.
Gayle: He’s really smart on this stuff, and that matters. So, his celebrity is an enormous driver, but his brain matters a whole lot, too.
At the heart of it, I would say, at the end of the day, we are all ONE.
In a world where people are fighting over everything – and don’t get me wrong; some of those things merit a fight – but can we agree on just one thing?
So that just one thing: Can we agree on just one thing and go get it done? The world needs wins.
Denver: Since we’re on the radio, I should let listeners know that ONE is in all caps, and I want to ask you: What does the name of the organization refer to?
Gayle: I think it refers to many things. At the heart of it, I would say, at the end of the day, we are all ONE. This is one world, and as fragmented as we may often feel, now is certainly a time where I think the world is quite fragmented, or our futures are a little wrapped up together.
There’s another angle on it that I find myself using a lot these days, which is just one thing. In a world where people are fighting over everything – and don’t get me wrong; some of those things merit a fight – but can we agree on just one thing? Can we agree that we know how to end the AIDS epidemic, and maybe we should? Can we agree that extreme poverty is a travesty, and since we know how to tackle it, maybe we should? What that means is strange bedfellows. ONE is… I wouldn’t say bipartisan, nonpartisan; but ONE works with Democrats and Republicans. As a former government official, even though I was a political appointee, some might say, “My God, that must be terrible for you.” It was actually quite advantageous because, first of all, these are things that shouldn’t be terribly partisan in the first instance. The other thing is: if you want to get things done, most of the time it takes two parties.
The last thing I would say – and this may seem an odd thing to say at this particular moment in our history – but I was able to work on HIV and AIDS, the global AIDS epidemic when I was in the White House. I was able to work with the man who had worked for George Bush on creating the President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief, which was a huge global push. There was something actually quite appealing in the fact that we probably disagreed on many things, but we had a passionate, absolutely shared commitment to ending an epidemic which… I’m old enough to have seen the early stages of it… which is the cruelest, most devastating death to individuals, communities, and countries that one could imagine.
So that just one thing: Can we agree on just one thing and go get it done? The world needs wins.
What (RED) does is work with companies to turn products red, and if a product goes red, the proceeds then go to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria. And so, it’s a great way to accomplish two things: one, is mobilizing a lot of resources; and two, join in the fight, getting it out there, putting on the badge that says “I’m in the fight against AIDS.”
This whole notion that the AIDS epidemic isn’t over – we can do something about it, and we can win the fight, and you can play a part.
Denver: That’s right. And that’s what gives society confidence that we can then tackle something else. It really does. Sometimes we try to address so many things, but if you just find the right lever and you succeed, you change a mindset that we can get this stuff accomplished if we’re all pulling in the same direction.
Well, this leads to the formation of the sister organization of the ONE Campaign, which is (RED), all in caps as well. Tell us a little bit about that and how it generates its support?
Gayle: So (RED) is really cool. It’s a great brand. It’s a great logo. It’s a great kind of dynamism. What (RED) does is work with companies to turn products red, and if a product goes red, the proceeds then go to The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria. And so, it’s a great way to accomplish two things: one, is mobilizing a lot of resources; and two, join in the fight, getting it out there, putting on the badge that says “I’m in the fight against AIDS.” So, people may have seen there’s an Amazon page that is red, there’s a red iPhone…there all sorts of red products. You’re not paying extra for them to turn it red, but again, the proceeds do add up and go to The Global Fund in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
They also do terrific work with chefs. There’s an Eat-Red event that they do, where a lot of chefs in New York, in Washington, all over the world, in fact, have joined with us to do dinners that increase awareness, allow (RED) to put red products out there that kind of take into the mainstream of popular culture. We all know how popular food and being foodies are, and we watch chefs on television and buy their books.
This whole notion that the AIDS epidemic isn’t over – we can do something about it, and we can win the fight, and you can play a part. So, it’s an easy way to get involved, and it’s really, really effective. They’ve mobilized hundreds and millions of dollars, but I think also kept the message out there that we’ve made enormous progress, but the fight is not over yet; so let’s keep going.
Denver: Speak a little bit about that because you can get a sense that the world is becoming a little bit more complacent about AIDS and the spread of the HIV virus. You’re almost a victim of your own success. How do you keep that urgency in front of people?
Gayle: Well, that’s a tricky one because, on the one hand, the fact that we know how to win in the fight against this virus is something you want to tell people because it gives them confidence – If I join this fight, we can actually succeed. On the other hand, you need to convey that this is still an emergency. So, if you imagine, every day still, 800 young women and girls are infected with this virus. That’s huge. We don’t see it in the way we did in the early days – and again, those days still haunt me and I think anyone who was old enough and around at the time to witness that.
So, what we try to do in our campaign is marry the two things: AIDS is a crisis of now, but we can defeat it. So, if you join us and do these things – so as I say, our big focus has been on The Global Fund because that’s 16 million people, and that means a reduction in the spread as well as lives saved.
So, it’s tricky, I will admit, because people, naturally, when something is an outright disaster, a crisis right in our faces, we all respond as we should. When it’s a little bit more distant, it’s harder. But I will say we are very encouraged by the fact that a majority of countries have increased their contributions, so that’s a good sign. So I think our findings are if you can get to people and have – it’s not just a bumper sticker, sometimes you actually need two sentences to do it, they’ll join.
The other thing we’re also doing – you mentioned (RED) – that I think it’s really going to be fun, after replenishment, we are literally painting the town red. So, we’ve got street artists from all over the world who are going to kind of take over the city. That’s the kind of thing that (RED) and ONE do very well – the public campaigns that capture the public’s imagination because they’re not what most people do.
I think what we’re missing this time, to be honest, is leadership. Now, I think we have leadership from the WHO, from a number of nonprofits, from really heroic health care workers on the ground, but we haven’t seen the kind of leadership at the highest level of government that we saw last time or that we need.
Denver: Well, you said, Gayle, that as it relates to the HIV virus, we have to move faster than the disease, or otherwise, we’re in big trouble. So, let me ask that on a broader basis, and that is: Are we moving faster and faster than we used to as it relates to a lot of these things such as Ebola? Has the world community picked up its pace in terms of getting their arms around this? Or are we still dragging our feet?
Gayle: That’s a great question. I worked on the Ebola epidemic when I was in the White House and that image of – it was like chasing up serpents or something – moving faster than this virus because if it’s going faster than you, you lose. The world learned an enormous amount during that response. Also, the entire world showed up – the United States went in; Africa itself deployed 900 healthcare workers from all over the continent. The world showed up and realized this is the kind of emergency we need to learn about quickly because they’re going to be more of those funky pandemics in the future.
I’m afraid that what we’re seeing now with the Congo worries me to some extent, because given what the world has learned, the world should be there, should have been there faster, in greater force, and with more concern because what you need to do in these crises, you basically need to contain it. Once you can contain it, you can start to manage it. But if it’s defining the borders, you’re in a whole lot of hot water.
I think what we’re missing this time, to be honest, is leadership. Now, I think we have leadership from the WHO, from a number of nonprofits, from really heroic health care workers on the ground, but we haven’t seen the kind of leadership at the highest level of government that we saw last time or that we need. And so, I think this is a case where we’re not moving as fast as we should, and I think people should pay very close attention to that. So that is what I would describe as a concern.
I’d say the other side of the coin, going into this replenishment on aid, we weren’t sure where the world would come up, and it’s really showing up in this space. So how do we translate that for something like Ebola? I think it’s a big challenge.
Quantity is important; quality matters even more.
Denver: For sure. The ONE Campaign has created the Better Aid Scorecards, which I love, and it assesses the 21 biggest donors on their aid volume, their aid targeting, and quality. What were some of the things that you discovered as a result of doing this?
Gayle: I think what we discovered is that it’s very easy to focus on the quantity of aid, and that matters, but at the end of the day, it’s like with most things: Quantity is important; quality matters even more.
I’ll give you a great example, and it’s the one where… having done some analysis, we will change our public posture a bit. For a long time in education, it was assumed – and I think rightly with the urgency – was to get kids in school because there were so many kids all over the world that simply were not getting a basic education. So, the focus, but also the measurement was on how many kids are being enrolled in primary school around the world. Numbers started improving… tremendous progress.
Then, we start to learn that the numbers are going up, but the quality of their education, their ability to learn, their learning skills, their ability to read is not what it should be. So, you may count somebody who’s been in primary school for as many years as necessary but doesn’t come out with the tools that are needed.
So that’s the kind of thing that informs the quality of aid: Is the aid putting a Band-Aid on the problem, or is it of a quality that’s getting the outcome you want? Is it transparent enough that it can be trusted? I actually think there are two takeaways from the Better Aid Scorecard. One is that foreign aid is very often unpopular. I think there are a lot of politicians mainly, but I think a lot of other people think it’s a waste of money; it all goes to corrupt government. I think what the scorecard shows is that a lot of it works really, really well. But the other thing I think they show is that there are some places where it needs serious improvement. There’s a bit of a competition going on there because when you do scorecards, we’re essentially rating countries against each other, whether it’s aid or whether it’s money out of their budgets. Having run one of the world’s big development agencies, it was very helpful to us, and I think it’s been true in this field for some time, of countries learning from one another. You start to get big results.
The UK years ago, when they created their independent development agency, set the stage for all sorts of things; a lot of other countries followed that. The USA has done many things; a lot of countries have followed. Developing countries, one of the most exciting things I’ve seen is with the gains we’ve seen in health. I was at a conference where I was a senior White House official. I spoke to the head of USAID. We had most of Africa’s health ministers in the room, and we’re going through all the extraordinary progress. At the end of the meeting, there was more interest among those ministers in talking to each other, frankly, than to us. Why? Because there were examples of success in the room, and people wanted to know: How did you get those better outcomes? What do I need to do to get them?
The scorecards can inspire that same kind of “Some folks scored better than me. How can I get there?” And also, very useful quite frankly in putting pressure on countries that aren’t where they need to be.
If we want the global economy to work for us, then we’re going to need it to work for everybody else, because otherwise, you’ve got public disparities and inequities that lead to… whether it’s trade wars or physical wars, or whatever it may be… You run into all sorts of impediments to sustainability
Denver: It works, and that’s what we have a lack of, I think, are sharing best practices. And when you can point out– even without describing what those practices are– who is effective, they’ll take it upon themselves to say what worked and what didn’t work.
And that leads to my next question: When an organization like yours focuses on advocacy, you’ve become experts on how to do it effectively. So, Gayle, when you’re looking to persuade a government to step up, take more responsibility for an issue, increase their funding, what generally works, and what doesn’t work?
Gayle: That’s a really great question. I think having data and tangible information on the outcomes is always helpful because even if you’re talking to a government official who’s with you, he or she may have to persuade others, and having numbers and facts and being able to talk about the connection between improved health outcomes and GDP in a poor country, that always helps.
I think, depending on the government, there are three ways to go at it. For many governments, ending Aids, defeating poverty, investing in development is, for them, an expression of their values and who they are. It’s who they want to be in the world. That is, in many, many cases, an extremely important piece of it. For most, it’s also an economic imperative. If we want the global economy to work for us, then we’re going to need it to work for everybody else, because otherwise, you’ve got public disparities and inequities that lead to… whether it’s trade wars or physical wars, or whatever it may be… You run into all sorts of impediments to sustainability.
So, it is in our interest as United States citizens, in the interest of any government in Europe or in Africa, that their economies work and they’ve got sustainable and inclusive economic growth. No country wants to run itself on foreign aid. So, there’s an economic interest across the spectrum.
And lastly, there’s a national security argument. We hear a lot of talk about fragile states, or you look at countries that have been at war for 20- to 30- to 40-, 50 years. Those are colossal failures of development. Those are places where economic opportunity and effective and fair governance have been missing in action, and countries either …or implode. This is not a short-term proposition. What doesn’t work is lying and saying, “Well, Mr. Minister, if you invest more in development, I’m pretty sure there will be peace and stability in these countries in two years.”
It takes longer than two years, but it’s a really smart, long-term investment, and it’s really expensive to not do it. The world pays a whole lot more in emergency assistance and interventions and peacekeeping, post-crisis intervention, or in the kind of aid that we spend absolutely necessarily, but because it’s the only lifeline people have.
Denver: Unfortunately, it just seems to be the human condition. Let’s take our own health. We don’t pay anything in insurance for prevention, and then we pay a fortune for after somebody gets sick.
Gayle: I think that’s right. It’s one of the things I will always—it’s like I always want to know what exactly happened to Patty Hearst… not the question, the answer to the question. And why don’t people buy this “ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure; like, it’s so logical.
I have one area of hope, though, on this.
Denver: Which is?
Gayle: Which is that if you look at the activism we have seen, particularly from young people on climate, and this is something that we see. We’ve got youth ambassadors and ONE champions all over the world who are young volunteers; they’re talking about the next 50 years. So, the notion of investing in something now that may not have a return tomorrow, in six months or in two years– but in 10 years or 15, that’s okay. There’s a longer-term horizon on things.
And so, I think, while they rightly point to the immediacy and urgency of acting now on some of these crises, they’ve got a different time frame on things. So, I think investing in the future is something that among our young ONE champions and ambassadors and activists, that’s what they’re about. So, if you talk about investing in the future so that a country does not end up at war, or investing wisely in a country so that you can prevent future conflict, they get it, and they champion it… So that may be one way we can get at it more effectively.
Denver: That’s an interesting perspective. I’ve never run into anybody who regretted having the long view, and maybe with young people not being as materialistic and wanting to own things, maybe that’s all kind of cobbled together in terms of the way they look at the future and the way they look at the world.
Gayle: I think that’s right. I think the other thing that a lot of young people have is the world is more connected, so there’s a greater awareness and a greater sense of being a citizen of the planet, in addition to a member of your own country, and I think that’s probably going to prove to be very advantageous.
Denver: I think it’s almost a social pressure, too. I mean, you have to be doing it, and that peer pressure is actually very good.
Gayle: It works very good. Very effective.
Denver: We’re interested in the results, not the motivation always, and I think it is very effective.
Let me ask you something about the organization. Tell us what it’s like to work at ONE– the corporate culture. What are you most proud of? And why do you think it is such a special place to work?
Gayle: I have known the organization since its inception, and I came here after I left government because it was the single, most effective advocacy organization that I engaged in. I think it’s this combination of an inside thing, an outside thing, and then the popular culture piece – that part is really fun. We work with a lot of talent, a lot of musicians, a lot of creative people, and have a lot of, I think, room and freedom to do really creative campaigning.
We have teams all over the world, and I keep discovering rock stars in the organization. Seriously, we track what goes on in Italy. We’ve got a couple of people working on it who are so smart and so clever and find the openings and what works. And one of the things that I have always liked to do in my work is to find the young rock stars and mentor them and pop them and put them out there because I think there’s a lot of reach.
I think the other thing I would mention is that we are, as I said, we’re building out ONE in Africa, but also building Africa in ONE because there’s a level of activism on the continent that’s unprecedented. We can be enormously helpful, but the ultimate change there I think rests in leader citizens are empowered, enabled, and who are accountable, and yet part of this debate about what their economic and political futures are. And that part is the “Wow. This is inspiring.”
We’re running a campaign at Senegal right now, for example, to enhance and basically toughen up the wall on sexual violence. It’s part of the work we’re doing on the agenda. We are working with a local artist, their musician named Black Queen. It’s a totally cool campaign. It’s got everybody excited. We think it’s going to go over the finish line and succeed, and just to see the excitement that comes out of that, of people banding together; we bring to the table what we can. Let’s run a campaign; let’s get something over the finish line.
It’s like we said at the beginning of this conversation: When people see that it can work, that activism works, that development works, that campaigns work, they’re ready to do the next one and the next one. So, for me, it’s the momentum that comes out of that: Build, Build, Succeed, Keep going, Do more, do more, do more… because at the end of the day, I will never be a cynic. These are fights we can win, and I feel like I’m in a place that is marching us towards victory.
I think a lot of inequality is enabled by the absence of transparency.
I think if we unmask those things that drive inequality, whether it’s on the economics, whether its gender bias, whether it’s racism, whether it’s the rules of the game, then I think we can start to talk facts and say: How do we build systems where everybody has an equal opportunity from Day one?
Denver: There’s a lot of hopelessness out there, and when you can see these kinds of victories, it really changes people’s mindset to take the other ones on.
I’ve got to tell you, I can’t think of an organization who describes their star performers as rock stars which would be any more appropriate than ONE Campaign, with Bono being your leader and your founder.
Let me close with this, Gayle. You have said if you could eliminate one thing, it would be inequality. What, in your opinion, is the most important step the global community could take right now that would speed this along?
Gayle: Oh, my!
Denver: Not a nice way to end, is it?
Gayle: Transparency… because I think a lot of inequality is enabled by the absence of transparency: What are the rules? How does it all work? But I think a lot of assumptions that are incorrect are also spread by the lack of transparency. You can’t find change that you can’t see. I think if we unmask those things that drive inequality, whether it’s on the economics, whether its gender bias, whether it’s racism, whether it’s the rules of the game, then I think we can start to talk facts and say: How do we build systems where everybody has an equal opportunity from Day one?
Denver: And as you say, transparency is the thing that builds trust. One of the problems you have with the Ebola situation in the DRC is that they don’t trust the authorities, and that is really problematic, but with transparency, if people have trust, then a lot of things can get done.
Denver: Well, Gayle Smith, the President and CEO of the ONE Campaign, I want to thank you so much for being here this evening. Now, you don’t want the listeners’ money, but you do want their voice. What’s the best way for them to work with you to have that voice heard?
Gayle: Go to one.org, and that will lead you to a lot of places. There are a number of things to do, whether it’s sign on to our petitions, sign up as a member, follow the issues you care about. Join us on the site. If you go there and you follow a few steps, it’ll take you to our campaigns, to our YouTube channel, all sorts of things that we do. We would love to have you join us.
Denver: It’s a great site and it’s very, very rich, I will tell you that. Well, thanks, Gayle. It was a real pleasure to have you on the show.
Gayle: Pleasure to be with you. Thanks so much.
Denver: I’ll be back with more of The Business of Giving right after this.
The Business of Giving can be heard every Sunday evening between 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Eastern on AM 970 The Answer in New York and on iHeartRadio. You can follow us @bizofgive on Twitter, @bizofgive on Instagram and at www.facebook.com/businessofgiving.