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How (RED) is Fighting AIDS and Saving Lives

By Guest Author December 1, 2022

Four decades ago, San Francisco was the epicenter of the AIDS crisis. It took another two decades for the epidemic to reach its peak – claiming roughly 5,000 lives every day, particularly in the world’s poorest countries. Governments were slowly waking up to the emergency, creating organizations like the Global Fund, one of the largest global health partnerships on the planet, but companies were still fast asleep.

In 2006, (RED) was launched by Bono and Bobby Shriver to drive private sector funding to the AIDS fight and generate much-needed awareness. Together with partners like Salesforce, over the past 16 years (RED) has raised over $700 million dollars for global health, and (RED)-funded grants have impacted over 245 million people. (RED) products like the iPhone (PRODUCT)RED and the (JEEP®)RED have become fixtures — And annual (RED) campaigns have created a drumbeat of buzz around the importance of addressing the global AIDS crisis.

As we prepare to mark World AIDS Day on December 1st, we sat down with Jennifer Lotito, the President and COO of (RED), to learn more about (RED)’s success model and how the organization is creating lasting change.

(RED) Has Done a Great Job of Keeping the Issue of AIDS in the Public Conversation. How Can Brands Leverage Storytelling To Tap Into the Cultural Zeitgeist and Shift Public Perception?

One of (RED)’s earliest partners in 2006 was Apple. And the late, great Steve Jobs gave (RED) some pretty good advice on storytelling: Keep it simple.

At that time, (RED) spoke at length about investments in global health systems, the importance of antiretroviral drugs, and so on. One day, Steve pulled Bono aside and said: “2 pills. 20 cents per day. That’s how you save lives.” The 2 pills messaging was simple, clear and it sparked a reaction from companies and consumers alike. 

Getting people to notice and then take action is a huge challenge in today’s oversaturated world, but campaigns that can deliver that storytelling and dynamic messaging are the ones who will change it forever.

How Does a Brand Like (RED) Use Storytelling To Mobilize Other Brands To Do Good?

“Stickiness” and the ability to break through is key to driving change. And storytelling is at the very heart of that. 

We talk so much about prevention and treatment, but if you don’t have access to testing, none of that matters. To help tell this story better, (RED) recently took a trip with one of our supporters, Roche, to Zambia to film a series of labs that are conducting life-saving tests and giving patients and doctors critical information in the fight against preventable diseases. We spoke to several people living with HIV– including Connie Mudenda, an AIDS activist who lost three of her children to the disease. But thanks to testing, she was able to learn her status, get on treatment, and monitor her viral load to the point where she was able to have a beautiful, HIV-free daughter, Lubona.

The best storytellers are people on the ground who are doing the real work. When you hear from these individuals, like our brave frontline health workers, you capture attention and hearts.

Where and How Do You Reach Communities Who Need To See These Campaigns and Be Part of the Movement for Change?

A photo of the (RED) Creator Cup logo
In August 2022, the world’s top Minecraft creators teamed up to raise $350,000 for the fight against AIDS and COVID-19 as part of the (RED) Creator Cup gaming tournament.

In order to create change and reach communities, we need to meet people where they are. 

For example, the eSports community is one of the hottest and most engaged communities on the planet. The problem is that they just aren’t engaged around global health. So we decided to tap into this community, to educate folks on the importance of fighting pandemics and to see if there was an appetite to join the fight. In August, (RED) hosted the (RED) Creator Cup, our second major live-streamed gaming tournament. The results were incredible and we generated hundreds of thousands of dollars for global health. 

Our job is to make people care about our life-saving work. And the first step is to do your homework, show up thoughtfully, and stick with it for the long haul.

How Does Technology Play a Role in Amplifying and Providing Solutions?

Technology and digital health are so important because they can accelerate and scale solutions, reaching more people, faster, with the health services they need. Unfortunately, just like access to new medicines, digital health solutions have been slow to reach low-income communities that need it most. The Global Fund recently launched the Digital Health Impact Accelerator (DHIA), a catalytic fund for digital health in Africa. This fund, which is backed by both governments and the private sector, is spearheading the digital solutions that are essential to combatting inequities and strengthening health systems. 

Digital health can be truly transformative, launching communities into the 21st century and a new care paradigm, but it takes time, training, and money to make that change. In order to help drive life-saving investments like the DHIA, we need to harness the power and expertise of companies like Salesforce in new and innovative ways. 

What’s Needed To Inspire Organizations and Brands To Join a Larger Coalition?

A photo of (RED) partners
Over the past 16 years, (RED)’s family of partners, including Salesforce, have helped raise over $700 million dollars for global health and (RED)-funded grants have impacted over 245 million people.

Today, nine out of ten Gen-Zers want the brands they buy to get involved in causes that better the world. That’s a major shift from where we were when (RED) first started.

At (RED), we are very focused on researching what companies and consumers are most passionate about, and then use that to find ways to build authentic connections that drive real value for the partner brand and (RED).

We spoke earlier about storytelling, but flexibility also plays a key part in this equation. By providing flexibility to our partners, we are able to help them meet their CSR objectives while also driving the impact that consumers and lovers of (RED) – including our other partners – expect of our brand.

To build larger coalitions, you need to have a story worth telling, you need to be flexible, and you need to demonstrate a clear value for joining the cause.

By simplifying the message and leveraging the power of storytelling and technology to capture people’s attention and build larger coalitions, (RED) has created a successful model for building lasting social change. 

Click here to learn more about (RED)’s work with Salesforce and how you can get involved in the fight.

About the Author

Jennifer Lotito, President and COO, (RED)

Jennifer Lotito
President and COO, (RED)