Purchase and purpose work well together

"Don't let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do." (RED) continues to build momentum on the basis of this insight from John Wooden, legendary UCLA basketball coach.

"Don't let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do." (RED) continues to build momentum on the basis of this insight from John Wooden, legendary UCLA basketball coach. Most people, even if they were so inclined, could not move to Africa to combat AIDS. But collectively, through thousands upon thousands of everyday commercial transactions, many people are changing the course of African history.

At our launch in 2006, the goal was to engage businesses and consumers to create a steady flow of private sector revenue for the Global Fund to help finance AIDS programs in Africa. The Global Fund, the world's largest financier of AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria programs, was designed as a public/private partnership. But while the public sector had contributed $5 billion over its first four years, the private sector contributed only $5 million.

What could be done to generate more private revenue? Our answer - partner with major brands, have them sell RED-marked products, and deposit a percentage of profits from these transactions into the Global Fund.

To date, our partners and events have contributed more than $135 million to the Global Fund. Of this, 100% is put to work on the ground, with no overhead taken out. This money has helped support AIDS programs reaching 4 million people. Indeed, we feel we've discovered a dynamic model for consumer marketing that works: pur-chases with a purpose.

But it's not only a matter of transactions. Early on, we were challenged by consumers who saw RED as an entry point into this issue, but were compelled to do more. So we drew on social media's power to create a community that made it easy for people to expand their commitment. To date, more than 1.5 million people have joined the RED community across Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, JoinRED.com, and more. Our communication to this highly engaged group is not just about products, but about the impact the money has in Africa, the progress being made, the people affected, and other ways individuals can make an impact.

This year, on World AIDS Day (December 1), we activated this community to raise awareness of the issue of AIDS, what can be done to address this disease in the hardest-hit parts of the world, and how each of us can have an impact. One of the most visible ways we did this was to literally turn Twitter "red." Millions of tweets turned the color red as we, and our thousands of RED community members, spread facts across the network and encouraged others to get involved.

Indeed, despite the past year's economic downturn, the energy around RED is still inspiring innovative partnerships.

This fall, we announced a partnership with Bugaboo, a company that makes baby strollers. It is the first of our partners to turn the entire company "red," meaning it is contributing 1% of its entire gross revenue to the Global Fund. We also recently announced Nike as the newest member to join. The company will launch in 13 countries globally and put Nike (Product) laces in the shoes of athletes around the world.

Looked at in isolation, it might not seem important when one person chooses a cup of (Starbucks)RED coffee, one company joins RED, or one individual follows us on Facebook. Collectively, however, these actions are dramatically changing the course of history in Africa in real time.

For example, in 2006 it was estimated that only 8% of HIV-positive pregnant women in Ghana received the inexpensive treatment needed to reduce the chance of transmitting HIV to their babies from 45% to 2%. By the end of 2008, nearly 40% of those Ghanaian women in need received this vital treatment. Each individual action, when collected across the 60-plus countries in which RED products are sold and the millions of people who touch this brand, creates hope and the promise of a better life.

As we say: One color unites us. One color makes a difference. One color can make a stand.

Susan Smith Ellis is the CEO of (RED), the brand designed to engage business and consumer power in the fight against AIDS in Africa. Partners include American Express, Apple, Bugaboo, Converse, Dell, Emporio Ar-mani, Gap, Hallmark, Nike, and Starbucks.

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