Social networks like MySpace and Facebook are about more than just talking to friends. Recently they’ve organized ‘flashmobs’, helped bring back the Wispa bar, and played a crucial role in helping the first black president into the White House.
Now I’m using them to try to rally support for the ‘Condoms For Africa’ campaign I’m running in conjunction with UK TV’s Channel 4 Battlefront project (http://battlefront.co.uk/condoms-for-africa).
The aim of the campaign is to try to persuade companies with large distributive networks in Sub-Saharan Africa to use some of their existing network to distribute HIV preventatives, especially condoms, along with their regular shipping to the remotest parts of Africa which desperately need them to halt the progression of HIV/AIDS.
UN research shows that the condom is the single most effective tool in the fight against HIV/AIDS. In 2007 33.2 million people lived with the disease and it claimed 2.1 million lives. Over three-quarters of these deaths occurred in Sub-Saharan Africa.
At the same time, 44 million servings of Coca-Cola products are sold across Africa – each day. This equates to 16 billion bottles a year. In 2005 10.4 billion condoms were used worldwide. More bottles of Coca-Cola are sold in Africa alone than condoms are used in the entire world. Coca-Cola’s distributive reach is not untypical of other large companies that operate in Africa.
If a massive distribution of condoms could take place alongside this other distribution, it would virtually guarantee everyone in Africa access to the protection they need to combat the virus, and so dramatically reduce infection rates.
Beginning the campaign
The idea for my campaign started after I read an article on the BBC website written by the MP Clare Short where she makes the point that you can get a Coca-Cola anywhere in Africa but a condom is so much more difficult to reach. It was written in 1998 and I read it in June 2008, when I realized that unfortunately not much had changed in a decade. This inspired me to put the idea of Coke using their network for good speculatively into the blogosphere.
I started a Facebook group to promulgate the idea and to see if anyone else believed in it enough to support it by joining (the group now has over 2,100 members and is growing). The group attracted the attention of a Swiss blogger called Simon Schmid who is the founder of a condom and resource website called Condomunity (http://condomunity.com) who has since assisted me with the campaign by blogging about it on his site.
Then in September 2008 a friend suggested I should put my idea on the Battlefront website. Battlefront were running a competition in which people could submit their campaign ideas and the public would vote on them. My campaign seemed to capture the hearts and minds of the electorate as the campaign won the vote, beating off competition from 30 other campaigners. As a result Battlefront has provided me with access to a variety of mentors – people with experience of running campaigns – and given me a platform to formalize the campaign rather than have it exist as just an idea. They have also helped me to secure the assistance of digital agency Airlock.
Since becoming a campaigner on Battlefront in December 2008, I have been in the process of trying to secure meetings with global companies’ corporate social responsibility people to discuss the feasibility of my idea and arrange a pilot. So far I have been contacting companies like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, GlaxoSmithKline, Cadbury, British American Tobacco and Unilever by email and phone.
Realizing that the quickest way to a conglomerate’s heart is through their consumers, I am attempting to use the power of the internet and social networking tools, and in particular the people in the Facebook group, as leverage to add force to the argument by showing I have support.
Unfortunately, I have been finding that these companies find it easy to ignore voicemails and emails when it comes to dealing with prickly issues – though I have spoken to some key people at Unilever and Cadbury, who have shown some interest in the campaign. This is why mobilizing a group of supporters is so vital. We think that as our support grows we will be able to lobby the companies in question more effectively and elicit a stronger response.
Bringing in more support
This is why I am working with digital creative agency Airlock as well as create (or) die, to come up with effective communication strategies that will engage consumers and persuade them to support this campaign. Airlock has now come up with some excellent ideas for mobilizing consumer support through social networking and the internet, and these will be executed in March.
Airlock and create (or) die are just a few of the companies I have been working with. The campaign on the Battlefront website has attracted organizations like Bottletop (http://bottletop.org) to offer assistance as well as the charity One:Difference (http://onedifference.org), and we are still searching for ways we can work together.
I am also working with last year’s Apprentice candidate (the Apprentice is a flagship BBC business entertainment programme, where aspiring business people compete for the chance to win a £100,000 a year job with British business magnate Sir Alan Sugar), Raef Bjayou, who runs his own import and export company which distributes HIV home testing packs to West African countries. It is invaluable having someone with his experience and exposure to assist the campaign. Since January, Raef has been helping with promoting the campaign on the various media he is involved with. He is also helping to organize a stunt we will be pulling in March.
I have also received help and advice from organizations like Virgin Unite, UNAids and ColaLife, again mainly in the form of suggesting new organizations to contact and what the next steps to take could be.
I am now looking to expand my network of consumer support to add weight to my argument and provide leverage when it comes to persuading big businesses. Please join my Facebook group to do this at http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=19613726294&ref=ts
1 Comprehensive HIV Prevention: Condoms and Contraceptives Count.
Available at http://www.populationaction.org/Publications/Reports/Comprehensive_Hiv_Prevention/Summary.shtml
2 Coca-Cola in Africa: Refusing to Cover AIDS Treatment for HIV+ Workers.
Available at http://www.healthgap.org/press_releases/02/052402_HGAP_PP_Coke_MNC.html
3 Condoms should be as easily available as Coca-Cola. Available at
Troy Kennedy is a 20-year-old account manager with the nascent socially focused creative agency create (or) die. Email firstname.lastname@example.org