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Growing the ONE Campaign in Seattle

Members of ONE on the streets of Seattle, taking names and fighting poverty

What happens when you mix a world-famous rock band, a couple of billionaire philanthropists with millions of people around the world willing to hit the streets, swarm social media sites and lobby politicians to do the right thing?

You get the ONE Campaign.

Members of ONE on the streets of Seattle, taking names and fighting poverty
ONE Campaign Seattle

Earlier this week, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and others celebrated a big victory in the effort to combat one of the world’s greatest inequities — millions of child deaths in poor countries every year due to vaccine-preventable diseases like pneumonia and severe diarrhea.

An initiative originally launched a decade ago out of Seattle by the Gates Foundation, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, GAVI, received $4.3 billion from governments and donors to expand its mission of vaccinating children in poor communities.

This was more than was requested ($3.7 billion) and translates into vaccinating 250 million children over the next four years, which experts say will prevent four million child deaths. GAVI’s work so far is estimated to have already saved 5 million lives.

How was this accomplished?

How were governments, under pressure right now to cut back on foreign aid due to the economic downturn, convinced to so strongly support this initiative that has much lower “brand” recognition than, say, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria or the latest natural disaster?

Bill Gates likely had some influence, sure. He’s long been a big proponent of vaccines. But even the Microsoft billionaire can’t always get governments to do what he wants.

That’s where his friend Bono and the ONE Campaign come in.

Bono on a recent tour of the new Gates Foundation campus, flanked by Melinda Gates and U2 lead guitarist Edge. Bill’s in the back, pointing
Gates Foundation

The ONE Campaign is primarily Bono’s creation. It’s a grassroots and advocacy lobbying organization that was launched by Bono and others, with funding from the Gates Foundation, to support efforts aimed at fighting poverty — and diseases of poverty — in Africa and other poor countries.

Leading up to this week’s GAVI meeting in London, the ONE Campaign had launched a blitzkrieg of advocacy efforts aimed at governments, including delivering some 150,000 signatures on a petition to the White House and to British Prime Minister David Cameron, making thousands of calls and emails, carrying on a feverish Twitter campaign, launching on iPhone app to call Congress and holding strategic street demonstrations.

They even helped produce a very cool, online mini-movie about vaccination efforts in Benin called Voodoo and Vaccines as part of their petition drive.

TIME’s Persons of the Year

ONE seemed to be everywhere, on the web anyway. It’s always hard to measure the impact of such scatter-shot grassroots advocacy, but such a large and loud effort does tend to make a difference with elected officials.

Outside the GAVI meeting in London this week, Bill Gates posed for a photo with some ONE members in London and the director of USAID, former Gates Foundation program manager Raj Shah, said in this ONE video clip the organization’s efforts helped show public support for the Obama Administration’s $450 million donation to the vaccine initiative.

Not much of a ONE around here

Yet, oddly, given the close alliances between the Gates Foundation, Bono and the ONE Campaign, the grassoots anti-poverty organization has little presence or much name recognition here in this region and throughout much of the Western U.S.

Changing that will be Jonathan Young’s job.

“This region is one of the least-touched by ONE in the U.S.,” said Young, who also happens to be a rock musician (though retired now, with a wife and two young kids. He was with Seattle-based The Myriad, which MTV judged a “break-out band” in 2007).

Jonathan Young, ONE

Young is the new regional director for the ONE Campaign. He’s been traveling a bit lately (though less than when with the Myriad) to coordinate membership recruiting drives for the advocacy organization at some of U2’s recent concerts.

After working the concert scenes of Denver and Salt Lake City, he helped boost Seattle’s ranks of ONE by signing up 3,600 new members outside the U2 concert here — which took place the same day the Gates Foundation opened its new campus to the public.

One Campaigners tried to also hit up Mariners fans since the stadium was next door to the concert, Young said, but the team lost and few leaving Safeco appeared to be feeling very philanthropic.

“We want to bring people together who share a commitment and passion for addressing the root causes of global poverty,” said Young. Seattle certainly has a lot going on, he said, but many of the efforts here seem to operate mostly within their own organizations, focused on specific programs or goals.

The ONE Campaign, he said, is aimed at trying to create a community of activists who can work together — often through social media — to advocate for the kind of political or policy changes needed to reduce poverty and inequity worldwide.

The organization has about 2 million members, is non-partisan and includes a large number of faith-based groups, which means they need to pick their battles carefully. One of the organization’s primary goals now is to educate Americans (including some members of Congress?) about both the value of foreign aid and how relatively little we spend on it right now.

The political side of ONE

“Voters are skeptical about where their foreign aid money goes,” said Todd Summers, a former Gates Foundation staffer who is now senior adviser on global health for ONE in Washington, D.C. “We need to tell the success stories of foreign aid, and tell them better.”

For GAVI, Summers said, the strategy was to give up on trying to build public sympathy for the organization (which had virtually no name recognition) and focus everything on informing people about the life-saving power of vaccines.

Has the ONE Campaign ever advocated for an issue contrary to the Gates Foundation agenda? Summers hasn’t been there that long, but he didn’t think so. Bono has long been involved with, and supportive of, the Gates Foundation’s general approach to fighting disease and poverty, he said.

Young’s job will be to build up ONE’s minions in Seattle, the Northwest and much of the western U.S., including Colorado, Montana, Utah, Wyoming, Alaska and Hawaii. He was recently in Alaska for the Iditarod talking to volunteers there.

But it’s not just about recruiting ONE members. As described, part of what they do is lobby politicians on select issues. I recently accompanied Young and Jonathan Scanlon, of Oxfam America, a while ago when they went down to Tacoma to meet with the staff of Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Washington.

The two Jonathans joined members of another anti-poverty organization, RESULTS,  to make the case for protecting foreign aid from budget cuts. Here’s a photo of Young showing some of ONE’s materials making the case for continuing to fund projects like GAVI and the Global Fund:

Young at Rep. Norm Dicks’ office
Tom Paulson

Most of the discussion was informational, with representatives of the various advocacy groups explaining what they do and what they would like to see Congress do. Members of RESULTS talked about the need for the government to support the anti-poverty strategy known as microfinance. Scanlon talked about the need to assure that U.S. foreign aid truly goes to the people in need, rather than just to fund governments.

Young emphasized that the U.S. has taken a lead in many global health efforts, launching highly successful efforts against disease like AIDS and malaria in Africa and funding others like the Global Fund. He talked about the evidence that such foreign aid is both highly cost-effective and said the ONE Campaign would be ready to assist those in Congress who need political support in favor of foreign aid.

The staffers asked some questions, took notes and promised to pass on the information to the Congressman.

Later, outside Dicks’ office, Young and Scanlon talked about their various efforts in this region aimed at getting people to sign up for making the world a better place.

“Is it getting better?”

That’s the first line of U2’s 1991 hit song “One” and the inspiration for the ONE Campaign. So Achtung Baby, the ONE Campaign is looking to grow into a big force for good around here. And they have powerful friends.

“We get to carry each other
Carry each other


About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at] or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.