Archive for Sunday, March 4, 2007

Lending a hand without a handout

March 4, 2007


Bobby Shriver, Product (RED) co-founder and John F. Kennedy's nephew, signs a book  for Colleen Pesci Saturday at Gap, 643 Mass. The book is a (RED) Gap product. Product (RED) seeks to raise money for charitable causes by diverting a portion of the price of certain items.

Bobby Shriver, Product (RED) co-founder and John F. Kennedy's nephew, signs a book for Colleen Pesci Saturday at Gap, 643 Mass. The book is a (RED) Gap product. Product (RED) seeks to raise money for charitable causes by diverting a portion of the price of certain items.

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Bobby Shriver says repeatedly he can't stand asking people for money.

"Asking your friends for money is such a drag," Shriver said Saturday morning, seated in The Jayhawker bar at the Eldridge Hotel, 701 Mass.

So Shriver's not asking people for money. But if people are going to spend money, Shriver hopes they spend it a certain way.

Shriver, who's John F. Kennedy's nephew, co-founded Product (RED), a business model linked with several large corporations to send a portion of profits to the Global Fund.

The other co-founder is Bono, the lead singer of U2.

Product (RED) shows up in several places in Lawrence: in the storefront of Gap, on Motorola cell phones, on Apple iPods.

A portion of profits made on merchandise bearing the Product (RED) logo - the word red in parentheses - goes toward helping pay for medication for AIDS patients in Africa.

Product (RED) doesn't call itself a charity. It operates on the idea that if consumers will buy something they need or want, they should have the choice to buy a product that will send a cut of the total price to a humanitarian cause.

"They're going to buy a cell phone anyway," Shriver said. "Why not buy a (RED) cell phone?"

Shriver himself is an embodiment of his own project: On Saturday morning, he talks on his (RED) cell phone, wears a (RED) hooded sweatshirt, a pair of (RED) shoes and a (RED) scarf from Gap around his neck.

However much he paid for that scarf, 50 percent of the profit Gap made from it - and all other Gap merchandise with the Product (RED) logo sold - was set to go to the Global Fund.

Since launching in the United States last year, Product (RED) has sent $11 million to the Global Fund.

Shriver says the Product (RED) model is different because he expects it will continue to make money for the Global Fund, rather than asking for money from corporations on a case-by-case basis.

Seated across from Shriver is Mark Booth, a member of the Booth family whose donation helped build the Kansas University Athletics Hall of Fame.

He's sold on the Product (RED) idea.

"I have a sense of contribution rather than a sense of consumption," Booth said.

Booth and Shriver became friends through a mutual involvement in the Special Olympics.

It was Shriver's involvement in the Special Olympics that got him linked to Bono.

In 1987, Shriver produced the first "A Very Special Christmas" album, a compilation of mainstream bands and artists performing renditions of holiday songs that included U2. Proceeds from sales of those albums went to the Special Olympics.

"We sold a bazillion copies," Shriver said. "It was unbelievable. That was back when people bought records."

From there, Shriver and Bono became friends and partners in several projects.

One of those was the Jubilee 2000 Coalition, a movement for the forgiveness of debt for underdeveloped countries.

Once many of those debts were forgiven, Shriver and Bono realized that health care problems in Africa were going to lead countries there back into steep debt.

"With all the money we saved in debt relief, it was going to be eaten up by health care," Shriver said.

That was one of the early developments of the Product (RED) idea.

But Shriver said he couldn't rely on governments alone to raise money for health care in Africa.

"We thought, you know, what we've got to figure out is a way to get money from the private sector in on this thing," Shriver said. "And we hate asking people for money."

They got part of their idea for the Product (RED) model from Robert Rubin, the secretary of the Treasury for Bill Clinton.

"He said, 'You guys got to be like Nike,'" Shriver said. "You've got to market yourselves like Nike."

Thus, the color red and its simple logo became Product (RED)'s Nike swoosh, a simple and marketable icon that could be tied to merchandise and products offered by major corporations.

Shriver said the first companies he and Bono approached were reluctant about the idea.

"Companies are nervous (that) people are going to think you're going to make money off AIDS in Africa," Shriver said.

So far, Product (RED) has gotten a handful of companies to sign on to the business model.

Shriver was in Lawrence Saturday to attend the Kansas University basketball game and then head out to Kansas City to try to sell other corporations on the Product (RED) idea.

He believes if the Product (RED) concept circulates to enough consumers, then other companies will accept the model.

"The big idea is if enough companies come to believe there are a lot of people like that, they're going to think, 'Uh-oh, we better market this stuff and make it (RED).'"


Ragingbear 11 years, 2 months ago

That's an awful lot of words to say nothing.

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