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“We found that the U.S. public cares about real people making real change,” Elizabeth Gore, executive director of global partnerships at the United Nations Foundation, told Kellogg students Oct. 21.

Elizabeth Gore

‘Nothing But Nets’

Elizabeth Gore of the United Nations Foundation shares the unexpected lessons from a marketing campaign

By Amy Trang

10/30/2009 - The statistics were staggering.

Elizabeth Gore, executive director of global partnerships at the United Nations Foundation, reeled off the facts and figures on malaria: 1 million people die every year from the disease; malaria costs Africa $12 billion per year in lost economic productivity; and a child dies every 30 seconds from a malaria infection.

But just $10 would provide one anti-malaria bed net and save many lives in the process.

On Oct. 21, Gore talked to Kellogg students about the unexpected positive results of the foundation’s anti-malaria campaign, Nothing But Nets. The foundation’s goal is to provide enough anti-malaria bed nets to the African population to eliminate malaria by 2015 or until a vaccine is discovered.

Nothing But Nets was inspired by columnist Rick Reilly, who in 2006 asked Sports Illustrated readers to donate $10 to purchase malaria nets for Africans. The campaign has since raised nearly $25 million from more than 100,000 donations and has delivered 3 million nets.

Nothing But Nets has inspired some unlikely partnerships with the United Nations Foundation, including the National Basketball Association and The People of the United Methodist Church. What made the campaign work was that the United Nations Foundation gave each organization the creative freedom to tell the story of malaria, as long as the “Nothing But Nets” slogan was the common thread, said Gore, the campaign’s director.

For instance, music channel VH1 aired a commercial that featured a man dressed in a mosquito costume annoying people on the streets.

“Every partner needed to communicate to their constituents in their own way,” Gore said. “We can’t shove our brand in everyone’s face. We must tailor it to every audience.”

The campaign has also allowed the United Nations Foundation to offer other healthcare measures, such as measles vaccines, as it distributes the nets.

The success of Nothing But Nets has inspired the United Nations Foundation to try similar marketing tactics in other areas such as climate change and children’s health. The foundation was founded by Ted Turner in 1998 and is a platform for connecting people, capital and ideas to the United Nations.

The simplicity of Nothing But Nets’ message — $10 provides a net and saves a life — makes it easy for people to understand the concept and get on board, Gore said.

One of the campaign’s biggest advocates is an 8-year-old Pennsylvania girl who raised nearly $130,000 for Nothing But Nets after learning about the campaign at her church. The girl was featured in national media outlets, which generated more donations.

“We found that the U.S. public cares about real people making real change,” Gore said. “They can make an enormous impact.”

The presentation by Gore was part of the Social Impact Speaker Series, hosted by the Kellogg Net Impact Club. The series provides a forum for students to learn from leaders who are using business skills to create positive social change.