Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Stephen Lewis throws down the gauntlet

Why has the world abandoned Africa, even as AIDS is destroying it?

Why are celebrities like Bono so passionate about the problem, while politicans are backing away from it?

Why hasn't the private sector stepped up to the plate to donate some of their after-tax profits to the cause?

And why have all the communications about AIDS prevention not done more to get through to the most affected people?

Those were just some of the questions left hanging this morning, after Stephen Lewis, former politician, diplomat and currently the United Nation's Special Envoy for AIDS in Africa finished his keynote address at the IABC Conference here in Vancouver.

Speaking to an audience of communicators, Lewis said he has two rules of communication he lives by.

First, do your research. Find solid facts that are irrefutable and can't be challenged. Know your stuff inside out. Then put a human face on the numbers. Break through the numbers with stories, anecdotes and case histories. Make the numbers real.

Second, always tell the truth.

Then he proceeded to demonstrate.

Unfortunately, there are far more questions and too few answers when it comes to the AIDS pandemic. Lewis's passion and sincerity and encyclopedic knowledge of the problem, combined with his energy, enthusiasm and oratorical skills captivates his audience. He combines his personal convictions with hard, cold facts to demonstrate the logic of his plea and I guarantee that no one in the audience is not affected by his message.

Yet, the pandemic, which is killing so many people, continues.

I can't do justice to what he says. If you haven't read his book, Race Against Time, go out and buy it. Find out for yourself what is going on. And then consider how you can make a difference.

Lewis challenged us to go back to our companies and make something happen. To this point, not a single major corporation has stepped up to the plate and pledged to donate a percentage of their after-tax profits to the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

"You want a communications triumph?" he asked us. Then be that first company to step up to the challenge. He predicted that every major media outlet in the world would trumpet the achievement, and it would lead to an avalanche of other companies not wanting to be left behind.

But as with so many other things on the AIDS issue - it hasn't happened. Governments which pledged so much support have reneged on their commitments. Africa is dying and the attention of the world seems to have been diverted elsewhere.

It was a sobering speech. And quite a way to start the morning. Personally, I need to think about how I can make a difference. I am one of the privileged people in this world. The people around me are relatively healthy. The AIDS pandemic is not affecting me personally. But I cannot continue to pretend I am not involved.

Stephen Lewis, and so many others, are inspirations. We can't all be as involved as he is, but we should all support his work. And we should do all we can to influence for change, any way we can.

The gauntlet has been thrown down. We should all accept the challenge.

Tags: , ,

No comments: