As a teenager in the 1980s I experienced three exhilarating moments which shaped my view of activism. I was one of thousands who responded to the call to fight apartheid and enjoy the Free Mandela concert - and then Mandela was freed. We were asked to buy a piece of vinyl, a simple song, a single of solidarity for the hungry in Ethiopia - millions of us did and millions were fed. Then we heard about a crumbling wall of oppression in Berlin - so with friends I got on that train, took a sledge hammer to the Berlin wall, joining a massive party of positive protest.
Each time the sensation was amazing - mass participation in campaigns, moments of solidarity, freedom, and above all, the realisation that by coming together as one we could help make change happen and be part of history.
I am lucky enough to relive that incredible feeling every day, because I co-founded an organisation, the ONE Campaign, whose entire purpose is to help people unite in the fight the injustice of extreme poverty - and be part of history. Just as I got to be tiny part of big change with Live Aid, the anti-apartheid campaign or the Berlin Wall-busting party, so we give our members real opportunities to bust this global injustice.
Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and other activist leaders in Africa first asked Bono, Bob and our team to step up our activism in partnership with Africans in the late 1990s. Following the anti-apartheid campaign they wanted to see serious global movement on issues like debt, AIDS, increased aid, transparency and trade reform. So we answered in various experimental ways and eventually by setting up ONE. Then Mandela really upped the ante in 2005 when he demanded we be "that great generation to make poverty history". Some might think Mandela naïve for demanding this. But we will see shortly this great man's vision is on the right side of history.
Inspired by this African ambition we now have over three million members around the world, networked with tens of millions more in great activist organisations like Oxfam, Save the Children and Global Witness. The story of how ONE grew from its roots in those moments of activism is told in a new documentary being shown on BBC4 on Sunday as part of the Why Poverty? series.
Our members sometimes just send emails or tactical tweets to push politicians, sometimes they turn up outside their offices, and often enough go into them - to ensure their voices are heard demanding specific policy changes on trade transparency or smart aid programs that help the poorest help themselves. At the same time as our members are pushing so are our other influential friends like Bill and Melinda Gates, George Soros or Bono. This strategy of "inside influence and outside mobilisation" combined often forces leaders to pay more attention - and act.
African activist leaders, such as the Sudanese telecoms entrepreneur and activist Mo Ibrahim and the Nigerian "corruption cop" Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, and host of other African advisers continue to inform and advise our work. In Ngozi's words - "As an African leader and policy expert I just want to say how cognisant I am of the efforts ONE and Bono make to ensure the real concerns of Africans are heard in the decisions they make about the policies they chose to campaign on. When I asked they campaign for debt cancellation, they did. When I asked for help in fighting corruption and promoting transparency, they did. Bono and ONE systematically listen and learn from leaders and citizens in Africa in ways I wish others sometimes did. This kind of partnership is what we need much more of from our friends around the world."
In 10 years together we've helped a series of campaigns go from margins to mainstream and make change happen. The successes don't always hit the headlines, but they are real. The "publish what you pay" transparency legislation we're pushing for in the oil and gas sector is now going global. Or take AIDS - when we started 50,000 people in need in Africa had access to life saving drugs - now it's 6.2million. Or malaria - deaths down by a third in sub-Saharan Africa in a decade. Or child-killing diseases - altogether we've campaigned for vaccines which have helped save over 5million lives this last decade. Or Drop the Debt - removal of the debt overhang has helped African leaders put 50m more kids into school and contributed partly to many nations faster economic growth since 2000. Recently campaigning has also helped force more transparency in the oil and gas extraction sector in developing regions like Africa.
The credit for these achievements doesn't lie with celebrity rockstars, though they've certainly helped. It belongs to African citizens and the millions who campaign in solidarity with them such as those who marched for Drop the Debt and Make Poverty History. In their name these African successes should be far better known and they amount to something profound. The Millennium Development Goal set in 2000 of halving extreme poverty has already been achieved before 2015, the target date. And since Mandela spoke poverty reduction in Africa has also picked up with many African nations driving down poverty reduction rapidly. Globally poverty reduction is now on course to near ZERO by 2030. So we could really be that generation Mandela asked us to be. Joining ONE is a great way to accelerate the achievement of his vision.
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