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TED2005

Bono: My wish: Three actions for Africa

February 24, 2005

Musician and activist Bono accepts the 2005 TED Prize with a riveting talk, arguing that aid to Africa isn't just another celebrity cause; it's a global emergency.

Bono - Musician, activist
Bono, the lead singer of U2, uses his celebrity to fight for social justice worldwide: to end hunger, poverty and disease, especially in Africa. His nonprofit ONE raises awareness via media, policy and calls to action. Full bio

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
Well, as Alexander Graham Bell famously said
00:26
on his first successful telephone call,
00:30
"Hello, is that Domino's Pizza?"
00:33
(Laughter)
00:36
I just really want to thank you very much.
00:38
As another famous man, Jerry Garcia, said,
00:42
"What a strange, long trip."
00:44
And he should have said,
00:48
"What a strange, long trip it's about to become."
00:50
At this very moment, you are viewing my upper half.
00:53
My lower half is appearing at a different conference
00:57
(Laughter)
01:00
in a different country.
01:02
You can, it turns out, be in two places at once.
01:06
But still, I'm sorry I can't be with you in person.
01:11
I'll explain at another time.
01:14
And though I'm a rock star,
01:16
I just want to assure you that none of my wishes will include a hot tub.
01:18
But what really turns me on about technology
01:23
is not just the ability to get more songs on MP3 players.
01:26
The revolution -- this revolution -- is much bigger than that.
01:31
I hope, I believe.
01:36
What turns me on about the digital age,
01:39
what excites me personally,
01:42
is that you have closed the gap between dreaming and doing.
01:44
You see, it used to be that if you wanted to make a record of a song,
01:51
you needed a studio and a producer.
01:54
Now, you need a laptop.
01:59
If you wanted to make a film, you needed a mass of equipment
02:01
and a Hollywood budget.
02:05
Now, you need a camera that fits in your palm,
02:07
and a couple of bucks for a blank DVD.
02:11
Imagination has been decoupled from the old constraints.
02:14
And that really, really excites me.
02:19
I'm excited when I glimpse that kind of thinking writ large.
02:22
What I would like to see is idealism decoupled from all constraints.
02:27
Political, economic, psychological, whatever.
02:35
The geopolitical world has got a lot to learn from the digital world.
02:39
From the ease with which you swept away obstacles
02:44
that no one knew could even be budged.
02:47
And that's actually what I'd like to talk about today.
02:50
First, though, I should probably explain why, and how,
02:55
I got to this place.
03:00
It's a journey that started 20 years ago.
03:04
You may remember that song, "We Are the World,"
03:11
or, "Do They Know It's Christmas?"
03:13
Band Aid, Live Aid.
03:15
Another very tall, grizzled rock star, my friend Sir Bob Geldof,
03:17
issued a challenge to "feed the world."
03:22
It was a great moment, and it utterly changed my life.
03:27
That summer, my wife, Ali, and myself went to Ethiopia.
03:32
We went on the quiet to see for ourselves what was going on.
03:38
We lived in Ethiopia for a month, working at an orphanage.
03:42
The children had a name for me.
03:46
They called me, "The girl with the beard."
03:48
(Laughter)
03:51
Don't ask.
03:53
Anyway, we found Africa to be a magical place.
03:56
Big skies, big hearts, big, shining continent.
03:59
Beautiful, royal people.
04:03
Anybody who ever gave anything to Africa got a lot more back.
04:06
Ethiopia didn't just blow my mind; it opened my mind.
04:10
Anyway, on our last day at this orphanage
04:17
a man handed me his baby and said,
04:20
"Would you take my son with you?"
04:24
He knew, in Ireland, that his son would live,
04:30
and that in Ethiopia, his son would die.
04:33
It was the middle of that awful famine.
04:37
Well, I turned him down.
04:41
And it was a funny kind of sick feeling, but I turned him down.
04:46
And it's a feeling I can't ever quite forget.
04:53
And in that moment, I started this journey.
04:57
In that moment, I became the worst thing of all:
05:01
I became a rock star with a cause. (Laughter)
05:05
Except this isn't the cause, is it?
05:09
Six-and-a-half thousand Africans dying every single day from AIDS --
05:14
a preventable, treatable disease --
05:18
for lack of drugs we can get in any pharmacy.
05:20
That's not a cause. That's an emergency.
05:24
11 million AIDS orphans in Africa,
05:28
20 million by the end of the decade.
05:30
That's not a cause. That's an emergency.
05:32
Today, every day, 9,000 more Africans
05:35
will catch HIV because of stigmatization and lack of education.
05:40
That's not a cause. That's an emergency.
05:45
So what we're talking about here is human rights.
05:50
The right to live like a human.
05:55
The right to live, period.
05:58
And what we're facing in Africa is
06:01
an unprecedented threat to human dignity and equality.
06:03
The next thing I'd like to be clear about is what this problem is,
06:09
and what this problem isn't.
06:12
Because this is not all about charity.
06:16
This is about justice. Really.
06:19
This is not about charity. This is about justice.
06:23
That's right.
06:27
And that's too bad, because we're very good at charity.
06:29
Americans, like Irish people, are good at it.
06:32
Even the poorest neighborhoods give more than they can afford.
06:36
We like to give, and we give a lot.
06:40
Look at the response to the tsunami -- it's inspiring.
06:42
But justice is a tougher standard than charity.
06:46
You see, Africa makes a fool of our idea of justice.
06:51
It makes a farce of our idea of equality.
06:56
It mocks our pieties. It doubts our concern.
06:59
It questions our commitment.
07:02
Because there is no way we can look at what's happening in Africa,
07:05
and if we're honest,
07:09
conclude that it would ever be allowed to happen anywhere else.
07:11
As you heard in the film, anywhere else, not here.
07:14
Not here, not in America, not in Europe.
07:17
In fact, a head of state that you're all familiar with
07:21
admitted this to me. And it's really true.
07:26
There is no chance this kind of hemorrhaging of human life
07:31
would be accepted anywhere else other than Africa.
07:35
Africa is a continent in flames.
07:40
And deep down, if we really accepted that Africans were equal to us,
07:44
we would all do more to put the fire out.
07:47
We're standing around with watering cans,
07:50
when what we really need is the fire brigade.
07:53
You see, it's not as dramatic as the tsunami.
07:56
It's crazy, really, when you think about it.
08:02
Does stuff have to look like an action movie these days
08:05
to exist in the front of our brain?
08:08
The slow extinguishing of countless lives
08:11
is just not dramatic enough, it would appear.
08:14
Catastrophes that we can avert
08:18
are not as interesting as ones we could avert.
08:20
Funny, that.
08:25
Anyway, I believe that that kind of thinking
08:27
offends the intellectual rigor in this room.
08:30
Six-and-a-half thousand people dying a day in Africa may be Africa's crisis,
08:36
but the fact that it's not on the nightly news,
08:41
that we in Europe, or you in America,
08:44
are not treating it like an emergency --
08:46
I want to argue with you tonight that that's our crisis.
08:48
I want to argue that though Africa is not the front line in the war against terror,
08:52
it could be soon.
08:58
Every week, religious extremists take another African village.
09:00
They're attempting to bring order to chaos.
09:05
Well, why aren't we?
09:07
Poverty breeds despair. We know this.
09:10
Despair breeds violence. We know this.
09:12
In turbulent times, isn't it cheaper, and smarter,
09:15
to make friends out of potential enemies
09:19
than to defend yourself against them later?
09:22
"The war against terror is bound up in the war against poverty."
09:26
And I didn't say that. Colin Powell said that.
09:33
Now when the military are telling us that this is a war
09:36
that cannot be won by military might alone,
09:39
maybe we should listen.
09:42
There's an opportunity here, and it's real.
09:45
It's not spin. It's not wishful thinking.
09:48
The problems facing the developing world
09:51
afford us in the developed world
09:53
a chance to re-describe ourselves to the world.
09:55
We will not only transform other people's lives,
10:01
but we will also transform the way those other lives see us.
10:03
And that might be smart in these nervous, dangerous times.
10:07
Don't you think that on a purely commercial level,
10:12
that anti-retroviral drugs are great advertisements
10:17
for Western ingenuity and technology?
10:21
Doesn't compassion look well on us?
10:24
And let's cut the crap for a second.
10:26
In certain quarters of the world, brand EU, brand USA,
10:30
is not at its shiniest.
10:36
The neon sign is fizzing and cracking.
10:40
Someone's put a brick through the window.
10:43
The regional branch managers are getting nervous.
10:46
Never before have we in the west been so scrutinized.
10:50
Our values: do we have any?
10:54
Our credibility?
10:56
These things are under attack around the world.
10:58
Brand USA could use some polishing.
11:00
And I say that as a fan, you know?
11:05
As a person who buys the products.
11:07
But think about it.
11:09
More anti-retrovirals make sense.
11:11
But that's just the easy part, or ought to be.
11:15
But equality for Africa --
11:18
that's a big, expensive idea.
11:23
You see, the scale of the suffering numbs us into a kind of indifference.
11:27
What on earth can we all do about this?
11:31
Well, much more than we think.
11:36
We can't fix every problem, but the ones we can,
11:38
I want to argue, we must.
11:41
And because we can, we must.
11:43
This is the straight truth, the righteous truth.
11:47
It is not a theory.
11:52
The fact is that ours is the first generation
11:54
that can look disease and extreme poverty in the eye,
11:57
look across the ocean to Africa, and say this, and mean it:
12:01
we do not have to stand for this.
12:05
A whole continent written off -- we do not have to stand for this.
12:08
(Applause)
12:13
And let me say this without a trace of irony --
12:23
before I back it up to a bunch of ex-hippies.
12:29
Forget the '60s. We can change the world.
12:32
I can't; you can't, as individuals; but we can change the world.
12:37
I really believe that, the people in this room.
12:43
Look at the Gates Foundation.
12:45
They've done incredible stuff, unbelievable stuff.
12:47
But working together, we can actually change the world.
12:50
We can turn the inevitable outcomes,
12:54
and transform the quality of life for millions of lives
12:57
who look and feel rather like us, when you're up close.
13:04
I'm sorry to laugh here, but you do look so different
13:10
than you did in Haight-Ashbury in the '60s.
13:14
(Laughter)
13:18
But I want to argue that this is the moment that you are designed for.
13:21
It is the flowering of the seeds you planted
13:27
in earlier, headier days.
13:30
Ideas that you gestated in your youth.
13:34
This is what excites me.
13:38
This room was born for this moment,
13:40
is really what I want to say to you tonight.
13:44
Most of you started out wanting to change the world, didn't you?
13:46
Most of you did, the digital world.
13:50
Well, now, actually because of you,
13:53
it is possible to change the physical world.
13:56
It's a fact.
13:59
Economists confirm it, and they know much more than I do.
14:00
So why, then, are we not pumping our fists into the air?
14:05
Probably because when we admit we can do something about it,
14:12
we've got to do something about it.
14:16
It is a pain in the arse.
14:20
This equality business is actually a pain in the arse.
14:23
But for the first time in history, we have the technology;
14:27
we have the know-how; we have the cash;
14:32
we have the life-saving drugs.
14:34
Do we have the will?
14:38
I hope this is obvious, but I'm not a hippie.
14:40
And I'm not really one for the warm, fuzzy feeling.
14:46
I do not have flowers in my hair.
14:49
Actually, I come from punk rock.
14:52
The Clash wore big army boots, not sandals.
14:55
But I know toughness when I see it.
15:00
And for all the talk of peace and love on the West Coast,
15:03
there was muscle to the movement that started out here.
15:06
You see, idealism detached from action is just a dream.
15:13
But idealism allied with pragmatism,
15:19
with rolling up your sleeves and making the world bend a bit,
15:23
is very exciting. It's very real. It's very strong.
15:26
And it's very present in a crowd like you.
15:31
Last year at DATA, this organization I helped set up,
15:38
we launched a campaign to summon this spirit
15:43
in the fight against AIDS and extreme poverty.
15:46
We're calling it the ONE Campaign.
15:49
It's based on our belief that the action of one person
15:52
can change a lot,
15:56
but the actions of many coming together as one
15:58
can change the world.
16:02
Well, we feel that now is the time to prove we're right.
16:04
There are moments in history when civilization redefines itself.
16:10
We believe this is one.
16:15
We believe that this could be the time when the world finally decides
16:17
that the wanton loss of life in Africa is just no longer acceptable.
16:21
This could be the time that we finally get serious
16:26
about changing the future for most people who live on planet Earth.
16:29
Momentum has been building.
16:36
Lurching a little, but it's building.
16:39
This year is a test for us all,
16:42
especially the leaders of the G8 nations,
16:44
who really are on the line here,
16:48
with all the world in history watching.
16:50
I have been, of late, disappointed with the Bush Administration.
16:53
They started out with such promise on Africa.
16:58
They made some really great promises,
17:01
and actually have fulfilled a lot of them.
17:04
But some of them they haven't.
17:07
They don't feel the push from the ground, is the truth.
17:10
But my disappointment has much more perspective
17:16
when I talk to American people,
17:20
and I hear their worries about the deficit,
17:22
and the fiscal well being of their country.
17:25
I understand that.
17:27
But there's much more push from the ground than you'd think,
17:29
if we got organized.
17:34
What I try to communicate, and you can help me if you agree,
17:36
is that aid for Africa is just great value for money
17:40
at a time when America really needs it.
17:44
Putting it in the crassest possible terms,
17:47
the investment reaps huge returns.
17:50
Not only in lives saved, but in goodwill, stability
17:54
and security that we'll gain.
17:58
So this is what I hope that you will do, if I could be so bold,
18:04
and not have it deducted from my number of wishes.
18:08
(Laughter)
18:13
What I hope is that beyond individual merciful acts,
18:16
that you will tell the politicians to do right by Africa,
18:22
by America and by the world.
18:27
Give them permission, if you like,
18:30
to spend their political capital and your financial capital,
18:32
your national purse on saving the lives of millions of people.
18:37
That's really what I would like you to do.
18:40
Because we also need your intellectual capital:
18:44
your ideas, your skills, your ingenuity.
18:48
And you, at this conference, are in a unique position.
18:52
Some of the technologies we've been talking about, you invented them,
18:56
or at least revolutionized the way that they're used.
18:59
Together you have changed the zeitgeist from analog to digital,
19:03
and pushed the boundaries.
19:07
And we'd like you to give us that energy.
19:11
Give us that kind of dreaming, that kind of doing.
19:16
As I say, there're two things on the line here.
19:19
There's the continent Africa.
19:21
But there's also our sense of ourselves.
19:25
People are starting to figure this out.
19:28
Movements are springing up.
19:30
Artists, politicians, pop stars, priests, CEOs,
19:31
NGOs, mothers' unions, student unions.
19:34
A lot of people are getting together, and working
19:39
under this umbrella I told you about earlier, the ONE Campaign.
19:41
I think they just have one idea in their mind,
19:46
which is, where you live in the world
19:53
should not determine whether you live in the world.
19:57
(Applause)
20:02
History, like God, is watching what we do.
20:06
When the history books get written,
20:11
I think our age will be remembered for three things.
20:13
Really, it's just three things this whole age will be remembered for.
20:17
The digital revolution, yes.
20:21
The war against terror, yes.
20:24
And what we did or did not do to put out the fires in Africa.
20:27
Some say we can't afford to. I say we can't afford not to.
20:34
Thank you, thank you very much.
20:42
(Applause)
20:44
Okay, my three wishes.
20:51
The ones that TED has offered to grant.
20:54
You see, if this is true, and I believe it is,
21:00
that the digital world you all created has uncoupled
21:02
the creative imagination from the physical constraints of matter,
21:08
this should be a piece of piss.
21:14
(Laughter)
21:16
I should add that this started out as a much longer list of wishes.
21:20
Most of them impossible, some of them impractical
21:23
and one or two of them certainly immoral.
21:25
(Laughter)
21:29
This business, it gets to be addictive, you know what I mean,
21:33
when somebody else is picking up the tab.
21:37
Anyway, here's number one.
21:40
I wish for you to help build a social movement
21:43
of more than one million American activists for Africa.
21:50
That is my first wish.
21:57
I believe it's possible.
21:59
A few minutes ago, I talked about all the citizens' campaigns that are springing up.
22:01
You know, there's lots out there.
22:06
And with this one campaign as our umbrella,
22:08
my organization, DATA, and other groups,
22:11
have been tapping into the energy and the enthusiasm
22:14
that's out there from Hollywood into the heartland of America.
22:18
We know there's more than enough energy to power this movement.
22:22
We just need your help in making it happen.
22:26
We want all of you here, church America, corporate America,
22:30
Microsoft America, Apple America, Coke America,
22:32
Pepsi America, nerd America, noisy America.
22:35
We can't afford to be cool and sit this one out.
22:38
I do believe if we build a movement that's one million Americans strong,
22:42
we're not going to be denied.
22:47
We will have the ear of Congress.
22:50
We'll be the first page in Condi Rice's briefing book,
22:55
and right into the Oval Office.
22:58
If there's one million Americans -- and I really know this --
23:01
who are ready to make phone calls,
23:04
who are ready to be on email,
23:06
I am absolutely sure that we can actually change
23:08
the course of history, literally, for the continent of Africa.
23:12
Anyway, so I'd like your help in getting that signed up.
23:18
I know John Gage and Sun Microsystems are already on board for this,
23:22
but there's lots of you we'd like to talk to.
23:26
Right, my second wish, number two.
23:29
I would like one media hit for every person on the planet
23:37
who is living on less than one dollar a day.
23:42
That's one billion media hits.
23:47
Could be on Google, could be on AOL.
23:50
Steve Case, Larry, Sergey -- they've done a lot already.
23:53
It could be NBC. It could be ABC.
23:59
Actually we're talking to ABC today about the Oscars.
24:01
We have a film, produced by Jon Kamen at Radical Media.
24:04
But you know, we want, we need some airtime for our ideas.
24:10
We need to get the math; we need to get the statistics out to the American people.
24:14
I really believe that old Truman line,
24:18
that if you give the American people the facts,
24:21
they'll do the right thing.
24:24
And, the other thing that's important is that this is not Sally Struthers.
24:26
This has to be described as an adventure, not a burden.
24:30
(Video): One by one they step forward,
24:35
a nurse, a teacher, a homemaker,
24:37
and lives are saved.
24:39
The problem is enormous.
24:41
Every three seconds one person dies.
24:43
Another three seconds, one more.
24:46
The situation is so desperate in parts of Africa,
24:49
Asia, even America,
24:52
that aid groups, just as they did for the tsunami,
24:54
are uniting as one, acting as one.
24:57
We can beat extreme poverty, starvation, AIDS.
25:01
But we need your help.
25:05
One more person, letter, voice
25:07
will mean the difference between life and death
25:09
for millions of people.
25:12
Please join us by working together.
25:15
Americans have an unprecedented opportunity.
25:17
We can make history.
25:20
We can start to make poverty history.
25:22
One, by one, by one.
25:25
Please visit ONE at this address.
25:27
We're not asking for your money. We're asking for your voice.
25:30
Bono: All right. I wish for TED to truly show the power of information,
25:35
its power to rewrite the rules and transform lives,
25:43
by connecting every hospital, health clinic and school
25:48
in one African country.
25:54
And I would like it to be Ethiopia.
25:58
I believe we can connect every school in Ethiopia,
26:01
every health clinic, every hospital --
26:05
we can connect to the Internet.
26:08
That is my wish, my third wish.
26:11
I think it's possible.
26:13
I think we have the money and brains in the room to do that.
26:14
And that would be a mind-blowing wish to come true.
26:17
I've been to Ethiopia, as I said earlier.
26:23
It's actually where it all started for me.
26:26
The idea that the Internet, which changed all of our lives,
26:33
can transform a country -- and a continent
26:37
that has hardly made it to analog, let alone digital -- blows my mind.
26:41
But it didn't start out that way.
26:48
The first long-distance line from Boston to New York
26:51
was used in 1885 on the phone.
26:54
It was just nine years later that Addis Ababa
27:00
was connected by phone to Harare, which is 500 kilometers away.
27:04
Since then, not that much has changed.
27:11
The average waiting time to get a landline in Ethiopia
27:14
is actually about seven or eight years.
27:18
But wireless technology wasn't dreamt up then.
27:22
Anyway, I'm Irish, and as you can see,
27:28
I know how important talking is.
27:30
Communication is very important for Ethiopia -- will transform the country.
27:34
Nurses getting better training,
27:38
pharmacists being able to order supplies,
27:40
doctors sharing their expertise in all aspects of medicine.
27:42
It's a very, very good idea to get them wired.
27:47
And that is my third and final wish for you at the TED conference.
27:51
Thank you very much once again.
27:55
(Applause)
27:57

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Bono - Musician, activist
Bono, the lead singer of U2, uses his celebrity to fight for social justice worldwide: to end hunger, poverty and disease, especially in Africa. His nonprofit ONE raises awareness via media, policy and calls to action.

Why you should listen

Irreverent, funny, iconoclastic and relentless, Bono has proven himself stunningly effective in encouraging and cajoling the world's most powerful leaders to take seriously the challenge of disease and hunger and seize the historic opportunity we now have to beat extreme poverty, especially in Africa, through technological innovation, smart aid, transparency and investments which put citizens in charge. 

As lead singer of U2, Bono performed at Live Aid in 1985, which inspired him to travel to Ethiopia with his wife, Ali. There they spent several weeks helping with a famine relief project. The experience shocked him and ignited a determination to work for change. In Bono's own words, "What are the blind spots of our age? It might be something as simple as our deep-down refusal to believe that every human life has equal worth". In 2005, the year of Make Poverty History, Bono became one of the inaugural winners of the TED Prize; he used his wish to raise awareness and inspire activism.

In 2002, he co-founded DATA (Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa), which later became the advocacy and campaign organization, ONE. Today ONE has more than 3 million members who pressure politicians around the world to improve policies to empower the poorest. Thanks to these efforts, along with those of partners and grassroots leaders in Africa, these policies have delivered results. For example, eight million people are now on life preserving antiretoviral medications, malarial death rates have been halved in eight target countries, 50 million more children are in school and 5.4 million lives have been saved through vaccines.

In 2006, Bono and Bobby Shriver launched (RED) to engage the private sector in the fight against AIDS in Africa. (RED) Partners direct a portion of their profits from (RED)-branded products, services and events directly to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. In just six years, (RED) has contributed more than $200 million - every penny of which goes directly to HIV/AIDS programs with the goal of eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV. To date, (RED) dollars have helped the lives of more than 14 million people in Africa through education, testing, counseling, and treatment programs.

Bono also co-founded EDUN with his wife Ali. EDUN is a global fashion brand which does business in an number of countries in Africa and beyond, sourcing materials and manufacturing clothing. In Uganda, EDUN is supporting over 8,000 farmers in their move from subsistence to sustainable business practices.  

Granted knighthood in 2007 and dubbed a "Man of Peace" in 2008, Bono mobilized in 2010 following the devastating earthquake in Haiti, performing the song "Stranded" with bandmate The Edge -- and Rihanna and Jay-z -- during the for Hope for Haiti Now telethon. The event was watched by 83 million people in the United States alone and raised a reported $58 million for relief.

Bono’s journey in activism spans a generation and where he is coming from, and above all where he is going, is something we should all pay close attention to. 

The original video is available on TED.com
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