The man in the orange sunglasses
He is one of the most recognizable human beings on the planet. With his signature orange-lensed sunglasses, silver hoop earring, and 3-day stubble, everyone from music fans, to finance ministers and heads of state, to suffering people across Africa feels connected to Bono. The Irish musician, diplomat, and philanthropist has transcended the world of rock music to become a driving force in global economic policy and a world leader in the war against AIDS in Africa.
Bono's transformation from pop star to global colossus has lessons for anyone ready to embark on the final step of The Dynamic Path.
Bono is indeed a powerful role model, due in large part, of course, to the impact he makes through his dedicated efforts around the world. But there is another lesson to be drawn from Bono's example as well. That is to make the absolute most out of the hand that you've been dealt. Given your own natural talents and the context of your work and life, it's never too soon — or too late — to reflect on how you can apply your capabilities to making a positive impact on others. Do that and you will take a meaningful step toward building a legacy.
Personally, I don't think I've ever met anyone who so thoroughly utilizes his skills and station in life as Bono. He has gone from recording artist to global conscience by leveraging his fame, access, credibility, and basic skill sets — writing, recording, and performing music, popularizing words and concepts, and applying a stunning intellect and prodigious energy level — to allow drowned-out voices to be heard.
Who is Bono?
Born Paul Hewson in 1960, Bono was raised by a Catholic father and a Protestant mother in Dublin's middle class. He was a highly intelligent boy, competing in international chess tournaments at the age of 12.
When he was 14, Bono's beloved mother suddenly died, leaving him to be raised by a single father and older brother. He turned away from family and school and, seeking refuge in music, began playing with his local buddies. In 1976, when he was 16, Bono and his friends started a band that they called U2.
ono had experienced just enough suffering to give a sharp edge to his music but not so much that it extinguished his underlying optimism. Bono's engaging, animating spirit connected U2's performances, words, and melodies with the band's audiences.
Amazingly, the members of U2 have all been together ever since the band's founding. Just as a 30-year run with one company is rare in the corporate world, it is almost unheard of in the music business. But in the case of U2, even the band's manager has been with them from the very start. To a greater or lesser extent, all of the members of U2 sidestepped serious alcohol and drug problems, and that has played an important role in the band's longevity. However, even more important was a decision they all agreed upon at the beginning — to share revenue equally among all of the band's members. In other bands, Bono and the Edge, the lead guitarist, could have claimed songwriting revenue and a greater percentage of the gross. But because they were all friends and commercial interests were the secondary objective of the band, they turned their back on this convention. "All of us want our lives to count," Bono says. "Music for me was always about changing the world."
From the very beginning, U2 has been committed to addressing important issues facing the world. Starting in the early 1980s, every tour had a cause-related sponsor — Greenpeace, Amnesty International, and Nelson Mandela, to name a few. In 1985, U2 played at the Live Aid concert to raise money for Ethiopia, then in the grip of a powerful famine and struggling under the weight of huge indebtedness to Western nations. While U2's participation wasn't unique — just about every other major band also played the festival — what was different was that Bono worked hard to understand the real problem they were rallying about. He and his wife, Ali (whom he met at age 12 and started dating at 16), traveled to Ethiopia later that year and spent several months living and working in a refugee camp.
From there Bono's road diverged further from that of the many other well-intentioned celebrities across the international entertainment landscape. While others made cameo appearances and public service announcements, Bono dove into the economics and policy-making apparatus of debt relief. Never shy about leveraging his fame for access to the most influential people, Bono secured meetings with the leaders of the global financial community. He also met with the world's most powerful international development economist, Jeffrey D. Sachs, who was then at Harvard University and has been an economics professor and director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University since 2002.
The result of this educational extravaganza was Bono's campaign to cancel 100 percent of the $6 billion that the poorest African nations, including Ethiopia, owed the United States. The Clinton administration had already forgiven two-thirds of this amount, but Bono argued that you can't tap into people's emotions and imaginations without tackling the whole thing. “You can't sing about two-thirds of something,” he said.
Bono put hundreds of hours into the debt-relief effort over the course of 2000. He traveled to Washington eight times and met with key legislators and their staffs. He even went so far as to enlist clergy members in the home district of a reluctant Alabama congressman to sermonize about debt relief on Sunday mornings. The result, in no small part due to Bono's leadership, was a $435 million congressional grant for 100 percent debt relief.
Bono sought to build on the momentum resulting from his work on debt relief. Energized by the positive reinforcement of making genuine progress, coupled with the intoxicating level of respect proffered to him by world leaders, he approached Bill Gates and others to provide financing for broader action on Africa. This gave way to a nonprofit advocacy organization called DATA that Bono founded in 2002 along with philanthropist, record producer, and friend (and member of the Kennedy clan) Bobby Shriver. DATA, which stands for Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa, has been committed to addressing the three issues that underlie the most serious problems on the African continent — unpayable debts, the spread of AIDS, and harmful trade policies — by raising public awareness and working with government leaders in the industrialized world to bring more resources to the region.
If you've noticed a proliferation of fashion-forward consumer products recently that all share a deep crimson hue, you're not alone. That would be the latest product of Bono's creative energies. Red Apple iPod, Red Motorola RAZR, Red Gap Jeans, American Express Red Card — these are some of the iconic brands that have signed on to become partners in Product (RED).
Founded by Bono and Bobby Shriver in 2006, Product (RED) is an innovative for-profit approach to attacking the issue of fighting AIDS in Africa. Just as he did with debt relief, Bono went to school on the science and pharmacology of HIV and the AIDS epidemic. Healthcare experts who have met Bono frequently comment that he knows as much as any scientific journal editor about the critical medical issues. And when Bono speaks about Product (RED), his insights about marketing budgets, consumer demand, and the business model are as sound as those of any chief executive or venture capitalist.
“AIDS is no longer a death sentence,” Bono says. “Just two pills a day will bring someone who is at death's door back to a full life. These pills, which are available at the corner drugstore, cost less than a dollar a day. But since the poorest people in Africa earn less than a dollar a day, they can't afford to buy the medicine and so they die, at the alarming rate of 6,500 people a day. It's unnecessary,” Bono says. “It's insane.”
Bono says that a key part of his motivation for selecting the issue of AIDS in Africa, beyond having personally spent time there connecting deeply with real people suffering from the disease, is that “it is an entirely winnable war.” The medicine is inexpensive and readily available. People want to help, even though they aren't necessarily prepared to go out of their way or spend extra money to do so. Companies would like to wrap their brands into the conscientious consumerism that is driving billions of dollars of purchasing power, but competition and shareholder activism are so acute they can't afford to make meaningful corporate contributions to even the most important causes. However, if consumers can go about their normal lives and make purchasing choices that meet their needs while appealing to their conscience and desire to help, and companies can win more profitable business that more than funds their contributions, and people in Africa can receive the medicine to treat HIV/AIDS, then you create a win-win-win.
That is an example of Bono's genius. If he weren't a rock star and diplomatic world changer, he easily could have been a great chief executive. He leads by example. No one works harder or delves more deeply into issues and data than he does. He surrounds himself with the best people, is an extraordinary listener, and takes advice extremely well. He understands economics, markets, consumers, media, science, government, and regulation. And he has a dynamism that attracts and inspires just about everyone he meets.
If a single individual with a sharp mind, a gift for writing a catchy melody and memorable lyric, a dynamic personality, and a genuine desire to make the world a better place can have such a far-reaching and positive impact, it makes one wonder what you can do.
Excerpted from “The Dynamic Path” by Jim Citrin. Copyright 2007 Jim Citrin. Reprinted by permission of Rodale Books. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from the publisher.