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Believe in Zero

October 31, 2011

Today is Halloween in many parts of the world -- the United States, Canada, Ireland, Scotland, as well as some parts of South America, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Japan and Asia – a day that kids don funny costumes and go door to door "trick or treating" and adults pretend that they're children again by attending costume parties and parades .

For many years, Halloween has also been a time that children collect coins in little orange boxes to donate to UNICEF. My daughter has been "trick or treating" for UNICEF for many years, and I think it's great that children at an early age can learn how to ask others for donations for a cause they believe in.

However, Caryl Stern, who is the president and CEO of U.S. Fund for UNICEF, was faced with a challenge a few years back. UNICEF's brand awareness was really high – second only to the American Red Cross for nonprofit organizations – but no one knew what UNICEF did other than asking kids to "trick or treat" on Halloween. Caryl decided to focus more attention on the mission of the organization, and what the organization is able to accomplish, and she and her team came up with a creative and effective way of doing so.

UNICEF is a global humanitarian organization that operates in over 150 countries providing children with health care, immunizations, clean water, nutrition and food security, education and emergency relief. When the U.S. Fund team conceived of its campaign, 26,000 children were dying each day from preventable causes – malnutrition, unsafe drinking water, lack of a 15 cent vaccine. This was clearly unacceptable, but what number would be more acceptable? It became clear to Caryl, the staff and supporters that the answer to that question is zero – zero children dying each day of preventable causes.

Armed with both the grim statistics and the goal of reducing the number of deaths from 26,000 to zero, Caryl and her team created the "Believe in Zero" campaign. Public service announcements, buttons, web sites and other communications devices were created with the slogan, "26,000" (with the first four numbers crossed out) and the words "Believe in Zero" prominently displayed.

Most importantly, this became a rallying cry for the hundreds of employees of UNICEF – as in "I Believe in Zero" – an easy to understand and passionate call to action that could be embraced by everyone in the organization – whether that employee was in an office in New York or in a field in Africa.

Today, the "Believe in Zero" campaign continues, but the numbers have changed. Now, it's 21,000 children dying of preventable causes every day. Still an unacceptable number, but an amazing 20% lower than when the campaign began.

So, when my daughter collects coins in her little orange box tonight, she'll be helping to bring that number down to zero – a number that we can all believe in.

What about you? What do you think? Let us know by clicking here.


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