Can social media be used to actually save lives? After hearing the story of Sameer and Vinay, two young South Asian men who'd been diagnosed with leukemia and urgently needed bone marrow transplants, Stanford Graduate School of Business marketing professor Jennifer Aaker went on a mission to find out.
Bone marrow matches work best if the two parties have a close genetic match. This happens, most often, among people of the same ethnicity. But, few South Asians are registered bone marrow donors, and for them, the chance of being matched is only 1% (compared to 80% for Caucasians). And in India, there is no national registry. What to do? Friends embarked on a social media campaign to register donors. In just 11 weeks, nearly 25,000 people took a simple cheek swab and were entered into the registry. Doctors found a perfect match for Sameer, and a close match for Vinay.
This story made Aaker decide to put her marketing know-how to work and supercharge the bone -arrow registry effort. She and a group of Stanford university students launched 100K Cheeks, an effort to enroll 100,000 more people in the bone marrow registry, especially minorities. In partnership with OpenIDEO, the crowdsourcing-for-social-good arm of the design firm IDEO, they seek solutions to the question "How might we increase the number of registered bone marrow donors to save more lives?" Aaker hopes that through this effort, underrepresented populations will have a fighting chance to find bone marrow matches—and that someday there will be a bone marrow registry in India.
The campaign offered Aaker a new way to tell stories and use technology for the greater good—insights that are laid out in her book, The Dragonfly Effect. Now, she's incorporated these findings into her classes at Stanford Graduate School of Business, and into her research on happiness, emotion, branding and technology. The goal: to integrate academic research into classes that inspire others to create positive change in the world.