Can viral videos help save war-torn Africa? That's the question driving the Voice Project, a New York-based not-for-profit that aims to raise awareness for Ugandan women's groups — by tapping into our shared love for music. It all started with a women's choir in Gulu. "They sent me footage of themselves singing 'Suitcase‚' by [American folk artist] Joe Purdy," says CEO Hunter Heaney, who had taught the group the tune during a 2008 trip to Uganda. "I thought, Wouldn't it be great if we could keep this going?" So he reached out to Purdy, who covered a song by R.E.M., whose bassist, in turn, covered a song by Billy Bragg, and so on. Today, the Voice Project website, which launched in March 2010, features videos from 41 artists, including R.E.M.'s Mike Mills and Peter Gabriel (whose daughter, Anna, is a Project cofounder). In sum, they've logged more than 3 million views on Vimeo and generated some $50,000 in donations — enough to fund job-training courses, an eggplant farm, and 500 microloans to Gulu residents. Heaney's new goals: recruiting corporate sponsors, releasing an album, and expanding the Voice Project's reach worldwide. "We're gettin' out there word-of-mouth style," he says, "just like they do in Uganda."
A version of this article appeared in the May 2011 issue of Fast Company magazine.