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Bono: No, No

Well, good for Bono. His band, U2, has a new album out–and even though it got ripped off and distributed illegally on the Web two weeks before release, it looks like it will do just fine. As will the hot new, $349 U2 Apple iPod player. The inevitable “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb” world tour will sell out.

Well, good for Bono. His band, U2, has a new album out–and even though it got ripped off and distributed illegally on the Web two weeks before release, it looks like it will do just fine. As will the hot new, $349 U2 Apple iPod player. The inevitable “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb” world tour will sell out.

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But to be honest, I’m kinda ticked off at Bono. Nothing personal, but he’s a loser. Here’s why.

Back in May, Bono delivered a commencement address at the University of Pennsylvania. It was a nearly brilliant speech–urging graduates to “betray the age” and find a big idea “to spend your moral capital, your intellectual capital, your cash, your sweat equity in pursuing.”

Bonos own big idea, of course, is poverty in Africa. Or, as he told the grads: “Equality for Africa is a big idea. A big, expensive idea. The scale of the suffering, and the scope of the commitment required, numb us into a kind of indifference. Wishing for an end to AIDS and extreme poverty in Africa is like wishing that gravity didn’t make things so damned heavy. We can wish it, but what the hell can we do about it? Well, more than we think.”

Great stuff. For our January issue, which features the 2005 Fast Company/Monitor Group Social Capitalist Awards, I wanted to turn Bono’s speech into an essay that would lead the magazine. We’d get some cool, inspiring words from a red-hot celeb, and Bono would win his ideas exposure to a big business audience.

What’s more, Bono’s big idea is mine, too. I used to work and live in southern Africa, and I’ve been passionate ever since about addressing the massive poverty in a continent that everyone basically ignores.

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So, I tried. Tried Bono’s PR rep in London. No response. His record company, Interscope, in Santa Monica. Ditto. His pals at Elevation Partners, a new VC fund that he’s into. Not a peep.

Finally, I found someone who at least would (eventually) return my calls–at Data, Bono’s foundation dedicated to solving Africa’s problems. Shouldn’t be a problem, my new best friend told me, promising to call back by week’s end.

Of course, he didn’t, and there began a saga that isn’t so interesting to recount in detail here, except to say this: Three weeks later, something good that should have happened easily and quickly, never did. It may be that the intersection of the entertainment world and the not-for-profit world, in the form of celebrity driven philanthropy, manages to bring out the worst of both–the arrogance that comes with celebrity, and the ineptitude we too often associate (accurately) with the service sector. Whatever. Opportunity missed.

I’m not ticked off because I’m a cranky editor who didn’t get his way–who, instead, got blown off. Well, OK, I am, a little. But my lost essay (and diminished ego) is small beer. The much bigger loss is this: because Bono, or the people around him, couldn’t bother to spend a few minutes with me, Africa missed out on two million free media impressions in a magazine that caters to business people who want to do good — as well as good work.

What a waste.

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