By Mariel Natanawan

When I first came to Northeastern University, like many other students, I was inspired by the idea of making a difference. I followed that aspiration by enrolling in my first social entrepreneurship class and going on my first Dialogue of Civilizations program visiting organizations across India tackling issues like gender inequality and access to education. Throughout all of these experiences I was challenged to think further about what it really means to make a difference and the best way to do it. How do we gain the attention of people who don’t normally participate in social issues? Can everyone play a role in solving a problem? The simple idea of helping others evolved into an intricate concept. This led me on a search to find a co-op that would shed light on these questions. I was lucky enough to find that my co-op as Executive Assistant for the CEO Office at (RED) was the perfect match for what I had been looking for. 

(RED) was founded in 2006 by U2 singer and activist, Bono, together with Bobby Shriver of the ONE Campaign after observing the gap that exists between the private sector and non-profit causes. Through partnerships with influential companies, (RED) sells products that fundraise money to support HIV/AIDS grants in eight key countries in Africa. These company partners include GAP, Apple, Bank of America, Swell, Beats, and Starbucks. 

During my time at (RED), I researched consumer trends, corporate social responsibility policies different companies have, and helped to brainstorm potential marketing strategies with new partners. Through these tasks, I was able to see behind the scenes how partnerships with (RED) are formed. Most importantly, I learned how companies are now more excited than ever to be engaged with social issues and how their resources can help create a movement. 

Another aspect of my role that made working at (RED) so special, was being surrounded by people who strongly believed that there is always room to be more innovative and creative in our strategy to reach more consumers. Deb Dugan, the CEO of (RED), encouraged everyone in the office to share new ideas and to constantly imagine how we can spread our message. 

To date (RED) has touched the lives of more than 70 million people with prevention, treatment and care services and has channeled over $360 million of contributions. Seeing how anyone can make a difference by just buying a new water bottle, or grabbing a coffee at Starbucks on World Aids Day has inspired me to see that making a difference can be a daily practice. 

The SEI Speaker Series will be hosting Deb Dugan, CEO of (RED) on Wednesday, February 15, 2017 at 6pm in Raytheon Amphitheatre.