Friday, June 8, 2012

Pink Overload: What’s Happened to the Breast-Cancer Awareness Movement?

Pink ribbons, pink cars, pink kitchen mixers, pink vacuum cleaners, pink knives and now, pink guns?

That’s right, breast-cancer awareness guns. Truly inasane.

Don’t get me wrong. I have no objection to breast cancer-awareness campaigns in and of themselves; it is a worthy cause that may help save some lives by spotlighting the importance of early screening and does bring emotional support and fellowship to many suffering from breast cancer.

What truly bothers me is that the movement has morphed into a commercial behemoth - a massive money-making, cash-raking frenzy that makes the month of October look like someone hosed it down with Pepto-Bismol. At nearly every fundraising event and in every related media campaign you see evidence of massive corporate sponsorship. There’s Ford Motor Company’s “Warriors in Pink” clothing line, entire Japanese trolleys wrapped in ads for Avon’s pink-beribboned product line and Yoplait’s “Put a Lid on It,” for example. Here’s a spot of bitter irony: when Yoplait first launched that campaign, they were making the yogurt with dairy from cows injected with a growth hormone that has been linked to breast cancer. At least General Mills pulled the hormone from Yoplait after activists started making noise about it.

With the seemingly endless millions flowing to this movement, it’s clear that some are profiting big. But are we really any closer to finding the elusive cure? I recently wrote about Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s disastrous attempt to pull Planned Parenthood’s funding – which the group uses to provide potentially life-saving breast-cancer screenings to low-income women. Wow. Just, wow.

Another gripe with the pink-ribbon overkill is that it overshadows so many other worthwhile causes and nonprofits – groups that do incredibly valuable and needed work in their communities – that are barely noticed and chronically underfunded. At the ThinkTank, the arm of ThinkInk that works with nonprofits. Unfortunately for many of them, their funding dried up as the recession struck and donations dwindled, forcing them to eliminate PR – which is what keeps them in the public eye – from their meager budgets.

It’s heartbreaking that so many great community programs delivering vital services such as medical care for the poor, food assistance and transitional housing, but lacking the visibility of the charity giants, languish in obscurity.

I absolutely support raising funds for breast cancer research as well as early-screening awareness, and I have nothing but good wishes for the many women who have survived, or are currently battling, breast cancer. But the actual impact of the movement as it stands today hardly seems commensurate with the eye-popping river of money it pulls in.

So let’s try and find other causes, other non-profits that desperately need our help in order to help others.
Because their missions matter too, you know?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Start Up! Nurturing the Next Generation of Entrepreneurs

Hiring is going down, unemployment is going up and the country's leaders inside the Beltway aren’t doing enough to address the seemingly endless problems – plunging budgets, rising class sizes, teaching “to the test” – afflicting public schools.

Combine these factors with high dropout rates, soaring college costs and lack of job openings for new grads and you have a bleak picture of our young people’s future prospects. What's being done to boost our youth's competitiveness in an increasingly globalized job market? There is no sugar-coating this: American youth trail those of most other developed countries in math, science and reading.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible to ignite that "can-do" spark in even the most apathetic or disadvantaged children. Growing numbers of jobless young Americans have decided to create jobs out of desperation – by starting their own businesses. And here’s something even more inspiring: a lot of these young entrepreneurs are launching businesses that also incorporate social-impact programs addressing issues such as worldwide food preservation, the lack of clean water in the developing world and unemployment itself. Go them!

I happen to know firsthand about the power of entrepreneurship, and not just because I've started a number of businesses. For several years, the nonprofit division of my PR agency, The ThinkTank, worked with a wonderful non-profit organization called NFTE (Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship). NFTE is dedicated to showing at-risk youth and those from low-income communities the world of opportunity that can open up if they embrace the challenge of starting businesses. How rewarding to see the look of pride on the face of an eighth-grade girl from Little Havana as she pitches her business plan for an apparel company. NFTE’s success has been amazing to see: the group started with just a few schools in the South Bronx and today it’s giving start-up classes to kids all over the world. How Nifty!

Kids all over the country are coming up with clever ways to make money. Like 15-year-old Californian Jason Li, who founded iReTron, a company that pays consumers for their old electronics, refurbishes them and resells them, keeping them out of landfills. He’s just one example of the great things a kid with business know-how can accomplish.

I’m convinced, like the author of a recent TIME Magazine article, that it is absolutely crucial that more youth learn the skills to start 21st-Century businesses. They need to know how to use today’s powerful online tools, social media and mobile technology, not just to create jobs for themselves and others, but to serve as examples for other youth and spread that go-get-it spirit around the country’s wider student population, showing lackadaisical peers just how school is, indeed, relevant to their lives. Furthermore, the country’s economy isn’t only shaky, it’s also changing. Manufacturing, the booming engine which propelled mid-20th Century middle-class prosperity in America, is a shadow of its former self. We need young entrepreneurs to drive innovation and growth in new industries – tech and green, for example – to fuel a country that can hold its own against the world’s emerging big powers.

Widespread business education programs in our schools could do wonders for the youth who will be running this country in the next 20 years and beyond. Let’s hope that as a nation we can somehow overcome our vast differences – difficult, I know – to make it happen. Our children’s future (and their children’s) will be all the brighter for it.