Power Summit starts with a surprise visit from Bono

ONE member Vivian Onano and Bono. Photo credit: Ralph Alswang.

Surprise!

At the kickoff of the 2014 ONE Power Summit in Washington, D.C. yesterday afternoon, a collective gasp – and cheers – filled the air as our organization’s co-founder, Bono, took the stage to rally his troops.

The moment ONE members found out our surprise guest was Bono:

Today’s appearance was Bono’s first at the annual event, which brings together ONE’s staff and top 200 volunteer leaders from around the US for advocacy training and a lobbying trip to Capitol Hill around our energy poverty campaign.

Attendees at this year’s summit come from 43 states and include college students, faith leaders, ONE Mom bloggers, partners and our congressional district leaders (CDLs).

After surprising the group by entering the room and asking if ONE needed a “CDL from Dublin,” Bono sat down for an interview with ONE member Vivian Onano, a Carthage College student leader who grew up in Kenya.

Onano asked Bono if ONE had lived up to his expectations over the past decade. “I never expected it to be this cool,” he joked, then added, “What you guys are doing is a very big deal.”

During his half hour on stage, Bono spoke to the group frankly and as a fellow activist. With the charming (and composed!) Onano, he discussed several highlights of ONE’s achievements and why the organization was founded on the heels of the debt relief movement, which has now helped African governments put more than 51 million children in school.

Bono takes a moment to take photos with top ONE volunteers:

Bono talked about the early days of the fight for AIDS funding and the creation of PEPFAR and an “aha” moment he had with former US Senator Bill Frist that underscored the importance of grassroots campaigning. In the end, “it takes social movements to change things,” Bono said.

Bono also talked about the importance of ONE’s work in the fight against corruption and for transparency in the oil and mining sectors, criticizing the American Petroleum Institute for suing to block pro-transparency rules that ONE’s activists successfully campaigned for and helped to pass.

He also talked about the importance of the corporate sector as a partner in the fight against poverty and gave a shoutout to ONE’s division (RED), which partners with companies such as Apple and Starbucks, and has generated more than $250 million to date for the Global Fund and the fight against AIDS in Africa. “(RED) is the gateway drug to activism,” he said.

Onano also had a chance to share some of her experiences with Bono and the ONE volunteers, particularly around our energy poverty campaign. She talked about what it was like to grow up without reliable electricity at her home in rural Kenya, and the negative impacts it had on health and a child’s education.

Per Bono’s usual wit, there were a few great one-liners and some self-deprecating humor. (“Growing up in Ireland, there were certain things you couldn’t discuss in polite society, such as sex, religion and politics,” he laughed. “That’s all I wanted to discuss.”) He was open and earnest about his desire for ONE to expand its reach. Energy and anti-corruption are on ONE’s policy agenda, and within the next ten years he expects to “see more ONE members south of the equator rather than north.”

After the Onano interview, Bono took questions from the audience and I had a chance to ask him how we activists can continue to persuade our fellow citizens – and elected officials – that the strides being made against extreme poverty are real and that investing in Africa is good for the US economy and our national security. How do we keep the passion for the work in the equation when so much of our lobbying is based upon data-driven results? “We can’t forget that the statistics are people,” he said.

As a ONE member who has participated as a volunteer in the organization since it began, I’m pleased Bono took the time to join us at the Power Summit. We know he knows Africa, we know he knows the numbers, we know he’s influential, we know he’s legit. And he knows we are, too. Thanks, Bono!