As the founder of a healthcare charity, the Stem for Life Foundation, I am filled with awe and hope at the remarkable success of the Ice Bucket Challenge and Stand Up to Cancer. Taken together, these events have raised well over $200 million for their causes in recent months alone, providing needed funds for finding and developing cures for ALS and cancer, respectively.
As a whole array of new challenges spread across social media, I think it’s important to reflect on this transcendent moment in time. First and foremost, the success of both of these events offers hard proof that in today’s fast-paced, consumer-centered world, we all care deeply about one another — and, given the right opportunity, we will step forward to help those in need. The Ice Bucket Challenge, in particular, is uniquely democratic in its appeal. Rich and poor, famous and obscure, and people of every age, race and religion got involved in this remarkable cause. Facebook reports that over 2.4 million Ice Bucket Challenge videos have been shared on their platform to date, while YouTube has over 2.3 million of their own. Whole companies, whole families and countless celebrities — whether Bill Gates, Lady Gaga or David Beckham — took the plunge.
I’ve heard some argue that there was a “guilt factor” involved with the Ice Bucket Challenge. These naysayers claim that many gave because they were shamed into doing so. And while I understand how some might arrive at this conclusion, I simply do not agree with it. In my mind, it was those videos. It was seeing real people, no matter their station in life, step forward, one after another, and do something good for their fellow man. Some videos made us laugh; others made us cry. And in the end, they triggered a feeling of community. We wanted to be part of something that was beyond us. And I think you can find a similar appeal in Stand Up to Cancer.
Stand Up to Cancer’s first big TV telethon came in 2008 and generated over $100 million for translational cancer research, and their recent September event repeated that milestone. Nobody was shamed into giving to Stand Up to Cancer. Cancer touches everyone, and this remarkable organization succeeds because they remind us of this fact in a uniquely personal way. Indeed, one out every two men, and one out of every three women, will get cancer in their lifetime. So if not ourselves, cancer will surely touch someone we love. Stand Up to Cancer succeeds because they remind us that suffering from cancer is near and dear, and that, like the Ice Bucket Challenge, we can get involved.
In the end, I think there’s a remarkable ice-bucket halo effect rippling across social media, one that is truly exciting for anyone who runs a healthcare charity. Every single day I see a new healthcare challenge popping up somewhere. People are inspired. They feel connected like never before. And whether we’re talking about a disease like cancer that affects us all or a rarer one like ALS, they now understand that by getting involved and collaborating, we can try to create the cures the world desperately needs.