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New Media Campaign Launched to Build Support for East Africa
September 21, 2011

USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah speaks with recently arrived women and children at Dadaab camp in Kenya. (L. Meserve/USAID)

By Charlene Porter
IIP Staff Writer
20 September 2011


Washington — A new multimedia campaign is being launched to encourage Americans to engage directly in assisting ongoing U.S. government efforts to relieve the humanitarian crisis in East Africa.

To create the campaign, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) teamed up with the Ad Council, a nonprofit organization of media and advertising experts with a long record of winning American support for humanitarian issues. The campaign is designed to expand American awareness of the severity of the famine and deprivation plaguing the region, to encourage Americans to convey that message to others and to build support for the nonprofit organizations at the forefront of saving lives and easing suffering in the region.

U.S. officials announced the campaign in New York City September 19 on the sidelines of a U.N. General Assembly special session on noncommunicable diseases.

“When I was in Kenya, I saw families who had walked for days or weeks, often barefoot, with no possessions, desperate to find food and medical care,” said Jill Biden, the wife of Vice President Biden. “I also saw firsthand that even the smallest and simplest investments can save lives. Aid is working.”

More than 13 million people in the Horn of Africa need emergency assistance to survive, in what is considered the world’s worst humanitarian disaster of the moment and the worst to strike the region in 60 years. Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya and Somalia are all suffering, but famine has hit Somalia the hardest, where tens of thousands have already died and thousands more have drifted to Ethiopia and Kenya in search of lifesaving assistance.

The campaign is called FWD, which stands for famine, war and drought, but the three-letter acronym has a dual meaning, according to USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah. “It also stands for our call to action — that people get informed, get engaged and forward this information on to their friends and families.”

Campaign messages will ask audiences to text a coded message to trigger their $10 contribution to a consortium comprising nongovernmental organizations working in the assistance effort, including Mercy Corps, Save the Children and World Vision.

The U.S. government has already committed more than $600 million to assistance for Horn of Africa relief, and is the single-largest donor.

Beyond the immediate crisis, however, FWD will also help build awareness of Feed the Future, an Obama administration initiative to foster better farming methods, stronger markets and greater resilience to survive climate swings. These steps are thought to provide greater stability in the economic security of East African families so that they may better survive the periodic crop failures that are regular, but unwelcome, guests to the region.

The FWD campaign will engage the general public through traditional and social media channels, but it will also seek support from the food industry, including major corporate players such as PepsiCo and General Mills.