Why 50 Cent is a Humanitarian Genius

Last September, Curtis Jackson — who you and I know better as 50 Cent —  visited the Horn of Africa with the World Food Program.  Around that same time, he publicly committed to donating 1 billion meals to the World Food Program over five years.

One of the ways 50 intends to reach that goal is by linking sales of his Street King energy drink to donations to the WFP. Street King is one of those small-bottle energy drink that you see at gas stations, convenient stores and markets all over the place. For every drink sold, 50 will donate one meal to the WFP.

I spoke with Bettina Luescher, a spokesperson for the World Food Program.  She was thrilled by 50 Cent’s commitment. One ‘meal’ actually means a 10 cent donation to the WFP.  So, in effect, Jackson has committed himself to fundraising for the World Food Program to the tune of $100 million over the next five years.

50 is a best selling artist and a brilliant entrepreneur, but I doubt he has $100 million lying around so he has tied sales of Street King to reaching his goal. Naturally, he is using his celebrity, substantial social media following to rally his fans to the cause.

Luescher tells me that Jackson has already donated to WFP for the equivalent of 3.5 million meals, or $350,000, to kick start this effort. This includes a Facebook promotion for which Street King is tying one ‘like’ to one meal donated, and then kicking in an extra 1 million meals when 1 million “Likes” are reached.

Of course, the Street King page will be used to promote the drink, but from the WFP’s perspective they see a great use of celebrity. He is popular artist who has 5.6 million Twitter followers, is actively using his platforms to spread  WFP-approved messaging about world hunger (namely, that is surmountable) and is talking about hunger to an audience that might never have heard of the WFP.  “We love what he is doing,” says WFP’s Luescher.

From a PR standpoint, the WFP may be loving it, but a commitment like this has potentially important policy implications as well.  The World Food Program is mostly funded through the voluntary contributions from donor countries.  Countries pay what they can, when they can. To understand what it means to “feed 1 billion people in 5 years” you have to put 50’s $100 million commitment in context.

By far the top donor to WFP is the United States, which has donated over $6 billion to WFP over the past 5 years. After the USA comes Canada and the European Commission, which have donated about $1.3 billion each since 2008. At $342 million over the past 5 years, Sweden comes in at number 10.

If 50 reaches his goal of contributing $100 million to the WFP over the next five years, he would be about the 20th largest donor to the organization. That would put him on par to what Brazil or Ireland have donated to the World Food Program over the last 5 years.

The formula of 1 energy drink = 1 meal = a 10 cent donation to the WFP is an innovative way to help finance an important global institution that relies on donations to feed people around the world. In an era of constricting foreign aid budgets, we need this kind of creative thinking and entrepreneurship.