Industrialist and philanthropist Jin Zidell wants to raise money and awareness to provide safe drinking water to every person on the planet. To focus attention on the issue, Zidell's foundation is organizing the longest relay event in the history of the world -- the Blue Planet Run.
The Blue Planet Run (www.blueplanetrun.org) will kick off on June 2, 2007 at United Nations headquarters in New York. Running in relay style, a team of 18 will keep the event going 24 hours a day, seven days a week, circumnavigating the globe at roughly 40 degrees north latitude. Approximately 80 days, 12,000 miles and 16 countries later, the last runner will arrive back in NYC.
"We're trying to bring safe drinking water to those who thirst for it. And this is the beginning of the fundraising campaign for the world to get engaged and get behind this movement," said Zidell at the 2006 annual meeting in New York of The Synergos Institute's Global Philanthropists Circle in October. (A transcript and video of Zidell describing his efforts are online.)
The Blue Planet Run version of Lance Armstrong's "LiveStrong" bracelet is a pair of blue shoelaces, available for a donation of $25. "Hopefully, in a year or so you'll see one maybe on a backpack, or through someone's hair, and you'll know that that person saved a life. Our overall brand is really ordinary people doing something extraordinary for their fellow man," said Zidell.
"When we think of a billion people who do not have access to safe drinking water, we cannot be thinking of water in isolation. It is literally the first rung on the ladder out of the pit of poverty for those billion-plus people," said Zidell, speaking as a panelist on how philanthropists can effect change through public-private partnerships.
Zidell, along with his late wife Linda, had a long history of activism in environmental philanthropy in their home town of San Francisco. In 2001, a year after Linda's death, a chance encounter with a marathon runner planted the idea in his head of a world run for the environment.
A friend, environmental author and entrepreneur Paul Hawken, convinced Zidell to focus his efforts on safe drinking water. Another acquaintance, Randy Hayes, director of the Rainforest Action Network, became an early advisor on strategy.
To help make his vision a reality, Zidell created the Blue Planet Run Foundation in 2002 and has mobilized a range of strategic advisers and partners to support his efforts. Synergos' chair and co-founder Peggy Dulany is a member of the board.
The Coca-Cola Company provided early funding, and with its corporate sponsorship of the Olympic Games torch relay, was in a position to help Zidell understand the logistics of a relay event. Last July Dow Chemical also signed on as a major sponsor of the run.
Zidell's campaign has placed him in the vanguard of the small, but growing arena of public-private partnerships working globally to assure access to safe drinking water. Blue Planet Run Foundation is a partner in the Global Water Challenge, a wide-ranging alliance of leading businesses, private philanthropists, nonprofits and government organizations formed in 2006 to more effectively deliver clean water, sanitation and hygiene education to those in need around the world.
Zidell is currently the only private philanthropist serving on GWC's steering committee.
Another GWC steering committee member, Michael Madnick, Senior Vice President of the UN Foundation, is also a member of the board of the Blue Planet Run Foundation.
Beyond the vital role of raising global awareness, the 2007 run is also intended as a major fundraiser for the Blue Planet Run Foundation's water projects around the world. In 2005, the foundation doubled its funding and broadened its network to include 40 projects in nine countries: Nicaragua, Mali, India, Sierra Leone, Honduras, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Malawi and Bolivia.
The focus is on community-based projects that local residents can maintain and run themselves. The foundation's partners include global NGOs such as WaterAid and Water for People, as well as local organizations such as El Porvenir in Nicaragua and Watershed Organization Trust in India.
"The power of partnership is unbelievable because what it allows us to do is divide the tasks and multiply the results. Blue Planet Run is a very small organization. But with the help of Coca-Cola, the UN Foundation and with the UN itself, we'll be able to expand this program around the world," said Zidell.