Bono at the Skoll World Forum: “We are the NRA of the poor”

Following in the footsteps of Muhammad Yunus, Malala Yousafzai and Desmond Tutu, Bono is the latest recipient of the Skoll Global Treasure Award.

The U2 singer was presented with the award at the Skoll World Forum, an annual gathering of around 1,000 social entrepreneurs in Oxford.

The Skoll Foundation describes the award as being for “someone who would rightly be described as a global treasure”. The organisation says it doesn't have “formal criteria” for this award, but “we just know when there is someone in our midst who is doing extraordinary things to address the world's most pressing problems”.

Bono was recognised for his activism work on AIDS, poverty and gender equality.

During a half hour chat with Skoll Foundation founder Jeff Skoll, he spoke about his work with the Red product, the One campaign and his recent foray into impact investing with Bill McGlashan of private equity firm TPG. 

Corruption lives in the region between declared amounts of money and the real amounts of money that are paid

The Red Foundation partners with brands such as Apple and Coca Cola to sell products, with up to 50% of profits going to combat AIDS. The organisation has raised $465m since 2006.

Answering questions about the two hats he wears, Bono said that U2 had always been idealists and realised they could use their celebrity status to influence early in their career. 

“When we were 20, 21 we wondered: is this a useful thing to do with your life? For us the permission to be in a band came with the idea that we could perhaps use this band... that the world could be kissed or kicked into shape,” the singer said.

Bono then went on to describe the One organisation he founded, an anti-poverty campaigning organisation numbering nearly 8m members as: “The NRA of the world’s poor.”

He compared the political campaigning of One with that of the American National Rifle Association (NRA). He said the NRA “spend a ridiculous amount of money promoting their cause and if you stand against their cause, they’ll spend a ridiculous amount of money against you”.

Some of the successes of the One Foundation, he said, have been pressuring governments to do more to fight AIDS, expand access to energy and combat corruption.

One achieved an injunction which prevented the American Petroleum Institute blocking a law that required energy companies to publish how much they paid for mining rights. Bono commented: “Corruption lives in the region between declared amounts of money and the real amounts of money that are paid.”

Before the interview came to a close, Bono described impact investing as “an excuse for good people to do bad deals but with the discipline that TPG brings I think we can unlock a lot of resources to some of the problems that the world is facing.”

The Skoll World Forum continues until Friday – follow Pioneers Post on Twitter, online and on Facebook, plus #skollwf for more.