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Finding peace of mind

An innovative social interactive tool offers an exciting CSR opportunity to pharma

A man meditating on a mountain topThere was a wonderful moment when Richard Barker, director general of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), was preparing to introduce the redoubtable Camila Batmanghelidjh to member chief executives. Camila made a reference to the challenging behaviour of "one of her children" and Richard asked her how many she had. Impressively, he didn't miss a beat when she said 13,500, simply commenting that it was amazing she still had a smile on her face.

Camila Batmanghelidjh has worked with children who have been abused, neglected and traumatised all her adult life. She founded Kids Company in 1996 and anyone who has spent time with her will very quickly understand the appalling adversity that many children and young people endure. Kids Company provides practical, emotional and educational support to vulnerable inner-city children and young people. Many of the 13,500 children supported by Kids Company's services have experienced severe and multiple traumas. Often they are 'lone children' living in chronic deprivation, with little or no care from the adults in their family. Kids Company provides a safe, caring, family environment where support is tailored to the needs of each individual and every child is offered unrelenting love. Without Kids Company's unique wrap around service, many of them would struggle to survive the trauma and suffering they have experienced.

The seed of an idea
As a long-time admirer of Camila, I was delighted to meet her at the NHS Alliance annual conference in late 2008. Amid the sea of grey suited and booted people she was an exotic flower in her trademark pink turban, multicoloured patchwork dress and retro specs, who spoke, without a single note, for 20 minutes. The auditorium was pin-drop silent as she challenged her audience of GPs and primary care professionals, pharmacists and pharmaceutical industry members to base their work on compassion not process, to nurture and heal and to remember always that it is within their gift to make or break the life of a traumatised or abused child.

I talked to Camila briefly afterwards, and a week later found myself in a tiny, cramped Dickensian house in south London being ushered into a room every bit as exotic as Camila herself. Why have a desk when you can stretch out on a once beautifully embroidered, and now much repaired, chaise longue? And why a utilitarian office chair when a wobbly stool lovingly crafted by one of your children speaks so much louder?

As we sat on our wobbly stools and listened to Camila, it was very clear that this was not the talk of some woolly do-gooder. She has a piercing intelligence and speaks with clarity and precision. In an ideal world she would be at the frontline with her children all the time, but in the real world she also has to ensure the charity's survival and the small matter of changing the world. In the dwindling light of a cold December afternoon she told us she needed to raise £5m to fund a significant programme of work, with life changing and society changing potential.

 

Camila Batmanghelidjh
Camila Batmanghelidjh

 

Rising to the challenge
Kids Company wants to embark on its first full research programme in collaboration with specialist research institutions and independent clinical researchers. Specifically, this work will research the impact of trauma and neglect on young people's neurophysiological and psychological functioning. It will also examine how effective Kids Company's current therapeutic interventions are, the findings from which will inform future therapies and training that will reduce the chances of perpetuating the relentless and depressing cycle of violence, abuse, and the attendant cost to society.

Our challenge was to find a mechanism that would meet two clear objectives – one, to raise £5m and two, to raise further awareness of Kid's Company's work and try break down some of the 'feral hoodie' stereotypes.

Salix is a communications consultancy specialising in the health, education and social sectors and although she never actually said it, I think Camila asked us to help because she thought we might introduce her to a handful of major pharmaceutical high flyers and that would be it, job done.

The reality was that we knew no one in the pharmaceutical industry at all. Prior to launching Salix, I had run a generalist PR company before being seconded into the Department of Health for a short-term contract and then a much longer contract with the NHS as national communications director for the Working in Partnership Programme. This meant we had some very good contacts across primary care, but certainly no one important from pharma with a few million pounds to spare. And even we were aware that the pharmaceutical industry was undergoing major changes and belt tightening.

However, it did strike us that if we could find a way to bring the two worlds together, it would be an amazing story. So we focused first on finding a strong creative mechanism that would work equally well to raise funds and capture the media's imagination.

Bringing the concept to life
Our concept was to create an online interactive brain, broken down into a million pixels each selling for £5; an idea based on the million dollar homepage created by a young American student to fund his degree. The million dollar homepage attracted widespread publicity, sold out in days and made internet history. Thanks to Laurence Guinness, head of campaigns at Kids Company, who worked tirelessly to find the right digital partner to bring our concept to life, this idea evolved into a remarkable, innovative and truly ground breaking campaign that embraces the very latest technology.

The appointed agency - (untitled) London – has created a brain with socially interactive neurons that visitors to the campaign's website can purchase for £5 each. The "Peace of Mind" campaign, as it is aptly named, was launched to the industry at a neuroscientific symposium led by Baroness Susan Greenfield and hosted by Kids Company in association with the ABPI, on November 5, 2009. The ABPI is also encouraging its members to interact on many levels, including involving themselves in mentoring schemes and workshops. Together Kids Company and the ABPI believe they can create a pioneering evidence-based research project that has the power to transform the lives of vulnerable children and genuinely make society a better place for everyone.

Pharma engagement
It's important to note that the return for industry is not material. Kids Company's therapeutic models are based, first and foremost, on love and consistent support. Drug therapies are used where necessary, but are not a key driver. The industry supports and advises on research models and techniques, and provides a wisdom that Kids Company would not otherwise have access to.

According to Crispin Slee, the ABPI's head of media, the Association's decision to involve itself with the Peace of Mind initiative constitutes a corporate social responsibility initiative and the only benefit it derives is pleasure. Slee states: "Kids Company was looking to access knowledge of how to conduct research so that it can find evidence to show how and why its 'policy of hugs' works, and who better to provide a wealth of experience in this area than the pharmaceutical industry? The ABPI is encouraging its member companies to get involved by both donating money to the charity and providing mentors. There is no commercial benefit to pharma, just the opportunity to do some good."

Significant progress
When we started this project a year ago, we were still in the Stone Age with just a few simple slides to sell our cause. To support the campaign we had suggested pulling together a small, but high-level advisory group incorporating the director general of the ABPI, the Association of British Healthcare Industries' (ABHI) equivalent and the marketing and communications director of Humana to help with commissioning further down the line,  as well as our own non-executive chairman, Trevor Morris, former CEO of Chime Communications. We knew we could probably twist Trevor's arm, but the rest would be left to chance. In the end, we resorted to the most straightforward tactic of all. We simply emailed all the people we hoped would be involved, said we thought Camila and her work at Kids Company was amazing, that we were really happy to support their work on a pro bono basis – would they be prepared to do the same? And to our astonishment they all emailed back.

Twelve months down the line, we have achieved more than we ever thought possible. We have a very committed advisory group and advocates ranging from Susan Greenfield to Gwyneth Paltrow. More importantly, the pharmaceutical industry is engaged at grassroots level. Executives are mentoring and running workshops and, even more vital for us, can't wait for the official launch of the Peace of Mind brain in spring 2010 so they can launch their own branded network of neurons.

We have also developed a comprehensive, strategic media plan for the campaign and a communications toolbox for ABPI members. In addition, there is a brilliant introductory film that gives you an opportunity to register your interest and get updates.

This is an incredibly exciting fundraising opportunity and, with your help, has the potential to become one of the most talked about campaigns of the 21st century.

The Author
Sarah Wrixon is managing partner of Salix Consulting

To comment on this article, email pm@pmlive.com

2nd February 2010

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