A few years ago I shared a long plane ride from Dakaar, Senegal to Mexico City with Philippe Douste-Blazy, the former French Foreign Minister and UN Under-Secretary General. We had a very interesting conversation about a project to raise money for UNITAID, which is an organization he chairs by that delivers AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria treatments to developing world countries. At the time, UNITAID was funded through a $2 euro per airplane ticket levy imposed by France. He wanted to expand globally, but knew that the idea of a mandatory per-ticket levy wouldn’t, er, fly, in many countries. Instead, he had the idea of asking online airplane ticket brokers to include a check box in which individuals can voluntarily opt to donate $2 to UNITAID when they purchase tickets.
Douste-Blazy’s enthusiasm for this idea was infectious, but he told me I couldn’t write about it then because the plan was still in its embryonic stages. Still, I thought the idea sounded so cool that I kept my notes from that conversation and have been awaiting the day that the idea went live.
Well, today, the plan was formally launched at the United Nations when Bill Clinton donated $2 to UNITAID through MASSIVEGOOD, the new landing site for the micro-donations. A number of celebs were on hand for the launch. Spike Lee even directed this PSA:
So how much could UNITAID raise through micro-donations like this? Douste-Blazy told me that 2.3 billion airplane tickets are sold annually, 80% of which are bought over the internet. The Gates Foundation, he said, commissioned a McKinsey Study which found that, at the low end, one quarter of airline ticket purchasers will opt in. This means UNITAID can raise $1 billion for AIDS, TB, and Malaria treatments in the first year, alone. Not bad. I’ll certainly click on it everytime I buy a plane ticket.