Putting Mandela Day on the Calendar

NEW YORK Nelson Mandela, who turns 91 on July 18, has so far given 67 years of his life to battling racial and social inequality. Can you give 67 minutes?

That is the central question posed by the Nelson Mandela Foundation and 46664, the advocacy group named after Mandela’s prison number, in a campaign from Gotham, New York. The effort aims to motivate local volunteerism around the world in honor of Mandela and the first official Mandela Day, which will be celebrated this year with a star-studded concert at Radio City Music Hall here that will also be screened live on the Web.

“We wanted to develop something that can stand the test of time, capture people’s imagination and create a social movement for good,” said Tim Massey, international director at 46664. “The ultimate will be in five to six years time, if you look at every diary in the world and on July 18 it says Mandela Day, not as a holiday but a day for people to engage and do good in their communities.”

The day will be celebrated with an event in a different city each year. Last year, Mandela’s birthday was celebrated with a concert in London’s Hyde Park. While this year will be the first official Mandela Day, the organization plans to move the celebration to a different city each year, with Madrid, Spain, planned for next year’s honor.

“There is no more credible icon than Nelson Mandela when talking about social injustice,” said Peter McGuinness, chairman and CEO of Gotham, which began working with Mandela’s organization late last year to increase awareness of Mandela’s mission and the broadening scope of 46664, which began as an HIV/AIDS campaign. “We’re celebrating everyone’s individual ability to make an imprint in this world.”

To communicate the power of the individual to make a difference, the communications effort is centered on the images of hands. The campaign echoes Mandela’s own words, that we can all help carry on his work, and that “it’s in our hands” to make a difference in the world. As such, an image of Mandela’s handprint, along with a child’s, makes up the multi-hued campaign logo that represents the colors of Africa.

“We wanted to capture the imagination and say your hands can actually make a difference,” said Marty Orzio, chief creative officer of Gotham, of the driving imagery of the communications platform. “There is a whole sense of opportunity and possibility that is captured in that.”

The campaign, which launched late last month with a TV spot showing moments of volunteerism such as working in a soup kitchen or reading to a child along with a voiceover from the former South African president. An online video includes celebrities such as Morgan Freeman, Forest Whitaker and Robert De Niro showing their hands in support. Mobile, digital, print and out-of-home advertising are part of the media mix.

The online video features the Ben Harper and Jack Johnson song “With My Own Two Hands” and encourages viral activity by allowing people to insert images of themselves into the series of celebrities and create their own customized videos to share.

“We wanted to create a platform upon which the organization can thrive and get volunteers and carry this belief system into the future,” said Orzio.

So far, MandelaDay.com has amassed 50,000 registrants. The United Nations is also showing its support of the campaign, said Massey, by sending the communications summary to the ambassadors of the 192 member countries in an effort to continue to drive involvement around the world.

“The real measure will be in two years time to see that we have literally millions of people as part of this movement, signed up on MandelaDay.com and actively doing something in their community,” said Massey. “Each small step that everyone does help overall.”

As part of the events leading up to Mandela Day, President Bill Clinton will host a fundraising dinner and auction at Grand Central’s Vanderbilt Hall here with Mandela’s wife Graca Machel on July 15. This week, an art installation opened at Vanderbilt Hall highlighting Mandela and his life’s work with the oversized 3-D words: act, listen, lead, unite, learn and speak.