Column: United Way raises goal for this year’s campaign to $77.7 million

By Maria Saporta
As published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on October 9, 2015.

The United Way of Greater Atlanta has set a high bar this year for its annual campaign: $77.7 million, a 3 percent increase over what was raised during the last campaign.

The campaign is being chaired by David Mangum, president and chief operating officer of Global Payments. Mangum called the goal “a stretch,” but he said he believed it was achievable given the generosity of the Atlanta community.

Mangum said he was drawn to chairing the campaign because of his passion for children-related needs in the community. It also didn’t hurt that a couple of his closest friends were twisting his arm, including Mike Petrik, a partner in Alston & Bird’s state and local tax group.

Petrik has just begun a two-year term as board chairman of United Way, succeeding Susan Bell of accounting firm EY.

Mangum, however, said that the more he studied the Atlanta landscape, the more he realized that United Way was the most effective way to have an impact on the 13-county region’s most pressing social issues.

“United Way specializes in bringing donors, volunteers, companies, governments and other agencies together to collectively combat these issues across the metro area,” Mangum said. “We look forward to strong community support to help us achieve this ambitious goal.”

Milton Little, who has been president of United Way of Greater Atlanta since June 2007, has seen the ups and downs in the local economy.

Several factors “provide a foundation for rallying the community to support” this year’s campaign.

In addition to the improving economy, there’s a growing understanding of the need to improve the well-being of children in metro Atlanta and how that is closely aligned with United Way’s strategic plan launched just a few months ago.

“I believe that if we can turn those challenges into regional aspirations for children and families, we can build engagement strategies that will take us to the campaign finish line,” Little said.

Last year, under the leadership of René and Barbarella Diaz, the campaign raised $75.7 million, exceeding its goal by more than $200,000.

Rotary Club of Atlanta

At the beginning of the Rotary Club of Atlanta’s lunch on Oct. 5, President Sonny Deriso announced some good news to club members.

“According to the World Health Organization, Nigeria has now been declared polio-free,” Deriso said as people in the room applauded. “We are hoping that by 2017, when the Rotary International convention is here in Atlanta, the world will be polio-free.”

The elimination of polio has been a top priority of Rotary International, and it’s an initiative that has been strongly supported by the Atlanta club. In fact, there currently is a drive to raise $80,000 to match an $80,000 gift from retired Genuine Parts CEO Wilton Looney. Once that match has been met, Looney will have contributed more than $1 million to Rotary’s initiative to eradicate polio.

Mectizan and river blindness

Atlanta institutions have been leaders in the public-private endeavor to rid the world of river blindness.

So leaders in the Atlanta global health community were especially pleased when the scientist who helped discover the drug that would treat river blindness received the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

William C. Campbell, a retired scientist from Merck Research Laboratories, was jointly named the Nobel Prize winner with Satoshi Omura for the discovery of avermectin, which led to Merck’s development of Mectizan, a treatment for river blindness in Africa, Latin America and Yemen.

The Mectizan Donation Program began 25 years ago, and it is the longest running, disease specific drug donation program of its kind.

It was a ground-breaking move when Merck’s CEO at the time – P. Roy Vagelos – offered to donate the miraculous drug — Mectizan — to all who needed it for as long as it was needed.

“We are particularly proud of our colleague Dr. Campbell whose innovation, passion and dedication to fighting diseases during his 30-year career at Merck enabled the development of Mectizan,” said Kenneth C. Frazier, Merck’s current chairman and CEO in a statement. “Through our Mectizan Donation Program we have been working with partners for nearly three decades to make this medicine available, free of charge, to all those affected by river blindness. At Merck, we remain committed to bringing the best that our science and innovation have to offer to solve the world’s global health challenges.”

Eliminate river blindness

Just a few days before the Nobel award was announced, an international coalition – including the Atlanta-based Carter Center – called for a final push to eliminate river blindness from the Americas.

The partnership, which included the Carter Center/OEPA, PAHO/WHO and Merck & Co.’s Mectizan Donation Program said on Sept. 29 that it could be possible to eliminate the disease by 2020 from the region.

Mexico is the latest country to receive verification of elimination by the World Health Organization.

“Today, four of the six river blindness-endemic countries in the Americas have eliminated transmission of the disease, but I am not ready to celebrate until the task is complete,” said former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, founder of the Carter Center, which has led the campaign to wipe out river blindness in Latin America through its Onchocerciasis Elimination Program for the Americas (OEPA). “Now is not the time to be complacent. It is the time to increase our efforts.”

The disease disproportionately affects low-income communities in several Latin American countries and in Africa, contributing to the cycle of poverty by reducing affected individuals’ ability to work and learn.

“We are humbled by the great work of the alliance of partners and countries to protect future generations from this disease that carries such devastating implications for people, families and communities,” said Dr. Julie L. Gerberding, executive vice president, Strategic Communications, Global Public Policy and Population Health at Merck & Co., Inc., and the former director of the CDC in Atlanta. “Through the Mectizan® Donation Program, our company has committed to donating this medicine for as long as it’s needed, and we look forward to celebrating the day when river blindness has been eliminated worldwide.”

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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