Adam Garone: Everyone can make a difference in a variety of ways
Interview by Molly O'Brien, Marketing & Communications Specialist, Advance.
With a background in web and mobile marketing, Melbourne-native Adam Garone's career took a left turn in 2003 when his brother challenged him to grow out a moustache. The two wondered if they could bring the moustache back in vogue and, in the process, raise awareness for men's health along with money for prostate cancer research. And so began the now globally recognised Movember movement, where Adam served as CEO until June 2016.
The Movember challenge is simple: men begin November 1st clean shaven and, for the next 30 days, grow out their moustaches while seeking out sponsorship for their efforts. Movember is now a cult movement and global brand that has raised over $900 million, in the process funding 1,200 men’s health programs in 21 countries.
Adam helped build Movember into one of the most innovative and impactful social enterprises created this millennium. It is an organisation that has changed the face of men’s health, literally and figuratively.
Would you ever have predicted the success of Movember when you first started out?
Not at all. We had no grand vision when we started out, we just wanted to do something good in our community. It was a passion project, something we were doing in our spare time. It just grew exponentially fast and became what it is today.
What do you think was the recipe for its success?
There was no silver bullet, it was more a combination of things. Essentially we managed to create a way where fundraising became fun and accessible. The simplicity of the action – growing moustaches and creating conversations while raising money – coupled with support from the women encouraging the men who were involved, was one part of it.
Another part was that we wanted to create a charity organisation like none other. There were no charities that really appealed to us at the time, a lot of them used fear-based tactics to raise money. We wanted to create a brand that we loved, one that was also inspiring and hopeful.
We've made a lot of progress with the organisation but still have a long way to go. Men are still, on average, dying five years younger than women. We initially chose prostate cancer as our funding priority because we were shocked to learn that it affects the same number of men as breast cancer does women, but there was barely anything being done about it.
How has awareness of men’s health has changed since 2004, since you started Movember?
We've really put men’s health on the map. There are now a bunch of other organisations, many of which the Movember Foundation has helped fund, that have popped up. No one was really looking at these issues from a gender perspective.
Is there any one thing that drives your philanthropy?
I often think about the difference between being successful and being significant. I think it’s common to spend the first half of your adult life focused on being successful in whatever your career path may be. Then you get to a point where you realise there's more to life than just being successful and earning money or titles, which is when you start to focus on being significant. It could be at so many levels; as a parent, contributing to your community or a charity, or creating something, like we did.
When you focus on being significant, you change your thinking to what you want your legacy to be and what you'll be remembered for. And for me that's all about helping other people. I find when you focus on that, it's just so fulfilling.
How do you recommend people with limited resources contribute to charities?
I think what's really important to recognise is that the four of us that started Movember weren't wealthy – we just committed to it in our spare time. And I think one of the key lessons out of this is that everyone can make a difference in a variety of ways, and not be put off by how overwhelming it might seem.
I think what it should start with is an individual thinking deeply about the societal issue that they're most passionate about, and once they've landed on that, thinking about how they can contribute. It doesn't need to be financially, but ultimately, it will take a little bit of time and committing to that.
Movember has raised hundreds of millions of dollars. Is there any one result of all that fundraising that you're particularly proud of?
Movember is on the path to raise a billion dollars this year! We've seen so many breakthroughs, particularly with prostate and testicular cancer, where we're on a path to effectively curing both of those diseases. It's going to take a little bit more time and more funds, and more excellent talent researching. That doesn't mean those diseases are going to go away completely, but we've funded much better diagnostic and screening tests, which ultimately means the side effects of treatment will be minimised.
On the mental health and suicide prevention side, we've got a lot more work to do. And sadly, the rates of suicide are going up. Society's getting more complex. The focus is now on getting men to talk about the big issues that are going on, giving them the confidence to seek help, and breaking down some of the stigmas around masculinity.
What made you decide to step down as the CEO of Movember?
It was a huge decision to step down as CEO in June 2016 and now I've actually fully left the organisation. It was a long time in the making, but what I realised is that I'm best and happiest when I'm building and creating something.
Movember, just like any organisation, had moved into a very different place than when it started. I felt that it would be better placed with someone with a different experience and skill set to mine, and someone who is comfortable running and maintaining the organisation.
What have you done since you’ve left?
Since leaving Movember I’ve gone back to building – I'm working with Earth Day at the moment. Their 50th anniversary is in 2020, so when we think about individual health – whether it's women's or men's – it’s intrinsically tied to the health of the planet. I'm leveraging a lot of my Movember experience to build support for the day that’s more engaged and active.
Do you have any big plans for Earth Day this year?
This year we’re focused on plastics and are creating a program called "Earth Day Angel" where we're going to ask people in the community to make a commitment to become an Earth Day Angel by giving up various things. It could be plastic straws, cups, bottles or bags. It could be planting a tree, it could be picking up plastic trash. And by doing a number of those things, you'll earn some points and become an Earth Day Angel.
What is your favourite part of living in LA?
I just love how healthy an environment it is here. The weather is such a significant contributor because it's always sunny, and there are just so many active things to do.
For young people who endeavour to start their own charities, do you have any career advice you'd like to impart?
There are really three elements to starting a charitable organisation. The first is the cause. You need to focus on and how are you going to impact that issue. The second is fundraising and awareness. So, what campaigns are you going to create to bring light to the issue, and how robust you can make them? The third is the back-office element; making sure that all those elements water-tight is key.