Hasbro Works With Exec to Help AIDS Orphans

Project Zambi Begins With One Woman Determined to Make a Difference

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Can one person change the world? Hasbro is working with one of its executives who wants to make a difference for African children orphaned by AIDS. Karen Davis tells how and why.

As VP-community relations, I've had amazing opportunities to represent Hasbro as we support organizations that have changed the lives of children all over the world. With our new initiative, Project Zambi, I've watched our dedicated employees rally around a cause and share a collective determination to tell the stories of the millions of children orphaned by the AIDS epidemic in Africa.

Project Zambi began with my trip to Africa to visit one of Hasbro's philanthropic projects. Like most of us I was aware of the devastating toll that AIDS has taken on sub-Saharan Africa, but once there, I saw the epidemic's youngest victims -- the orphans. Sitting face to face with them and seeing their suffering as well as their smiles and indomitable spirits brought a personal sense of urgency to this crisis. I continue to be reminded every day of how much of life is the luck of where we are born.

In some African countries affected by the AIDS epidemic, it is estimated that 20% of children younger than 17 are orphans. In addition to the trauma of losing their parents, children who have been orphaned by AIDS face the stigma of the disease that stole their loved ones. They are more likely to never begin school and are more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, as well as physical and emotional neglect. In many cases, children are being raised by their siblings, who are just children themselves. There are an estimated 15 million children orphaned by AIDS worldwide -- this is a global crisis that demands our attention.

When I returned from Africa, I shared my pictures and stories with my colleague, Gina Melone, a director of toy design. Inspired by the children's faces, she said to me, "I want to do something to help those orphans." Since that moment, nothing has stopped her, including her own battle with breast cancer.

Gina assembled a team from across the company and started brainstorming the different pieces that would come together as Project Zambi -- an initiative to raise awareness about the plight of children orphaned by AIDS in Africa and to support the organizations working to care for them. Since we do, after all, work for Hasbro, we started with the idea for a toy -- a baby elephant toy that would help children in the U.S. connect with the children in Africa who so desperately need our help.

When our team submitted the plan for Project Zambi to Hasbro's companywide Grand Idea competition, it beat out 75 other ideas to win both the People's Choice and Judges' awards. Once the idea had the green light and enthusiastic support from our senior management team, we got to work refining the product that would embody this initiative, Zambi the Baby Elephant, a special edition from Hasbro's FurReal Friends line of toys.

In the midst of that process I met renowned textile artist and AIDS activist Mary Fisher, who was eager to help. Mary connected us with two art teachers from Miami, who were planning a teaching trip to Zambia. Together, Mary, the art teachers and the children of the Chikumbuso Women and Orphans Project in Lusaka, Zambia, created a beautiful fabric pattern decorated with the children's drawings, and we used it to line the ears and feet of the Zambi the Baby Elephant toy.

Our employees worked long and hard to make this project a reality. Often we would find them meeting at night and e-mailing and brainstorming over the weekends. It was remarkable for me to see this type of dedication, considering they had not had the chance I did to visit Africa and meet the children they were going to help.

Today you can see the results of this labor of love: Zambi the Baby Elephant is on sale now, and Hasbro has committed to donate 50% of the net profits, a minimum of $500,000, to the Project Zambi Fund, part of the Hasbro Children's Fund, beginning this year.

To help raise awareness for the issue, we also launched the Project Zambi Celebrity Charity Auction, which runs through Oct. 15 at www.ebay.com/projectzambi. The auction features custom-designed models of our own Zambi the Baby Elephant signed by celebrities, including George Clooney, Leonardo DiCaprio and Scarlett Johansson.

It is our hope that by supporting Project Zambi, kids everywhere can lend a hand and spread the word about how much children who have been orphaned by AIDS in Africa need our help. Even one person can create powerful change with dedication, enthusiasm and support from those that share their passion.

For more information about Hasbro's Project Zambi, please visit the Web site at www.projectzambi.com.

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