Obama, Activism and Poverty: Bono Speaks at Georgetown

Bono Speaking at Georgetown University
Georgetown University
Bono Speaking at Georgetown University

The scene: Gaston Hall in the Healy Building at Georgetown University; a Nov. 12 lecture hosted by the Georgetown McDonough Global Social Enterprise Initiative in partnership with Bank of America. On stage: Georgetown University President John DeGioia; Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan; McDonough Business School dean David Thomas; student Ammu Menon.

Also on stage — and the main attraction — was a global activist, talking about social enterprise and advocacy, as if he were a rock star. Oh, wait, he is a rock star. He is Bono.

The program handed out at Gaston Hall proclaimed it thus: while it showed time, place and sponsors, but front and center appears one simple word, "Bono."

The lead singer for the Irish rock band U2 was also in D.C. to meet Vice President Joe Biden and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim. Bono's fight against AIDS and extreme poverty is legend. While his well-executed Gaston Hall speech informed and entertained, it went beyond its goals to charm, convince and claim students, professors and politicians.

Musician and activist Bono began by waving back to the student crowd, giving a shout-out to DeGioia's son, J.T., who is learning the chords of "Sunday, Bloody Sunday."

"At this lectern or podium, I am oddly comfortable," Bono smiled. "Welcome to Pop Culture 101. ... What am I doing in Healy Hall? I could be on my third pint at the Tombs."

Becoming sympatico with the audience, Bono congratulated the crowd for re-electing President Barack Obama and was glad that all were now free from "the tyranny of negative ads." He added, “I’d like to hear an attack ad on malaria."

Acting as if a Hoya, Bono dumped on Syracuse and Duke universities and their mascots, "a fruit" and "the devil." To wit, he concluded, "God is a Catholic."

Bono pronounced AIDS the huge disease but said the "biggest is extreme poverty." He called this fight a transformative element for the college-aged generation.

For this activist, the 21st century really began in 2011 with the protests of the Arab Spring along with the advent of mobile phones and other digital devices, saying the pyramid of power has flipped. "There are millions of levers of power," said the rocker, who added that today is analogous to the rise of punk rock in the late 1970s taking on progressive rock. Bono then joked that the audience had never heard anyone link the Arab Spring with the punk band, the Clash.

Cuts in the budget can hurt, he cautioned: "Don't let an economic recession become a moral recession."

Bono focused on sub-Saharan Africa, talking about the success of Rwanda in reducing AIDS, thanks to American support. He talked about the dark side of expansion, as al Qaeda controls part of Mali, citing the three extremes of our times: poverty, climate and ideology.

As "an evidence-based activist," Bono said the heart was not the most important aspect of action; it is justice. "You want data. I got data." He mentioned the Asian Tigers — even the Celtic Tiger — but added the African Lion. “Aid is just a stopgap,” he said. "We need Africa to become an economic power."

Bono said he could just imagine the headline: "Rock Star Preaches Capitalism."

Asking the students for a drum roll, Bono paused to reveal a force of change: "Enter the nerd . . . it's the era of the Afro nerd." And another huge obstacle in the developing world? Corruption. But again with digital mobile activists—and websites like IPaidaBribe.com—it is becoming harder to do so without someone knowing.

Bono turned to the work on foreign aid by political and business leaders, thanking those sitting in front of him, such as House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vt., and former Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, the younger Barbara Bush (because of President George W. Bush's substantial aid to Africa) among others, such as Irish Ambassador Michael Collins and singer Andrea Coor.

Still, in a politico mood, Bono jumped into a quite good imitation of Bill Clinton to the roars of laugher from the audience. "He's more a rock star that I am," Bono said.

As for the Jesuit tradition, he offered founder of the Society of Jesus, St. Ignatius of Loyola, warrior and priest, as the exemplar for "the conversion of the heart" and service to others.

“That’s what I’m hoping happens here at Georgetown with you,” Bono said. “Because when you truly accept that those children in some far off place in the global village have the same value as you in God’s eyes or even in just your eyes, then your life is forever changed. You see something that you can’t un-see.”

It looks like Georgetown Business School picked a perfect keynote speaker to pump up its Global Social Enterprise Initiative, which "aims to prepare current and future leaders to make responsible management decisions that yield both economic and social value."

Now, that is wide awake in America.

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