A benefit that's not about money

Concert: Today's NetAid is trying to raise awareness, not charity cash.

October 09, 1999|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

As charity concerts go, NetAid is no LiveAid.

Sure, the idea seems similar. It features near-simultaneous charity concerts on two continents. It involves some of the biggest names in pop music, including Sheryl Crow, U2 singer Bono, rapper Puff Daddy, Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page, folk singer Jewel and the reunited Eurythmics. And it does hope to solve at least a few of the world's problems.

But there's an important difference. The LiveAid concerts in 1985 (one in London, the other in Philadelphia) were pretty much an end in themselves, helping to raise some $300 million to alleviate hunger in Ethiopia.

By contrast, today's shows in London, Geneva and New Jersey simply mark the beginning of the NetAid effort. Nor are its organizers out to create an epochal event on the same scale as LiveAid. Because as NetAid organizer Ken Kragen -- the charity activist who helped organize Live-Aid, U.S.A. for Africa and Hands Across America -- points out, today's concerts really aren't the focus of the NetAid effort.

"This is a way to call attention to the vehicle for the real objective, which is the Web site," says Kragen, referring to www.net-aid.org. "This Web site, which probably will be up for 10 years, is the real focus of the event."

Moreover, adds Kragen, NetAid isn't about raising money. "This event is about action, about people taking action," he says.

Confused? That's OK, because in a way, NetAid is as radical a concept as LiveAid was 14 years ago. Instead of operating on the assumption that the only way a charity event can have impact is to raise lots of money, NetAid is built around the belief that by tapping the communications potential of the Internet, millions of people can be united in social action -- and that, ultimately, will do more to change the world than any amount of charity cash.

In that sense, today's concerts are just advertisements for the real charity. With the performances beginning at noon and airing on both MTV and VH1, as well as on various radio stations (WMXH, 105.7 FM in Washington will be carrying the concerts locally) and on the Web (go to www.netaid.org for links), it's hoped that the shows will reach at least a billion people worldwide.

Naturally, the NetAid organizers don't expect every person who then checks out the Web site to suddenly become politically active. "We'll take 1 percent," says Kragen. Because if the site gets the 1 billion hits organizers expect, that 1 percent adds up to 10 million people. "And 10 million of anything directed in the same direction -- for instance, against extreme poverty -- is a phenomenal amount of people working on it," says Kragen.

Working to eliminate extreme poverty, a program NetAid is working on with the United Nations, is just one of the causes Web-surfers can learn about from the NetAid site. Other causes include saving the environment, helping refugees, relieving Third World debt, securing human rights and ending hunger.

Some of the rock stars participating in the NetAid concerts have specific causes they want to promote. Bono, for instance, is very involved in the issue of Third World debt relief. "The Third World countries have something over $200 billion in debt to the more prosperous countries," explains Kragen. "They make $200 million a week in debt [payments]."

With so much of their money earmarked for loan repayment, many of these poor countries are unable to afford the sort of social programs that would help their most impoverished citizens. Bono's group, Jubilee 2000 (which is under the NetAid umbrella) is working to turn that situation around.

"Bono has already been successful at getting $27 billion removed from the debt on the basis that these countries use that money to improve the lives of their poorest citizens," says Kragen.

Nor will NetAid limit itself to these specific programs. As time goes on, the Web site hopes to organize action on such causes as HIV/AIDS, water sanitation, access to education and other causes.

"This is just the start," says Kragen of today's concerts. "It's the starting line, and from here on, a lot depends on what we do."

NetAid Specifics

When: Today, starting at noon.

What: Charity concerts in London, Geneva, and at Giants Stadium in New Jersey.

Who: Acts at Giants Stadium include the Black Crowes, Mary J. Blige, Busta Rhymes, Counting Crows, Sheryl Crow, Wyclef Jean with Bono, Jewel, Cheb Mami, Jimmy Page, Puff Daddy, Sting and Zucchero. Acts in London include Bryan Adams, David Bowie, Bush, Catatonia, the Corrs, the Eurythmics, George Michael, Stereophonics, Robbie Williams and DJ Paul Oakenfold. Acts in Geneva include Des'ree, Bryan Ferry, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Michael Kamen and Texas.

TV: MTV and VH1, noon to 11 p.m.

Radio: WMXH 105.7 FM in Washington.

Online: Go to www.netaid.org

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