interview

Jeff Davidoff’s at Home in Harbor Country and at ONE with Work

2012-07-26T09:00:00Z Jeff Davidoff’s at Home in Harbor Country and at ONE with WorkBy Laurie Wink nwitimes.com
July 26, 2012 9:00 am  • 

As a full-time resident of Harbor Country for the past twelve years, Jeff Davidoff is at home in Union Pier, calling it “a magic little place in the world” where he enjoys the change of pace from his hectic work week. As chief marketing officer for ONE, he commutes to a Washington, D.C., office and to cities all over the world. After 25 years in marketing positions at major corporations—including a six-year stint at Whirlpool in Benton Harbor, Michigan—Davidoff finds the ONE job is the one he truly loves.

What motivates you to commute from Harbor Country rather than relocate closer to work?

It’s peaceful, it’s beautiful and it’s the only place I’ve ever lived that feels like home. I used to be an urban guy [in Chicago] and very into what was trendy—new galleries, restaurants. Now my friends care more about blueberry season than what you do for a living. It’s a hectic lifestyle (at ONE), which makes Union Pier all the more valuable to me. I would struggle to do what I do if it wasn’t for the haven of my house.

Two years ago, you left the corporate world to join a nonprofit organization. How did you make that decision?

As an employee of Whirlpool, I had worked on a Jimmy Carter project (for Habitat for Humanity International) in Alabama in 2003. We were building a home and I saw the homeowner start crying, so I asked if she was alright. She couldn’t believe that people came from all over the world to work on her house. I draw a line from that experience to ending up at ONE.

ONE, cofounded by Bono of U2, is fighting poverty and preventable diseases in sub-Saharan Africa. How do you tackle these major issues?

We do not directly fund programs on the ground in Africa. We have staff people who work with presidents, prime ministers and politicians around the world to adopt the right programs and policies to help poor people on the planet. We work within the system and everything we do is bipartisan. We’re not asking for your money, we’re asking for your voice—by signing petitions, making phone calls, attending events. The beauty of ONE is that together, as one voice, we can make a difference.

What are your responsibilities as chief marketing officer?

I’m responsible for growing the membership and keeping people engaged. We create tools people can use to actively participate. ONE reaches most people online. Social and mobile media are huge for us. For example, we want to raise awareness of AIDS. In the ’80s, the AIDS quilt project was a memorial to people who had died. Our new project is a digital quilt. We launched it December 1 of last year as “the beginning of the end of AIDS by 2015.” Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush came together with President Obama, rock stars and CEOs. It was an incredible event. About 4.5 million people saw it and half a million visited the digital quilt.

How do you know you’re having an impact?

There are two ways: One way is that our membership increased from 2 to 3 million in the two years I’ve been here. The other way is my own internal barometer. I underestimated how it would feel for me to do something valuable with my skills. I think about that when I’m tired and stuck in an airport.

Have you visited the people in sub-Saharan Africa whose lives ONE is trying to improve?

Yes. The obvious things you see are how beautiful the people are and how hard they’re working on their own behalf. You see how much we’re exactly alike. People want their children to be healthy, to have food to eat, to have an education. They want their kids to have a better life than they had. That’s pretty much universal. We’re all interconnected and all responsible for each other. Where you’re born shouldn’t determine whether you live or die.

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