Social Causes Gone Viral Around the World

Social Causes Gone Viral

Chances are that one has already participated in the social cause that’s recently gone viral, which involves pouring a bucket of ice cubes over his/her head to raise funds for the treatment of ALS. If one hasn’t taken the ‘Ice Bucket Challenge’ yet, one must have certainly read about it, heard about it, or seen videos on television or on the news, showing celebrities, sports persons, and college students dunking themselves with ice – all for a good cause. This is just the latest social cause that’s gone viral. Remember the Livestrong bandsMovember moustaches, and Breast cancer pink ribbons and nail polish campaigns? Read on to find out more about Social Causes that have gone viral, now and in the recent past.

Social Causes Gone Viral Around the World

Human beings are social beings; tug at our heart strings and many of us will open our purse strings to help our fellow men and women. Social networking leverages the power of viral marketing to make a cause go global and taps into the altruistic side of human nature. Here are some more social causes that have gone viral, connecting donors with causes, and raising funds for social causes around the world.

Causes Gone Viral Raise awareness about Started in
ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Started around Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Rice Bucket Challenge Poverty and Hunger Started in Hyderabad, India
Livestrong Bracelets Cancer Started in Austin, Texas, USA
Kraft, Rainbow Oreo Cookie Advertisement LGBT issues/Gay Pride Headquartered in Northfield, Illinois, USA
Movember Men’s health issues Started in Melbourne, Australia
Freerice World Food Program Based in Rome, Italy
#GivingTuesday Giving to the less privileged Started in New York City, USA
Pink Ribbon and Pink Fingernails Campaigns Breast Cancer Started in New York City, USA
KONY 2012 campaign War crimes in Africa Started in San Diego, California, USA
TOMS one-for-one campaign Poverty, Access to clean water Santa Monica, California, USA

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) also called Lou Gehrig’s Disease in the US (after the famous American baseball player Peter Fates who had this condition) and Motor Neurone Disease (MND) in the UK, is a disorder characterized by progressive failure of the nervous system. As the nerves degenerate, the associated muscles waste away leading to loss of mobility, as well as difficulty in breathing and speaking. As many as 30,000 Americans have ALS and there is no known cure for the disease, though riluzole, a drug approved by FDA can perhaps slowdown its progression.

On an average, ALS patient die within a span of three to five years due to respiratory failure whereas only four percent survive for more than 10 years. A famous person living with ALS is the scientist Dr Stephen Hawking, who has clung to life for over 50 years now.

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge really took off after 15 July 2014, when Matt Lauer a television anchor accepted golfer Greg Norman’s challenge and doused himself with a bucket of icy water on NBC’s The Today Show. It was further spread across social networks by Pete Frates, a former Boston college football player who has ALS, among his friends in Boston, Massachusetts, USA. The ALS Ice Bucket challenge became a popular trend among athletes in Boston, and their videos posted online led to the trend going viral.

The ALS Ice Bucket challenge involves a person donating $10 to an ALS organization, stating who nominated them for the challenge, nominating other people, and then pouring a bucket filled with ice cubes over one’s head. If a person is nominated, but does not wish to take up the challenge they should pay $100 to an organization involved in research and treatment of ALS. However, in another version of the challenge the choice is between either pouring the ice bucket over one’s head or making the $100 donation, which has led to criticism that the challenge is a stunt for attention seekers that trivializes the cause, as many people choose the challenge because it is fun to do. The Ice Bucket challenge has also been criticized for wasting water, as clean drinking water is a scare resource in many parts of the world. Nonetheless, the ALS association announced that at the end of August 2014, the Ice Bucket Challenge had raised over $100 million, which is a 3,500% increase compared to the $2.8 million they had raised during the same period in 2013. At that time, it received 4.4 million tweets contained in #IceBucketChallenge.

Many celebrities have taken the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, including Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Roger Federer, David Beckham, and George W. Bush. People who have chosen not to carry out the challenge, preferring to make a donation instead, include the US President Barack Obama and UK Prime Minister David Cameron.

Rice Bucket Challenge

The Rice Bucket Challenge was started by Manju Latha Kalanidhi a 38-year old woman from Hyderabad, India. She works for a website that publishes hunger-related statistics.

Manju admits her campaign started after she saw online videos and Facebook posts of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. She felt the timing was right for her idea, which she has described as “an Indian version for Indian needs.”

In a country where not everyone has access to clean drinking water, watching people dunk themselves with buckets of water was slightly inappropriate. She therefore thought of an Indian alternative that would tap into the keenness to be part of a philanthropic activity, which was more specific to India.

“I saw my Indian friends dunking themselves in ice cold water. I work for a website that writes on rice where we deal with poverty and hunger related statics. This idea occurred to me and I handed over 20 kilos of rice to a needy person,” Manju said. She posted the pictures of her donation on Facebook and invited more people to do the same. “…I am all ready for a #RiceBucketChallenge style.. cook or buy one bucket of rice/ biryani and feed the poor in your locality. If you can’t take this challenge, donate medicines worth Rs 100 to the nearest government hospital..Whoz joining me in this one? My own local, practical and tangible version/response to #icebucketchallenge ….save water feed the hungry!”

After making the donation and posting pictures online, the donor tags another person to do the same. The #ricebucketchallenge tag is now gaining popularity, with its Facebook Page crossing 63,552 likes as of 11September 2014.

The woman, Manju Latha Kalanidhi, will be honored with Karmaveer Chakra Award and Rex Karmaveer Global Fellowship by iCONGO, an international association of the UN and NGOs, on 23 March 2015 in New Delhi for her incredible contribution.

Livestrong Bracelets

The Livestrong Foundation (previously known as the Lance Armstrong Foundation) based in Austin Texas, USA is a non-profit organization that provides people affected with cancer with various kinds of support. Set up in 1997 by the cyclist Lance Armstrong who was affected by a form of cancer, the foundation changed its name in 2012 after Armstrong admitted to doping during this illustrious cycling career that included winning the prestigious Tour de France for seven consecutive times. The foundation introduced the brand “Livestrong” in 2003.

At the height of his fame in May 2004, the foundation released iconic yellow rubber bracelets with the word LIVESTRONG written on them. The yellow color is symbolic of the famous yellow jersey worn by the winner of the Tour de France.

Made by Nike, this bracelet that made the statement that the wearer supported the fight against cancer soon became a sought after fashion accessory, and led to versions being produced in other colours for other causes. As many as 80 million Livestrong bracelets have been sold till date.

John Kerry and Lindsay Lohan were among the public figures seen wearing a LIVESTRONG band on their wrists. The popular trend caught on among athletes, college students, and working professionals who wanted to show that they were up-to-date, stylish, and sensitive to a social cause. Till date Livestrong Foundation has 684,222 followers on twitter and 1.7 million fans on facebook.

Kraft, Rainbow Oreo Cookie Advertisement

In the summer of 2012, the popular cookie brand Oreo (known for its iconic cream-centered cookie) posted an image of a cookie with a six rainbow-colored center on its Facebook page. The accompanying message stated “June 25 | Pride” and “Proudly support love!” making it clear that the company was openly expressing support for the LGBT community and its Gay Pride movement.

The popular cookie Oreo is a product of Kraft Foods, an American grocery giant headquartered in the Chicago suburb of Northfield, in Illinois, USA.

The post went viral, with 90,406 shares, 295,105 likes, and 59,635 comments. The nearly 27 million Facebook fans of Kraft were divided in their response to the advertisement with some conservative viewers commenting that would stop purchasing Oreos or any other Kraft products while more liberal viewers expressed their appreciation of Kraft’s advertisement and the thought behind it.

The ensuing online global debate opened up many viewpoints and led to a deeper discussion of LGBT issues, and the use of social media in promoting social causes.


The Movember Foundation is a men’s health charity active in 21 countries around the world. Movember began inMelbourne, Australia in 2003, when 30 men, who called themselves Mo Bros (since Mo is slang for moustache) first chose not to shave and to grow their moustache for the entire month of November, which they renamed Movember! The Movember movement has over four million members, including women (they’re called Mo Sistas). Mo Sistas and Mo Bros together have raised $556 million for men’s health issues that funded 832 programs.

The Movember moustaches campaign is one of its best-known viral campaigns, which has Mo Bros signing up and stopping shaving through the whole month of November, to raise funds for men’s health. Movember Foundation Charity was listed by the Global Journal in 2012 as one of the top 100 NGOs in the world. On Facebook in November 2012, the Movember movement drove more than 10 million visits to and generated more than three lakh tweets.

There’s also a Movember Mobile app now that helps donors track their fund raising efforts and the activities of foundation. At the end of Movember, the Mo Sistas and Mo Bros celebrate their efforts in Movember parties and events around the world.


Freerice is a “free-to-play” and ad-supported website that started on 7 October 2007, that lets users play multiple choice quiz games. The more they win, the more rice is donated to feed the poor by the World Food Program, based in Rome, Italy.

On 20 November 2007 the World Food Program (WFP), started an online campaign to “feed a child for Thanksgiving.” Through this campaign, the WFP motivated people to “help the hungry” by taking some time off from their busy online shopping phase and playing the online game created by John Breen. For every correct answer, the website gives a donation of 10 grains of rice to the WFP. The cost of the rice is met from the sponsored advertisers whose brand name appears at the screen’s bottom.

In March 2009, the Freerice website was donated to the UN World Food Program. In 2011, the website unveiled versions in Spanish, French, Italian, Chinese, and Korean thus allowing many more users across the globe to participate in their native languages.

Freerice has won numerous awards, including Best Corporate Game at the Digital Communications Award 2011, and was named among the 50 Best Websites in 2011 by TIME Magazine. In its first 10 months Freerice users gained enough points to earn over 42 billion grains of rice. As of 3 April 2013, Freerice users earned enough rice for more than 10 million meals.


Spinning off from the buying frenzy that is Back Friday and Cyber Monday, a team of social entrepreneurs came up with the idea of #Giving Tuesday. The concept of #GivingTuesday is about giving back to society and the community by contributing to a cause that is close to one’s heart. Last celebrated on 3 December 2013, #Giving Tuesday which was initiated by New York’s 92nd Street Y, saw many contributors, including the United Nations, joining hands to support the cause of giving to the less privileged.

After Thanksgiving (a day of giving thanks), Black Friday, and Cyber Monday (days of getting great deals) now comes #GivingTuesday, which is a day for giving back. In the year 2013, the movement of #GivingTuesday was joined by various organizations across the globe creating initiatives in Mexico, Australia, and Canada.

The team of influencers, who lead the initiative for #GivingTuesday, include Charles Best (CEO, DonorsChoose), Kathy Calvin (CEO, UN Foundation), Matthew Bishop (the Economist), Sharon Feder (Advisor, Mashable), Troy Carter (Founder, Chairman and CEO, The Atom Factory), and Colleen Giles Timms (Co-creator, GivingTuesday).

Pink Ribbon and Pink Fingernails Campaigns

If one sees a man with his fingernails painted pink and if it’s the month of October, then it’s very likely that he has painted his nails pink in support of Breast Cancer awareness. By selling the right to choose the shade of pink to donors, these men also raise money for the cause and initiate conversations about this medical issue.

The use of the Pink ribbon in connection with Breast Cancer awareness started in 1991, when the Susan G. Komen Foundation distributed pink ribbons to participants in a race it had organized in New York City for the survivors of breast cancer. However, it is in 1992 that the pink ribbon was officially adopted as the symbol of the National Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign.

In 1992, the cosmetics firm Estée Lauder handed out 1.5 million ribbons at its makeup counters each with a laminated card describing how to carry out a proper breast self-exam. They also got about 200,000 people to sign pink ribbon petitions urging the White House to enhance funding for research on this medical issue.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month in the USA and wearing a pink ribbon to show one’s support for Breast Cancer is a global trend that also raises funds for the cause. By raising awareness, the Pink Ribbon and Pink Fingernails campaigns encourage women to go in for screening, thus leading to earlier identification and treatment of Breast Cancer.

Many organizations have a “Pink Day” when employees are encouraged to wear the Pink ribbon, or dress in pink while male employees are encouraged to try the Pink Fingernails challenge, particularly to raise awareness of the fact that Breast Cancer can affect men too, and is not exclusively a “women’s issue.” A specific campaign in this regard is Male Breast Cancer Awareness Week, usually observed in the third week of October. Another specific campaign is the Global Pink Hijab Day, which raises awareness about Breast Cancer among Muslim Women.

KONY 2012 Campaign

The Kony 2012 campaign was launched by filmmaker Jason Russell, who co-founded the organization Invisible Children after he had visited Uganda in 2003 and was shocked by the havoc wreaked there by the warlordJoseph Kony. Declared a war criminal by the International Criminal Court in the Hague in 2005, Joseph Kony was the head of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and oversaw a brutal regime that included child soldiers and child slaves.

The video called Kony 2012 released on 5 March 2012 made by Jason Russell and others became the fastest growing viral video and achieved 100 million views within six days of being launched. As many as 3.7 million people pledged their support for efforts to bring Joseph Kony to justice.

On 17 November 2012, a global summit conducted by Invisible Children on the Lord’s Republican Army was held and several thousand people attended a rally in Washington D.C. to express their support for capturing Kony. The US Government sent troops to Central Africa in October 2011 to try and capture this notorious war criminal. Moreover, on 20 April 2012, as a part of the campaign, people in America were asked to display posters at their places in an action, which was termed as “Cover the Night.” In order to gain worldwide acknowledgment and to make people aware of the campaign, the website of Invisible Children offers T-shirts and posters.

Joseph Kony has not been captured as yet, but his heinous crimes and regime of terror were exposed to the world as a result of the KONY 2012 campaign.

TOMS’ one-for-one Campaign

The shoe producer TOMS’ one-for-one campaign is a great example of consumers being able to help those in need through their purchases. Founded in 2006 by Blake Mycoskie (a businessman from Arlington, Texas), the company donates a pair of shoes for each pair that it sells. The donated shoes have helped poor children in40 countries worldwide, including the United States, Ethiopia, Argentina, Swaziland, Rwanda, Haiti, Guatemala, and South Africa.

With every purchase of a TOMS product the company reaches out to the less privileged to help them in various ways. Their campaign originally began as a donation of a pair of shoes to an underprivileged child, for every pair purchased, and has now grown to include many more aspects of giving. TOMS has provided 10 million pairs of shoes to children around the world till date, through their “Shoes for Tomorrow” project and has expanded its operations to include funding education, access to clean drinking water through partnering with other grassroots organizations and providing eye glasses. Also, over 200,000 people are aided in recovering their eyesights, which is incredible. Uptil now, Toms’ official facebook page generated 2.8 million likes.

TOMS now has a dedicated Chief Giving Officer and a team of more than 20 people who manage the planning, logistics, impact review, and communications of their programs. They say their passion comes from “merging the best of business and the social sector to make the unthinkable happen.”



Official sites


Media reports

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