Movember started out as a moustache-themed party. Now it’s a worldwide men’s health organization. We caught up with one of the movement’s founders, Adam Garone, and got the lowdown on his outsider approach to charity, strategies for talking about the tough stuff and of course, his deep appreciation of a good mustache.
Hey Adam. Tell us about the origins of Movember.
It started in Melbourne, in 2003. My brother, Trav, and his mate, Luke, were talking fashion—how styles cycle back. Eventually the conversation turned to, “Why has the moustache never made a comeback?” The day ended with a challenge—putting the mustache back on the face of fashion.
Can you walk us through the way Movember evoled from a conversation between mates, into a global charity?
At first, it was an excuse to have a moustache themed party at the end of November, but it was interesting because it generated so much conversation. We reflected on the experience, and were inspired by what the women around us were doing for breast cancer. There wasn’t anything like that for men’s health. The state of men’s health is pretty poor, actually. When it comes to health, men don’t talk. So men’s health became our cause. Along the way, we developed our tagline—’Changing the face of men’s health.’
When did Movember expand beyond Australia?
In November 2004 we put together a website. In 2006 we launched in New Zealand. Then in 2007 we launched in the US, Canada, UK and Spain—and now we’re in 21 countries. We’ve raised over 650 million dollars for prostate cancer, and we added a couple of other causes along the journey.
What are some of those other causes?
Prostate cancer was our first cause, but we found that our most passionate supporters were testicular cancer survivors, so we added that as a funded cause. Testicular cancer has a 95% survival rate, but that still means that 1 in 20 men that get it will die from it—and to us, that isn’t good enough. We’re on the path to curing that disease. Might be another 5 or 10 years, but we’ll cure it. There’s also a mental health side.
Can you tell us about the mental health side?
The four of us went to the same high school, and between us, we had six mates who took their own lives. Obviously mental health issues and suicide affects both men and women. But three out of four suicides are men. In the U.S., eighty men take their life every day. It’s this hidden health epidemic that no one is talking about. We want to drag it out of the shadows, get rid of all the stigmas and get men talking. More US soldiers have killed themselves than have died on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq. You don’t need to look too long or hard to find someone that’s experienced a mental health issue or knows someone who has.
How do you make these conversations approachable?
At the end of the day, everyone would prefer not to talk about cancer, or mental health issues, or suicide. They’re tough topics. What we’ve tried to do is create a bridge to those conversations with humor. We say that the moustache is our hairy ribbon-it’s the Trojan Horse we use to get men engaged in these issues.
Have you had any really rewarding moments, or made any breakthroughs lately?
I had a great conversation the other night. I met a guy who’s been a passionate MoBro in New York. He heard we were launching mental health initiatives, so he hosted a bingo night to fundraise. He got up and shared with the whole pub that he suffers from depression. That was the first time he ever told anyone other than his wife. He said that for him, it was life-changing.
That’s great. What would you tell someone whose considering getting involved with Movember?
I always say to contemplating doing Movember for the first time: ‘I guarantee you, you’ll have one conversation that will make it all worthwhile. Could be with a buddy, your uncle, your dad.’ Head to Movember.com and sign up, it’s super simple.
What has kept you motivated over the last twelve years?
It was tough transitioning Movember from a passion project to something that was blowing up. We needed and needing to figure out how to take it to the next level.
Is that something unique to charity, or is that something you think any business has to deal with.
All startups face this. Being a charity, we don’t go after capital. There’s no return on investment. The return is the social impact. One thing that served us really well was our naiveté. None of us had worked in charity. So we came at it from a totally different perspective—a brand marketing perspective. Most charities don’t think like that.
Do you think the outsider perspective you guys brought to charity work, helped Movember become the unique organization that it is?
I fundamentally believe that you can’t think outside the box if you live inside the box. Look at some of the new innovations of industry, even in the last three or four years. The guys that started Uber weren’t in the taxi industry. The guys who started AirBnB weren’t in the accommodation industry.
You guys are doing an interesting project with barbers around the city this Movember—can you tell me about that and the history of the barber shop?
Back in the day, barber shops were the hub of the community. “What’s said in the barbershop stays in the barber shop.” The initiative is called Movember Rated Barber. Barbers are uniquely placed—they can play a pivotal role in men’s health. We’re going to train barbers to look for potential skin cancers.
What’s your favorite barber in the city?
Any of the guys at Blind Barber. Those dudes are awesome.
Alright, we have to ask: of the Movember founders, who rocks the best ‘stache?
I give props to my brother, Trav. He’s got a ratty walrus thing. You can’t see his teeth at the moment.
Thanks, Adam. Best of luck this Movember.
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