U2 frontman and philanthropist Bono has joined the board of medical drone delivery specialists Zipline.
After becoming a global superstar with U2, Bono has spent the last twenty or so years working in sustainable development. Back in 2016, he co-founded The Rise Fund, a $2 billion VC fund that specializes in startups delivering “complete returns”— social and environmental change, not just financial results.
Earlier this summer, The Rise Fund invested in Zipline to fund the drone delivery company’s ambitious expansion plans.
In April, Zipline launched a vaccine delivery network in Ghana. The company has since been valued at $1.2 Billion.
In an interview with Fast Company, Bono gushes about Zipline’s progress to date and the work they have done in Rwanda and Ghana.
“They’re making distance disappear,” he said. “And they put people at the center of their commercial model, which I think is also something we think about a lot in The Rise Fund—that commerce should serve people and not the other way around.”
Zipline’s operations in Rwanda see autonomous, fixed-wing drones fly from delivery centers to remote clinics in need of bloods and other medical supplies.
The company has now started building the world’s largest drone delivery network in Ghana. At capacity, Zipline will fly 600 flights per day, serving 2,000 clinics and 12 million people.
“My story with Zipline actually started 20 years ago,” said Bono. “I was in Malawi, in Lilongwe, and I was watching people be diagnosed HIV positive and then being told that there was no treatment for that.”
The issue at the time was about accessibility. Drugs existed but were never available in time. “I can still visualize the look in the eyes of those people in that queue as they were told that there was no treatment for their disease or that they couldn’t access these antiretroviral therapies.
“And the strange thing about it was this unusual look—there was no anger, there was no rage, there was this strange sort of acquiescence. And I remember feeling nauseous. Then I remember my own anger. And I used it: I let that anger motivate me.”
“It was a moment I then saw repeated all through the continent and around the world,” he said. “And I pledged my life to this idea: the concept that where you live should not decide whether you live.”
Zipline to use Bono’s influence to get governments onside
Zipline’s CEO, Keller Rinaudo, explained that getting Bono involved will add some soft power when it comes to getting governments onside. Zipline’s operations save lives, but they also require substantial backing and approval to get off the ground.
“Building a logistics system that serves all humans equally is going to require a lot of people to change the way that they behave,” Rinaudo said.
“And it’s going to require people to believe in the vision. It’s not like we can just go and fix it—it always has to be in partnership with governments. The reason we were really excited to have Bono join was that we’re basically going to be working together to try to bend the arc of justice and help the planet transition in small ways toward systems that serve people equally. Basically, stop making excuses about why we can’t serve these families.”