“The M·A·C AIDS Fund is the heart and soul of our charitable outreach,” says John Demsey, president of M·A·C Cosmetics since 1998. “This is truly the effort of staff members who for fifteen years have wanted to do something.”
The M·A·C AIDS Fund has been a trailblazer in the HIV/AIDS arena, funding groundbreaking programs in regions ignored by others. Earlier this year, London’s daily newspaper The Independent wrote: “the Fund has gone out of its way to give money to causes that other big charities were much slower to back, such as condoms for sex workers in Bangkok and needle exchange programs in St. Petersburg.”
As the largest corporate non-pharmaceutical giver in its field, the M·A·C AIDS Fund strives to raise awareness of four key issues in the fight against HIV/AIDS: prevention, the link between poverty and HIV/AIDS, access to care, and adherence to medications and treatments. For Demsey and his cosmetic co-heroes, that means maintaining and nurturing a good relationship with a core group of AIDS organizations and remembering a very special connection. “People in the fashion industry have been deeply affected by HIV/AIDS. This is our emotional response to the pandemic,” he says.
The M·A·C AIDS Fund was the brainchild of Frank Toskan and Frank Angelo, co-founders of M·A·C Cosmetics. As the AIDS epidemic spread and began to ravage the fashion and entertainment worlds in the early 1990s, the two men searched for a way to respond to their personal and profound sense of loss. Encouraged by M·A·C employees, they decided to make HIV/AIDS organizations the beneficiaries of the company’s charitable focus. “When I arrived,” says Demsey, “the M·A·C AIDS Fund was an small, entrepreneurial grassroots effort created by the late founders. We’ve been able to take and expand the scope of their vision and make a huge difference in the world.”
That difference has inspired Demsey to play pool with Chloë Sevigny, escort Pamela Anderson to the Japanese MTV awards, and fly to the Dominican Republic with former president, Bill Clinton—all to perpetuate the visibility and success of the M·A·C AIDS Fund. He’s also called on celebrities such as Fergie and Eve to become powerful emissaries. The Fund’s $2.5 million Global Youth Prevention Initiative is being funded exclusively from sales of Fergie’s VIVA GLAM VI Special Edition Lipgloss. Ultimately, the Fund’s goal is to find ways of reaching vulnerable populations of young people and arm them with the knowledge to protect themselves against the virus.
To help those in the struggle feel more beautiful inside and out, the M·A·C AIDS Fund created Good Spirits, a free public service initiative for men, women and transgender people living with HIV/AIDS. Good Spirits “makeovers” are performed by highly-trained M·A·C makeup artists who volunteer their time to teach people with HIV/AIDS simple makeup techniques to help them enhance their appearance and minimize problems resulting from illness or medication regimens. Recipients not only look healthier but feel better and gain the self-confidence to maintain ties to friends and family. The program aims to encourage those with HIV/AIDS to be active in promoting their own health and well-being.
Under Demsey’s leadership, the Fund has grown from a small dream to a big player. “It wasn’t done by grand design,” he says. “It happened organically, it happened through day-in-and-day-out hard work and by being focused on what was important.”
For the M·A·C AIDS Fund, what’s important is making a difference in the world’s struggle with HIV/AIDS. Recent grant recipients include the Blocks Project by the Harlem United Community AIDS Center in New York City. The Blocks Project is a neighborhood-based HIV prevention program through which Harlem United interviews neighborhood residents, block by block, apartment by apartment, with the goal of assessing their needs, getting them into HIV/AIDS testing and treatment, and making appropriate referrals for other needs. The Blocks Project aims to dramatically reduce HIV infection in East and Central Harlem.
Another beneficiary of the Fund’s generosity is the Henry Lee Willis Community Center of Worcester, Mass., and its program to target and help women of color who are at-risk from HIV/AIDS through sex work and injection drug use. Worcester is home to the highest HIV rates for Blacks and Latinos in Massachusetts.
“It’s a huge personal and professional honor,” he says, accepting the Hero in the Struggle honor on behalf of M·A·C Cosmetics and the M·A·C AIDS Fund. “The special thing about this company is that this is a family in business, not a family business. Advocacy is very important. It’s good business practice. More importantly, we have a huge responsibility we don’t take lightly. The M·A·C AIDS Fund hopes to help in the struggle with AIDS for many years to come.”