Forward to a Friend  | June 26, 2007

Bisnow on Business' Washington Women Weekly


Whoops! Just like a big-time newspaper, we made a mistake, except we acknowledge ours on the front page. We regrettably flipped two pictures in last week’s Gloria Dittus article. We captioned a picture of Judy Larson and Angela Brock as Diane Casey-Landry and Lisa McGreevy, and vice versa. This has been corrected here.


By Karin Tanabe, for Bisnow on Business


Sitting in her 19th Street office surrounded by eye-catching ad campaigns, Kate Roberts, Founder and Director of YouthAIDS, looks pretty darn good for having just returned from the Ugandan bush. “We were flown out to the refugee camps that are terrorized by the Lord’s Resistance Army,” the UK-born Roberts explains. “It was incredibly dangerous but I’m pretty fearless now. Every time I visit one of our projects, I’m reminded of why I do what I do.”


Roberts In Uganda


What she does is use pop culture and education to help stop the spread of HIV/AIDS. But it was not always so. “I used to be the queen of bad health. I was great at marketing bad stuff for kids.”


Before founding YouthAIDS in 2001, an initiative of Population Services International (PSI), Roberts worked for giant PR firm Saatchi & Saatchi in Moscow, London and Romania. Her first client in Moscow was American Tobacco. To keep the ying and yang balanced, Kate opened an aerobics studio aptly named Kate’s Aerobics. “At this time it was very normal for people to be approached by the Mafia,” as Kate was one winter night in 1995. The men who kidnapped her, forcing her out of a taxi and into a Mercedes at gunpoint, had previously come into her studio and ordered her to pay protection money, which was de rigueur at the time. Kate managed to escape but her trouble was not over. “I started to get death threats as someone in the agency was involved in shady business. At that point I had to flee.”


Roberts in India


Kate went to Romania via London where she again became the queen of hip. She worked with cigarette companies, organized the country’s first rave, dated a hot rock star, and discovered what would become her life’s passion. “I was invited to give my services pro bono to develop the first national AIDS campaign for PSI. I loved every second of it and couldn’t focus on anything else. I started to involve my corporate clients from Saatchi & Saatchi like Heineken and Coca-Cola.”


Instead of marketing those cancer sticks, Kate is out to fight one of the biggest pandemics in the world. She came to Washington in 1999 to work with PSI, and by 2001 was focusing all her time on YouthAIDS, which she has turned into an US Weekly-worthy NGO. “Development needs to be treated like a business. You need to get corporate brands involved but also the CEOs of those companies engaged in the cause.” YouthAIDS has programs in over 60 countries, Ashley Judd as their global ambassador, and celebs like LL Cool J and Cindy Crawford campaigning for them.


Kate and PSI have just launched a new initiative called Five & Alive, which focuses on children under five and the issues that they face like pneumonia, clean water and malnutrition. “I really want to bring in the corporate sector with Five & Alive. Who can refuse babies dying of preventable diseases?”


Two weeks prior to risking her life in the Ugandan bush, Kate was in India with Ashley Judd to film a documentary in conjunction with National Geographic. GW prof Amita Vyas and Alex Venditti of Sotheby’s International Realty joined them, as did a handful of Bollywood stars.


Inspired by the trip, the theme for this year’s YouthAIDS gala is Bollywood meets Hollywood. “The hardest thing about coming to Washington was the serious nature of the town, I really wanted to shake it up.” At last year’s gala, Kate not only shook and shimmied on the dance floor but did a back flip in a red evening gown. We can’t wait to see what she does this November while the rest of us are badly bopping to bhangra music.




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