Starfish Greathearts Foundation and Virgin Megastores Launch Photo Exhibit to Benefit South African Children Orphaned and Made Vulnerable by HIV/AIDS

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Today the Starfish Greathearts Foundation, an international development charity that improves the health and well-being of children orphaned and made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS in South Africa, launched a new model for charitable donations, marking a notable trend toward transparent, interactive and choice-based giving. Starfish and Virgin Megastores are celebrating the donor model launch with "Generation: HOPE" an exhibit of photographs taken by children who, with the use of Digital Blue cameras, took photos of people and things in their lives that represented hope.

Today the Starfish Greathearts Foundation, an international development charity that improves the health and well-being of children orphaned and made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS in South Africa, launched a new model for charitable donations, marking a notable trend toward transparent, interactive and choice-based giving. The new model incorporates greater communication among donors, recipients and on-the-ground community based organizations (CBOs).

Starfish and Virgin Megastores are celebrating the donor model launch with "Generation: HOPE" an exhibit of photographs taken by children who, with the use of Digital Blue cameras, took photos of people and things in their lives that represented hope. The exhibit, which will be shown at NYC's Union Square Virgin Megastore on October 7th, helps connect donors and potential donors with the children who will be supported by their donations. Virgin Megastores have been heavily involved with the Starfish Foundation over the past couple of years. In 2007, the Megastores team raised the appropriate monies to procure, ship, and retrofit a shipping container that now serves as the after school awareness center for the children. This year, they worked closely with their primary electronics vendor; D&H Distributing, to procure the 200 Digital Blue cameras used for the exhibit photos. The exhibit will then travel to London in November.

"Individual and institutional donors want to know where their charitable dollars are going," says Ryan Pollock, Chairman of Starfish USA. "The model we have developed at Starfish empowers people who are touched by our mission to assist these children with not only a unique and innovative way to donate, but also provides donors more choice and transparency."

Starfish hopes to serve as an example for other non-profit organizations to aspire to, by taking a very personalized, individual approach to charitable giving. Starfish also gives its donors access to grassroots, local charities in South Africa and specific niche areas, while giving them the confidence of knowing that their charitable dollars are being spent in a cost-effective manner.
Sir Richard Branson, founder and president of the Virgin Group, said, "Virgin Unite has been a five year donor to Starfish because it brings hope and opportunity to children whose lives are imperiled by the devastation of HIV/AIDS. With this new donor model, Starfish is ensuring that even more donors invest in the future of South Africa."

Internet giving can sometimes be less emotional because there is no human interaction. However the new online networks that Starfish incorporates in their donation model are helping to overcome this by bridging the gap between donors and beneficiaries, and simultaneously giving their donors a more personalized, rewarding experience. Furthermore, the Internet allows for greater "transparency" and "storytelling" through the emotional tools. By encouraging individual participation and involvement, Starfish creates a virtual international community of common interest…the essence of social networking.

"With a larger competitive landscape, charities must differentiate themselves and listen to what their donors want," says Cynthia Schweer, CEO of Starfish USA. "The donation model has shifted from charities telling their supporters what they need, to charities listening to their supporters and asking them how they would like to be involved."

Protecting Africa's Potential "Lost Generation"

In Southern Africa, as elsewhere on the continent, the AIDS epidemic is not only devastating the present generation, but also jeopardizing the future as well, undermining African economies and societies in ways that often are not immediately apparent. Many poor households affected by AIDS may not be able to afford to send their children to school. Even in countries where schooling is free, there are other costs such as uniforms and books.

According to a recent report from the World Health Organization (WHO) on the Commission on Social Determinants of Health, improving daily living conditions is the number one way to improve global health. This includes placing an emphasis on early childhood development and education, improving living and working conditions and creating supportive social protection - all areas in which Starfish is working.

South Africa has the world's highest number of people living with HIV, and the most AIDS-related deaths. As a result, approximately 450 children in South Africa are orphaned every day, and maternal orphan numbers are forecasted to reach approx. 2.1 million by 2010.
Simple, basics services, like those provided by Starfish, are necessary to improve local African communities and their likelihood to contribute positively to society/economies. Starfish is investing in the next generation of South Africa's leaders, giving them a second chance to contribute to the world in a positive and meaningful way.

To find out more about the Exhibit at the Union Square Virgin Megastore on October 7, 2008, please visit: http://hosted.verticalresponse.com/265732/6b9047921d/1298002427/4de05120e2/

About Starfish
Starfish Greathearts Foundation is a vehicle for building an international, active and socially aware community of people who want to work to address the unmet needs of children orphaned and made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS in South Africa. By deriving sustainable solutions for improving the lives of orphaned and vulnerable children, Starfish has developed a community-based care approach that has improved the lives of children in all provinces of South Africa. Starfish aims to reach 100,000 children by 2010.

Starfish was selected by Sir Richard Branson to make up the "Voice for Africa" at the G8 Summit and was selected by Virgin Unite as one of the seven South African CSI partners.

Starfish's projects serve as an inspirational example of the success that can be brought about by the support from individuals. The model enables the organization to address its bold and focused mission with both personal attention and operational excellence.

About Virgin Entertainment Group
Virgin Entertainment Group is the world's leading multi-channel lifestyle entertainment retailer, providing customers with a range of entertainment experiences through a family of integrated Virgin-branded businesses. Virgin Megastores and Virgin Megastore Online at http://www.virginmega.com are integral parts of a strategy to provide entertainment customers with what they want, how they want it, and when they want it. For more information, or to check out the location of the nearest Virgin retail, go to http://www.virginmega.com or http://www.virginmegamashup.com.

For Press Inquiries contact:
SJ Communications
Krysty O'Quinn Ronchetti
Office: 818.881.3889
Email: Krysty@sjcommunications.com
http://www.SJCommunications.com

About Virgin Unite
Virgin Unite is the not-for-profit foundation of Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group. We work with great partners all over the world to develop new approaches to social and environmental issues. We're fortunate that Richard and the Virgin Group pick up our overhead costs - so 100% of all donations go directly to the frontline where it is needed the most. We believe that the only way we are going to drive the scale of change that needs to happen in the world, is if we revolutionize the way that the business and social sectors work together. We want to use all the entrepreneurial energy across the Virgin Group to help drive this revolution. For more information please visit http://www.virginunite.com.

About Digital Blue- Innovation for Your Imagination
A leading developer of electronics and software for the youth market, Digital Blue creates innovative portable electronics for preschoolers, kids and teens, and award-winning educational products that are used in classrooms worldwide. Through strategic licensing partnerships, the company and its top-selling products have earned continual recognition from the media, consumer groups and other industry leaders, including The International Licensing Industry Merchandisers' Association (LIMA) and National Parenting Publications Awards (NAPPA). For more information about Digital Blue, its licensing partners and products, please visit http://www.digiblue.com.

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Sarah Coles

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