Mob Malaria: Making Malaria Awareness Fun

Two freshman at Harvard want to change how global health campaigns target their generation. Traditional campaigns focus on tragedy; yet this model, the pair believes, has limitations. “Will I forget a sad picture? Probably not.” says Stephen. “But will I share that same picture with my friends online? Probably not either.” Stephen Turban and Lily Zhang’s goal is to transform campaigns from “memorable” to “shareable.” Their first piece of advice? Make awareness fun.

Who are they? And why are they doing it? In the next couple of paragraphs, they’ll explain how they began, what our mission is, and what they specifically plan to do with Mob Malaria.

Mob MalariaWhen they first started brainstorming for the Harvard Malaria Competition, Stephen and Lily  kept coming back to the same question: Why hasn’t a campaign for malaria gone viral? They realized that it’s not because people don’t care about malaria–they generally do–it’s just that not many people will go out of their way to do something for malaria.

But a lot of people will go out of their way to have fun.

So why not combine the two?

The idea at first seems counterintuitive, after all, what is fun about a disease that kills? True, the issue itself is heavy, but Stephen and Lily argue a campaign around it need not be. This is where Mob Malaria comes in.

In what may prove to be the first of many such events, Stephen and Lily are working to make malaria awareness fun–this time via a flash mob. Their campaign, Mob Malaria, is a multinational, audio-guided student flash mob set to take place on World Malaria Day, April 25th, 2014. The event–simultaneously being coordinated in Cambridge, USA;  Changsha, China; and Harare, Zimbabwe–will consist of thousands of students performing ridiculous actions under the guidance of a pre-recorded audio track downloaded onto their phones. At a set time, the participants will press play and listen to the audio script via headphones, performing actions ranging from crawling on the floor to playing a giant game of freeze tag. There will also be a quirky social media campaign surrounding the event, complete with Facebook posts, a Twitter thread, and a final three-minute video of the multinational flash mob itself.

“We want to make this type of campaign the norm,” states Stephen. Indeed, many have already bought into their mission. What began as the pair’s proposal to the Harvard Malaria Competition, a challenge for students to create an innovative way to spread awareness of malaria, has now grown beyond the two of them. Comedy groups at Harvard are writing the script and directing the social media campaign; students in Zimbabwe, and China are leading the mob in their local communities; and even the UN has endorsed the event. As Ray Chambers, UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Malaria, declares, “We’re expecting Mob Malaria to sweep the globe—reminding the world of the progress we’ve made and how close we are to ending deaths from malaria.”

Lily and Stephen want to redefine how awareness campaigns work. And even if April 25th’s Mob Malaria doesn’t happen to change your mind–well hey, you’ll had some fun.

– Article by Lily Zhang and Stephen Turban

Mob Malaria will take place at 4:00PM at the Science Center Plaza next to Harvard Yard in Cambridge, MA. For more information visit