Pete Bombaci talks about “the power of the moustache to create conversation.” He’s the country director of Movember Canada and has heard enough stories, witnessed enough Mo Bros and Mo Sisters, as the male and female supporters of the movement in 21 countries are called.
If you don’t know about Movement by now, no matter where you live in the world, you must be puzzled why all these moustaches — from peach fuzz to handlebars —are suddenly sprouting on the male species. Movember was founded in 2003 by Adam Garone in Melbourne, Australia (read Samaritanmag’s interview with him from 2011 to find out why) with 30 of his buddies and no cause attached. The following year, they invented the Movember fundraising movement to raise money for men’s health issues. It has grown to 4 million Mo Bros worldwide and raised $574 million dollars, according to stats on the Movember web site.
Basically, on Nov. 1 guys give themselves a clean shave and then don’t touch a razor again for the next 30 days. It prompts many jokes and comments, but most importantly the action is designed to raise money and awareness for prostate cancer, and new focus testicular cancer and mental health. Participants are asked to register on Movember.com.
Last year alone, Movember Canada raised $33.9 million.
The site also has heaps of information about Mo events in your community, Hall of Fame photos, as well as information on men’s health.
“We’re just lucky we get to wake up everyday and actually do good in the world,” says Bombaci, as part of our pre-interview banter.
Samaritanmag talked to him about how he joined Movember, where all the money is going and the progress in men’s health.
Adam Garone mentioned to our writer Nick Krewen that this whole thing started as a joke. How did it start for you?
“I got involved because [in 2007] I had a run in with a prostate cancer survivor who, on the night I met him at the Keg Restaurant at the airport in Toronto, was actually there that celebrating the fact that he had just received his test results back and he was clean and clear of cancer. There’s a few other circumstances around how we actually connected that day, but needless to say I went over and had a word with him to say, ‘Tell me more.’
“What he told me was his goal in life, moving forward, was to make sure that no man ever went through what he went through, and the key to that was actually early detection and that he was going to focus his message of men’s health, more specifically in his case, prostate cancer. So I reached out to the prostate cancer organization in Canada at the time — the predecessor to Prostate Cancer Canada at the time — and said, ‘I want to do something. I want to help raise awareness.’ They told me about Movember and from that point forward I was a Mo Bro for the first three years and then I came over and participated as part of the campaign.”
There is now a Movember standalone office in Canada.
“Yes. Initially in every country, before Movember gets started, we start working with a men’s health partner. In this case, it was Prostate Cancer Canada. So initially the cause specially focused on prostate cancer; it was run through Prostate Cancer Canada. We open up our own office in the countries where we’ve reached a certain size so that we can manage the marketing, ensure that we’re globally collaborating and ensure that we’re doing the same things in the 21 markets where we execute today. We have a staff of 18, 17 in Toronto and one in Montreal.”
Last year, Canadians brought in a whopping $33.9 million. That’s incredible.
“And at the end of the campaign, it was the No. 1 campaign in the world, one more time.”
Movember is extremely transparent with its financial information. It’s all online for everyone to look through — 90.5 percent to men’s health programs, 7.3 percent to fundraising costs and 2.2 percent to administration and then there are further breakdowns and pie-charts.
“We can’t throw any more stuff up on the web site to ensure transparency, both on how we spend the money to run the campaign and where the money goes with the report cards that are there, on every dollar and every program that’s been invested, since day-1.”
Are you finding that guys are joining for fun with their buddies with little care of the cause or are they interested in the cause too?
“You just hit it on the head. I think everybody starts because of the fun. And we’ve done some research and fun, when you drill down on what the word ‘fun’ means, it’s actually about camaraderie — whether it’s in the workplace, whether it’s about the boys in the dressing room, whether it’s around he family table, it’s the camaraderie and the togetherness. The moustache actually brings people together because we all suffer through those first few days of the month when nobody particularly looks great. But that’s when you see who’s doing it with you; you come together; you go for a beer; you shoot the breeze over dinner, at home or maybe it’s a group of grade 4 kids poking fun at their school teacher. It’s from all walks of life. Everybody starts because of the fun.
“But what ultimately comes out over the course of 30 days during that journey is conversations: ‘Hey what’s Movember all about?’ ‘Oh, it’s about men’s health.’ ‘Hey dude, how are you doing? How have you been feeling? I remember you had that issue.’ Eventually the conversation leads into men’s health’s issues and by registering at movember.com, they can find out more information about men’s health issues, whether it’s through our web site or link that we have to other resources to source that information.”
So it’s not just for prostate cancer anymore? It’s testicular and other men’s health issues?
“Two years ago, we added testicular cancer and men’s mental health. And when you combine the three — prostate cancer affected 1 in 8; testicular being the most commonly diagnosed cancer in your 20s and 30s, and mental health which will affect 1 in 5 of us in our lifetime [men and women], there are very few people in this country who won’t be impacted, either personally or by someone in their family, a loved one in their community, at the office, whatever the case may be.
“Those three issues are, in the case of the two cancer issues obviously specific to men, but in the case of men’s mental health, men are less diagnosed with depression and anxiety and yet we are three times more likely than women to take our lives. It really just speaks to the fact that we don’t open up and talk.
“And that’s the power of the moustache to create those conversations. So they know that they’re not alone and that there are other people that are a) non judgmental — because you know that anybody growing a moustache in the month of November isn’t going to judge you in your health journey and secondly, that conversation just opens you up to knowing that you’re not alone, in itself is a powerful way to get people to accept that we all face challenges. There is a lot of positive that can come out of growing these moustaches and having these conversations.”
With the millions of dollars that have been raised and allocated, what has transpired all these years in terms of research, trials, drugs, results and changes in statistics and prognosis?
“First and foremost, research takes time so most of those investments probably started 5 years ago. One of our largest investments was part of the Canadian Genomics Project that was run out of the Princess Margaret [Hospital in Toronto]. We have numerous other prostate cancer things. We just put $40 million — this is globally — into survivorship programs because all the research that’s been done on prostate cancer has allowed men to live long happy lives after dealing with prostate cancer but there are side effects. They come with the treatment for prostate cancer. So in Canada alone, we’ve just invested $11 million into supporting men psychologically, physically, supporting their caregivers and other people, so there’s a tangible project that’s being launched across Canada right now.
“In regards to research, although I don’t actually have all the specifics, there is about to be an announcement, probably by the end of November of a game-changing finding in the prostate cancer space that will save thousands of men the anguish of going through certain procedures and, secondly, will save the medical system millions of dollars of treatment that is unnecessary. It’s probably one of the first few research outcomes that have finally shown itself, but it’s a great example. The pipeline is filled in Canada with over 200 programs that are currently people working on finding solutions, whether it’s to better treatment, better diagnosis, better ways to support the patient through his journey.
“Globally, over 800 programs in 21 countries. Ii we find a cure or we find a solution for any aspect of these issues that we’re supporting, if we find it in Toronto or we find it in Sydney or we find it in Berlin or we find it wherever — the greatest research is happening around the world — we share it with everybody.”
The money for aftercare is allocated by Movember to various organizations, which in turn distributes it to hospitals etcetera, which then provides that care to suitable patients?
“Correct. In the case of prostate cancer, all of our funds in Canada go to Prostate Cancer Canada, they’re our men’s health partner and they run the process in order to award the funds to the different research projects, the different survivorship projects, and they do an amazing job at ensuring that the funds go to the very best research or the very best programs out there. Mental health and testicular cancer are run through the Movember Foundation so there’s a slight difference on the allocation depending on the cause.”
Individuals can’t apply for help. It comes through a referral from a doctor?
“Correct and our strategy right now , working with PCC[Prostate Cancer Canada] is we’re first and foremost about the research side, and then, secondly, the survivorship side. It’s really about building tools that are scalable in the sense that we’re trialing them at different facilities across the country. But our goal at Movember is never to do something that is only to be good for people in one community. We want to build, whether it’s an online tool, whether it’s using other technology for lack of a better word, but finding ways to make whatever we trial and find out that it works, that it’s scalable. So that the person that’s living in northern Ontario or northern Alberta or Northwest Territories can get access to the same type of resources that we create here in Toronto or Vancouver or wherever the programs might be trialed. So we are trialing those programs right now and they’ll be rolled out to other communities across the country.”
You do want men to register, not just grow a moustache.
“First an foremost, registering you’re name is being counted as those who are supporting. At the end of the day, growing moustaches and creating the conversation in your community is wonderful. l but we need people to register because they can find out more about Movember, more about the men’s health issues, more about the events and that makes them a part of Mo Journey, as we say, and allows us to count all the people that are stepping up and putting their name behind the Movember campaign.
“And, I might add, that without the love and support of Mo Sisters — no different than men supporting the women’s movement — this movement will only be half the impact it can have because a woman supporting a man in growing his moustache or supporting or by donating to his campaign is pretty critical to the success of Movember today, tomorrow and in the future.”
How is your moustache?
“I had one going for a couple of months. I call this spring training, just checking things out, what looks good this year, the latest moustache style that I need to be considering. Nov. 1 I shave down along with every other Mo Bro. I’m going to go back to the handlebars. I think for me the handlebars are the quintessential male facial hair, whether you want to be a rock star , a biker, a porn star, a trucker, whatever that symbolizes for you. It’s that alter ego that we’ve all wanted to rock but we haven’t had the courage to do so in other times of our lives. In the month of Movember we can all get away with it.”Asics Onitsuka Tiger