Foundation alumnus fights Aids
Mark Ishaug, a former Rotary Foundation Ambassadorial Scholar, out for a run.
As a student at Notre Dame University, Mark Ishaug had a plan for his future – an international career in law, or perhaps with the CIA. But in 1987, he studied and taught international economics as a Rotary Foundation Ambassadorial Scholar at the University of Zimbabwe, and his plan changed. He became an AIDS advocate.
In his 13 years as president and CEO of the AIDS Foundation of Chicago (AFC), Ishaug more than doubled the group’s budget, to $22 million. In February, he became president and CEO of AIDS United, a national policy and advocacy organization. Ishaug hopes that Rotary may again influence his path. “As we work to end AIDS in America, I would love to see Rotary’s work on polio be a model for us,” he says.
The Rotarian: How did your studies lead you to AIDS activism?
Ishaug: During my first trip to Africa, as an undergraduate in 1983, I got sick in Kenya. I had an IV in the hospital where I stayed for several weeks, and after I returned home, a doctor friend made me aware of the AIDS issue in Africa. I was scared. I went back in 1987, much to my parents’ annoyance. In New York City, there were AIDS walks; in Zimbabwe, there was huge denial. That experience deepened my commitment to fight AIDS.
TR: What accomplishment are you most proud of?
Ishaug: My biggest success was to make legal the sale of clean syringes without a prescription in Illinois. It took 10 years and a broad coalition of doctors, nurses, and pharmacies to convince people that selling clean needles would not increase drug use.
TR: How can you apply Rotary’s successes with polio to your work?
Ishaug: The AIDS movement set the standard for grassroots mobilization, especially in the gay community. Rotarians have not relied on government but have mobilized themselves, the community, the nation, and the world, applying business principles to social innovation – taking a problem and focusing their money, energy, and resources. Rotary has set the bar really high.
TR: What led you to create the Team to End AIDS – an AFC endurance training program that raised $350,000 in its first year?
I didn’t discover the triathlon until I was 46. I love to run, bike, and swim. We can create so much joy in our lives, even in dark times. That’s what I try to do.