It was a cold winter morning when I first met Elliot Costello. Sharply dressed in a smart blazer, it was immediately apparent that this was a man on a serious mission. Halfway through the conversation, learning about the reach and work of his social startup, YGAP, I noticed something out of place in this ex-corporate, emerging leader.
The third fingernail on his right hand was painted bright blue.
Now in its second year, social impact campaign Polished Man is challenging men around the world to rethink the concept of 'manliness' and lend their voice (and nails) to the issue of violence against children. Painting one nail in a bright colour, the campaign draws attention and discussion - as well as much needed funds - to an often overlooked, global reality.
UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund, estimates that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 5 children are victims of physical or sexual violence before the age of 19.
"It is important to acknowledge this is a global challenge" says campaign founder Costello. "While most men don't perpetrate violence, 90% of sexual violence committed against children is perpetrated by men and we all have a responsibility to help change that."
The Polished Man campaign reached an audience of 58 million in 2014. This year, the group is taking the campaign truly global, launching here in the USA with all local funds raised going to the New York Center for Children.
Conceived in humble beginnings, Polished Man was inspired by an early trip Costello took to Cambodia, following another of YGAP's projects. One evening, he met a young girl named Thea and they formed a unique bond of friendship. Despite the language barrier, these two talked for hours and at the end of the night, young Thea painted Elliot's fingernails bright blue.
The next day, affected by this endearing encounter, Costello sought to learn more about Thea's story. He learnt that after losing her father at just 8 years of age and with no family income, her mother had sent her to an orphanage in the hope they would provide a safe and nurturing environment. Tragically, the reality was very different. Thea was physically and sexually assaulted, with lifelong effects on her physical and mental health.
Deeply saddened and frustrated by her shocking story, this changemaker sought an opportunity to bring the campaign against child violence to a wider audience. Although he felt uncomfortable wearing Thea's nail polish at first, Costello realised that this caring act of friendship created the perfect catalyst to talk about an important issue.
Two years later, YGAP's vision is nothing short of ambitious - a world without violence and extreme poverty. With the international support of ambassadors like Olympian Michael Klim, actor Alec Baldwyn and iconic Australian Hugh Jackman, they're certainly equipped to help drive major change.
"YGAP exists to find and support impact entrepreneurs around the world, who are improving the lives of those that experience violence and extreme poverty" Costello says. "We achieve this by running campaigns and operating our own social enterprises."
As this campaign closes in on the end of its first week, word is spreading fast.
You might think that there are few things less manly than painting your nails bright blue.
Elliot Costello and his team are clearly saying - 'think again'.
Find out more, refer a friend or sign up at ygap.com.au/polished-man
The campaign runs from October 1-15, 2015