Point-Counterpoint: Charitable celebrities

Public image a perfect selling point for charity Love them or hate them, celebrities are a major part of global culture today. Their influence on music, film, television and nearly every form of entertainment is

Public image a perfect selling point for charity

Love them or hate them, celebrities are a major part of global culture today. Their influence on music, film, television and nearly every form of entertainment is immeasurable, though the benefits are often extending only to themselves.

In this world of fame, some use their popularity and wealth for good causes such as attempting to address the most challenging humanitarian crises facing the world today: extreme poverty and disease.

Although often criticized for being inexperienced and self-serving, these individuals’ impact on the average citizen cannot be denied.

Bono, lead singer of Irish rock band U2, is no stranger to politics. In addition to weaving their way into his lyrics, political issues have always been a major focal point of his private affairs, which he has willingly and dutifully taken to the world stage. His primary focus is on Africa.

The Live 8 concerts in summer of 2005 – organized by fellow-musician Bob Geldof and supported greatly by Bono – rallied a mass audience around the cause of cancelling Third-World debt, demonstrating
to G8 members that people do care about the world’s problems, if asked in the right way.

For the millions who attended or watched the concerts around the world, the event created a common experience that showed the power of unified awareness, even if only for a day.Musical preferences aside, it’s hard to deny the impact of a celebrity whose philanthropic efforts have granted him audiences with President Bush and the United Nations.

Bono continues to draw attention to the dire situation in Africa through Product Red, an offshoot of the Global Fund, created to finance HIV/AIDS treatment in the continent’s most ailing nations.The program’s mission statement calls upon the privileged citizens of the world to help in a familiar way: “As first world consumers, we have tremendous power. What we collectively choose to buy, or not buy, can change the course of life and history on this planet.”

Since it can take months for funds promised by international governments to be distributed to the proper agencies, it’s logical to ask people to donate directly.

With this program, people can see exactly how their money impacts the cause. The profits from one Product Red iPod Nano, for example, provide one HIV patient with anti-retroviral treatment for a month.The impact may be overstated, but harnessing the appeal of consumer goods to promote awareness and generate funding is quite clever. It capitalizes both on the popularity of major brands, such as Apple and GAP, and people’s instinct to spend money.

Bono may have something here. Angelina Jolie is also channeling her fame into international efforts to help refugees. In 2001, she was named a Goodwill Ambassador by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for her dedication to alleviating
the plight of misplaced peoples.

In addition to donating millions of dollars to UNHCR and other agencies, she travels around the world – at her own expense – to see the situation on the ground for herself.

Oprah Winfrey, who has made headlines recently for establishing the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa, has donated an estimated $250 million throughout her career, according to “Business Week.”

An episode of her talk show featured her trip to South Africa where she gave Christmas presents, school supplies and clothing to 50,000 poor children.

The episode has inspired viewers to donate some of their own dollars since airing in 2004.

These celebrities are not using their fame to appeal to the lowest common denominator. They’re appealing to people in a realistic way that perhaps only grassroots organizations are able to do anymore.

If their box office sales increase because of it, it’s only an ancillary benefit that will allow them to continue their philanthropic endeavors.

For all the celebrities who work solely for their own benefit, it’s refreshing that there are some whose efforts extend beyond monetary donations. Their hands-on work genuinely inspires interest and concern for problems that might otherwise slip under the radar were there not such willing spokespersons championing these causes.

Brian Krier can be reached at

Good intentions disguise ignorance of world issues

There’s something to be said about the way celebrities donate their time and money to charities compared to how us common folks do. Basically, if your name is George Clooney or Angelina Jolie and it’s attached to a cause, it makes headlines.

I admire anyone who gives to charities, and that includes celebrities too. However, when A-list stars in the entertainment
industry pledge support to a cause like AIDS, that doesn’t automatically translate to success, or even that much of an impact.

From Bono with his ONE campaign to Clooney
going before members of Congress on behalf of Darfur region of Sudan, stars everywhere are getting in on the action. It’s never been a hotter time for a celebrity to claim a pet project and make it worthwhile.

With recent news of Oprah Winfrey opening a $40 million all-girl school in South Africa, it will be tough to see how great of an effect her school will have. Winfrey has long been generous, but there are people who feel that one school for 152 girls is nothing to get excited about.

“I think the initiative of individual Americans like Oprah are very welcome, but they need to do more research locally to be able to see the most effective way of reaching out to many,” Mary Balikungeri,
director of the Rwanda Women Community
Development Network, told the “Boston Globe.”

Her feeling is that celebrities don’t do their homework when it comes to taking on a project like building a school that will leave many feeling left out.

Celebrities often make the case that they can use their fame to promote good that much more can get accomplished. They feel they can make up for areas in which the government is lacking.

When it comes to celebrity donors, Winfrey is one of the biggest. But she’s not alone in her quest to save humanity. Angelina Jolie has made adopting children from Third-World countries like Cambodia hip and is now a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations.

Last summer, she told CNN’s Anderson Cooper
that she donates one-third of her income to charity. How nice, but does she know where most of that money actually goes? It can take years for a donation, even as sizable
as that one, to be spent.

When Live 8 was held here in Philadelphia in 2005, event organizers Bob Geldof and Bono, of the Irish rock band U2, had the idea that people were going to come out and support putting an end to the AIDS crisis that has shamefully ravaged an entire continent.

I went to Live 8 and it was fun. Judging by the crowds of people singing and drinking all around me, it was fun for them too. The problem with these types of celebrity-driven functions is that because music was at the forefront, because it was free and because people were primarily there for these two reasons, most seemed to forget the reason why it was held.

People seemed more concerned with seeing Bon Jovi than the upcoming G8 Summit where the world’s richest nations, including the United States, would meet to discuss lessening Third World debts.

When the G8 Summit was held months later, the concerts were thought by many to be a failure and little more than celebrities getting on their soapboxes for a cause they knew little about. Geldof came under fire for his comments that the nations’ debts had been forgiven.

There’s no doubt that celebrities are passionate about supporting causes they believe in. It’s just that celebrity participation doesn’t change the world. The real credit goes to those who make it their life’s work to do this. It’s the ones who don’t get the media attention
that truly are the ones making the difference.

Megan Suermann can be reached at

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