Celebrities as advocates for charities and NGOs, yay or nay ?

By Cathrine SN

Bono does it. Geldof does it. Jolie does it. No, we are not just talking about entertaining the public through music and movies, but the use of their own celebrity status in the promotion of different charities and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The use of celebrities has become part of the way major development charities go about raising awareness, interest and funds. These days, it has become a common ‘tool’ to employ celebrity advocates to lobby for their causes.


But does NGOs and charities’ use of celebrities attract or divert attention from the fundamental causes of inequality? According to a recent UK study, celebrity advocacy is not a particularly popular phenomenon, even though it is widely believed to be so. According to Brockington and Henson, celebrity advocacy is often driven by corporate interests in getting access to charities and the NGOs’ desire to use celebrities to build better relationships with corporate partners. Take the case of Lance Armstrong, founder and celebrity advocate of the cancer charity, Livestrong. After admitting to drug abuse during his career as a cyclist, one might ask if the use of celebrities as promoters has such a positive effect as previously believed? Despite this, Brockington and Henson believe that using celebrities to promote NGOs and charities has become more and more important in trying to achieve social and political change. There is of course also a cultural aspect that one must not forget in this argument. In Japan, the use of celebrities as promoters has been a normal part of the “charity industry” for a long time. This strategy is something that might not work as well in Scandinavian countries, where celebrities are often popular precisely because they are not involved in politics. Another point worthy of attention is the fact that many people interested in celebrities are often looking to escape from more serious media affairs.

Does this not render the use of celebrities a poor tool for promoting serious developmental issues and problems. The evidence therefore suggests that the ability of celebrity advocacy to reach people is limited, and dominated, in many countries, by the work of a few stars. To sum up, celebrity advocacy is not as popular as previously thought, rather more of a minority interest. Aside from raising money, celebrity advocacy is unlikely to promote active involvement in development issues amongst the general public. NGOs and charities may benefit from the money and media spotlight celebrities will bring to them, but it is also evident that celebrities are not necessarily good at directing attention to the fundamental causes of their charities. With that being said, Emma Watson (UN Goodwill Ambassador) did actually make the UN Women website break down after her touching speech about women’s rights and gender equality at the UN headquarters in September.

Is it about to change?


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