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Home » Clinton Global Initiative

Recruiting for Causes: the Celebrity Factor

By Tom Watson on September 25, 2008One Comment

Every Clinton Global Initiative – and this is my third – has a bit star power, outside of politics and finance. Last year, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt were two of the big names. This year, we’ve Bono, Michael Douglas, Lance Armstrong and Matt Damon. What works with celebrity causes, in my experience, is a combination of knowledge and passion.

A few minutes ago I saw both in action during a press conference about the $450 commitment for international in-school feeding and school-based deworming announced by the United Nations World Food Programme – and its global ambassador, actress Drew Barrymore.

Barrymore told the story of reading about starving children in the developing work in the New York Times one morning a couple of years ago and being moved to tears. "I called the UN and said my name is Drew Barrymore, how can I help." She talked about remaining quiet for two years before taking a role as a public ambassador for the WFP.

"As you get older in this world, as you get to know yourself, your priorities change and you want to make a difference," she said. "I found my beautiful soul calling in the WFP…I said this is for me. This is my cause."

The private sector commitment to school meals included a five-year, $80-million cash pledge from YUM! Brands to
WFP and other hunger-related organizations. The commitment will allow
WFP to provide meals to hundreds of thousands of children in school. The press conference included WFP Executive Director Josette
Sheeran, World Bank President Bob Zoellick,  and YUM! Brands CEO David
Novak.

And it also included musician Wyclef Jean, who pleaded for more support for his native Haiti, ravaged by four massive storms. Jean started the Yéle Haiti foundation three years ago to provide scholarship aid to Haitian children, and the foundation is now a WFP partner in providing aid. As Jean said, "please keep Haiti in your thoughts because there are still people on rooftops and children are dying of disease."

Passion and knowledge. But also a little fun. As the press conference rapped up, Jean turned to Barrymore with a big smile. "I’m a fan of yours – please shake my hand so I can be on YouTube."

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One Comment »

  • Susan Carey Dempsey says:

    I have to say this morning, with the sad news of the death of Paul Newman, I was thinking similar thoughts about celebrities who dedicate their fame, and fund-generating star power, to making a difference in the world. Before it became common to channel a portion of profits to charitable causes, Newman created products from popcorn to salad dressing for that very purpose.
    Attending CGI this week, I realized, as Tom says, that the celebrities there served several purposes. In the blizzard of announcements, all worthy, of million-dollar commitments and community-minded investments, the star power and creative energy of a Bono, a Drew Barrymore, a Wyclef Jean help to capture the world’s attention and inspire others.
    And as we say farewell to Butch Cassidy, the leader of the Hole-in-the-Wall gang, we know without question that he left this world better than he found it.

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