Why the UN uses celebs as ambassadors

Every so long, a Hollywood celebrity shows up on our shores not to perform but for some charity event.

Saturday January 14 2012

PHOTO/FILE  Gisele Bundchen, UNEP Goodwill Ambassador

PHOTO/FILE Gisele Bundchen, UNEP Goodwill Ambassador 


Every so long, a Hollywood celebrity shows up on our shores not to perform but for some charity event.

If it’s not Angelina Jolie and hubby Brad Pitt, it is Bono, George Clooney, Youssou N’dour, Scarlett Johansson and just last week, Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bündchen was in Kenya.

You always hear they were around, their tours are kept a secret until the last day when they are about to leave when they hold a press conference to announce they were here.

Gisele, who is a UNEP Goodwill Ambassador was on a five day visit to Kenya, where, according to a statement, “visited small-scale sustainable energy solutions project ranging from micro-hydro and wind to bio-gas and fuel-efficient stoves.”

Many other celebrities show up and all we see are pictures of them staring down the eyes of a famished child in Turkana, Marsabit or Kibera slums looking concerned branded all over.

But why does the UN employ the services of the rich and famous to just show up in some third world country?

The goal is to allow celebrities to use their fame to draw attention to important issues.

According to the UNEP Executive Director, Achim Steiner, they use them to bring to light an issue that needs to be discussed the world over.

Steiner, who was speaking at the United Nations office in Nairobi on Friday during a press conference for Gisele, said they use celebrities to help communicate their causes.

“Their visits are not for development projects, we use them to help us communicate an issue to millions across the world.

They use their star power to get people talking about an issue and also help get more involved,” he said.

“You (media) are here because she is here and because of that, you will highlight the cause she was championing and that will get more attention.”

As for her part, Gisele, who is the world’s highest paid and richest model, said she visited the Kibera slums – a preferred destination for celebrities as it provides the perfect photo op – and other villages and saw “so much love and hope.”

“What I saw was amazing positive energy from people who are trying to survive. My visit to Kenya, which was my first helped me see the world and experience different cultures and experiences and helps me and millions to start thinking of what we can do to change the world,” said Gisele.

“We need to all get involved to change the world because this is our problem not a particular person’s.”

Environmental projects

Gisele became a designated Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in September 2009 and is also involved with several environmental projects mostly concentrating on the preservation of South American rainforests.

Every year Gisele picks a charity to which proceeds of sales from her sandals are donated and also gives a portion of her money from modelling to many other organisations across the world.

For someone who has been labelled as the “most beautiful woman alive” and is projected to be the first billionaire model, it is easy to see why UNEP chose her to be their ambassador.

When she speaks, the fashion world listens together with the millions who follow it across the world.

Being an ambassador, however, is voluntary and attracts no remuneration. Celebrities, however, use it to enhance their careers.

UNICEF was the first agency to enlist the help of celebrities in 1954. Since then the UN has built up a distinguished roster of international goodwill ambassadors.

Danny Kaye, the celebrated American actor, singer, dancer, and comedian was the first working alongside UNICEF’s Halloween fundraiser founder, Ward Simon Kimball Jr.

The actor sensitised the public on impoverished children in deplorable living conditions overseas and assisted in the distribution of donated goods and funds.

His involvement with UNICEF came about in a very unusual way after the plane he was in developed mechanical problem and lost its propeller and caught fire.

On the way back the head of the Children’s Fund, Maurice Pate, had the seat next to Danny Kaye and spoke at length to him about the need for recognition for the Fund.

Their discussion continued on the flight from Shannon to New York; it was the beginning of the actor’s long association with UNICEF.

But the most visible of the UN ambassadors is Angelina Jolie who has shown allegiance to the cause of refugees across the world.

She is a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador and has visited most of the world’s refugee centres and even adopted children from across the world.

There are currently 100 celebrity ambassadors for the UN with the main being the Messengers of Peace bestowed to distinguished individuals, carefully selected from the fields of art, music, literature and sports, who have agreed to help focus worldwide attention on the work of the United Nations.

They include; George Clooney, Paulo Coelho, Michael Douglas, Yo-Yo Ma, Charlize Theron and Stevie Wonder.