Friday, April 23, 2010

HRI Success Stories. Today: groundbreaking work from CelebrAID

We all agree: celebrities are awesome and they are crucial to the process of "development" as we know it. HRI is naturally aware of the ability of a good celebrity to simplify development realities and create a useful stereotype about big-eyed undernourished children “back in Africa“ that have not known affection.

through my work I have myself hosted my fair share of celebrities visiting HRI programs in this or the other camp, shelter or other miserable location and have experienced deep transformations within, from the privilege to stand modestly in the background and hand out the occasional disinfectant tissue so they can ostentatiously wipe a tear and/ or discretely rub a hand, an elbow, after the dreaded skin contact so necessary to any choice photo opportunity.

Like no other "tool", celebrities succeed in bringing important issues to the attention of the masses so that the issues become part of the “popular culture”, commented on facebook, lamented on twitter or reflected in sound advice given about role-modeling, as shown in this example taken out of a copy of a popular guide book for intrepid travelers:
You will agree that such impact is worth a lot to HRI and our donors so it goes without saying that money does change hands every time a celebrity “gets involved”. Money well spent of course, and it is also a pleasure for our more impressionable international staff to get to be patronized by a celebrity’s vast and demanding entourage, while HRIs "local staff” gets to be chased around by what looks like a group of stereotypical decadent caricatures of everything that is wrong with the "west".

But what of the celebrities themselves?

Well, today’s success story shows that HRI & affiliates care about them. As first movers in the area of “celebarketing”, HRI has an affiliate fully dedicated to “harnessing the power of celebrities to create an enabling environment for empowering the powerless” and today’s human interest story is just about them. Do read on and shed a tear if so inclined; and, should you want to share your own success story, remember that HRIs call for abstract remains open.

CelebrAID: The Humanitarian Appeal for Celebrities

Britney (not her real name) sits quietly in a dark corner of a Haitian village hut and studies her hands. It's a rare moment of quiet reflection for a girl otherwise cast into the shadow of the spotlight.

Britney is one of America's countless vulnerable and most-at-risk celebrities.

On a normal day, Britney will wake up early in the afternoon and begin her arduous daily routine. She climbs out of bed after everyone else in the house is still fast awake and she boils her own water to make a cup of coffee. This is a dangerous task for a girl with a crippling hangover. Almost immediately, she remembers she has children and checks in with her nannies to ensure they will be out of the house for a little while longer. Each day she walks 0.000003 miles to fetch water for her bubble bath. She has very little to eat.

Still, life has improved dramatically for Britney. When CelebrAID found Britney 3 years ago, she was in dire need. She was about to lose her mansion, her children, and her career. She had been exploited endlessly and her name had been tarnished in her Hollywoodian community. We found her in celebrity rags. We approached Britney and let her know that there are people out there who care about her and who want to see her image improve. At first, she was wary and confused, but soon enough, we gained her trust and sent her on her first field mission to a refugee camp in Colombia.

Today, the girl in Haiti is a very different one. Britney emerges from the Haitian hut and into the sunlight, to be photographed cradling a child. "America is a tough place for a young female celebrity" Britney says with wisdom beyond her years. "There is an entrenched culture of slut-shaming and if any female celebrity dares to drunkenly expose a glimpse of her vag or french-kiss another woman on stage...her chances of being treated with respect significantly decrease. Thankfully, CelebrAID is there without fail to provide PR-disaster relief" she announces in a calm manner as she manages to walk in a straight line on one of Port-au-Prince's few roads cleared of debris.

"For so long, I had no idea I could claim the right to aid. I thought the right to aid was reserved for elite celebrities that were well-educated and had a reasonable understanding of world affairs that was reflected in the dignified manner with which they carried themselves, despite their fame and fortune. But CelebrAID taught me the principle of non-discrimination - that ALL celebrities EVERYWHERE have the right to participate in 3-day overseas missions to pre-arranged, thoughtfully selected field sites that demonstrate "model" programmes that make a difference in the life of the poor. No celebrity should be deprived of their right to engage in awkward conversations with poor people they will never see again. Even the most vulnerable caste of celebrity should have the chance to put on a stern face with a furrowed brow and nod thoughtfully as they relay their story of visiting Pakistani earthquake victims at a NY-cocktail party" says a teary-eyed Britney.

In addition to CelebrAID's rights-based approach to celebrity disaster relief, another way CelebrAID has been able to reach out successfully to a whole new generation of stars, is through the power of role-modeling. This is especially important for female celebrities. Old-timer celebrity, but relative new-comer to the aid scene, Madonna, illustrates this point.

"Girls like us don't need a hand-out - we want a hand-up", Madonna thoughtfully explains. "Preferably when that hand is formed into a fist," she adds. Even for the infamous "brilliant business woman" it took decades to realize the massive power of celebrity aid. "I saw Bono doing it, I saw Geldof doing it, but it didn't really click until I saw the world see Angelina doing it" she says as she happily bounces her adopted son on her lap.

Indeed, CelebrAID harnesses the technique of "behavior role modeling" to inspire at-risk celebrities to gain confidence in themselves. "I mean, here I was in LA right, and I was thinking to know, if Cameron Diaz can take photographs with poor children in the vast slums of Nairobi, then so can I," beamed Nicole Richie, proudly displaying her new photos of herself with a small group of Kenyan schoolchildren.

While some international charities prefer to partner up with dignified celebrities like Cate Blanchette or respectable musicians like Angelique Kidjo, CelebrAID specializes in celebrity disaster relief - daring to go where the need is greatest for celebrity reconstruction. CelebrAID focuses on the LDCs (Least Developed Celebrities) even though it would be easier to work with more reliable artists that have spent years legitimately honing their craft, such as Kate Winslet.

"Working in disaster zones such as Lindsay Lohan is so much more rewarding than working in predictable and safe places like [Denzel] Washington" reflects Sarah Witman, a long-time employee and spokesperson for CelebrAID. "Yes, all celebrities have the right to aid, but it's much more satisfying touring with Paris Hilton and seeing the look on her face when she is finally able to distinguish the difference between the region of West Africa and the country of South Africa. I knew right then and there that I wanted to dedicate my life to ensure each and every celebrity has the chance to gain a basic education."

Thanks to generous donors like yourself, CelebrAID boasts Nobel-Prize-worthy results. CelebrAID increased the celebrity participation rate (CPR) by 500% in just the last 5 years! With such a dramatic increase in the use of CPR, CelebrAID is seeing the celebrity mortality rate (CMR) plummet to levels approaching zero! "We are confident that within 2 years, we will be able to report near-universal enrollment of celebrities in aid projects in ever single country of the world!" exclaims Witman. "This would NOT have been possible without the very generous time the average hard-working American citizen volunteers every single week - often daily - tracking the every going-on and whereabout in the lives of celebrities. By showing you care, they care too."

CelebrAID is not without its critics, however. The Malthus Institute released a controversial report last month that questioned the long-term sustainability of celebrity spread. "Yes we are pleased to see CMR decrease so drastically, but no one is asking how indigenous cultures will cope with the influx of celebrities as the CPR far outstrips the CMR. We believe CMR is being artificially deflated by the activities of INGOs such as CelebrAID and issue strong caution that soon aid workers might be overburdened and without capacity to respond to so many celebrity needs" warned a Malthus spokesperson.

We are at the end of our tour with Britney in Haiti and she seems content and at peace. She is holding the little hand of Veronique, a 10 year old Haitian girl. Veronique is wearing a beautiful white dress that was distributed to her by Britney; she looks up at the star and smiles shyly. In a barely audible voice, Veronique whispers:

"I am very happy for Britney. When she first came to Haiti she seemed a little nervous but after us children told her not to worry about her problems and that everything would turn out ok, she really cheered up. Thank you CelebrAID for giving Britney the chance to come and take pictures with us."

Veronique walks away, still with many of her own problems, but happy knowing that she was able to make a difference in the life and publicity ratings of even just one celebrity.

How can YOU help? Here are three simple ways you can take action TODAY. Like our celebrities at an Oscars after-party, they are easy:

  1. Become our fan on facebook and follow us on Twitter. In the 21st century, facebook-friending and Twitter-following are the two single most important ways we will talk about changing the world.
  2. Talk to your friends and family about the need for celebrity aid. You can download the inspirational story of Amy Whinehouse at our website. The more you care, the more celebrities care too.
  3. SPONSOR A CELEBRITY TODAY! For as little as the price of a manicure a week, you can restore hope and a sense of purpose to the life of a depraved celebrity starting now! As a sponsor, you will receive a photo of your celebrity, a daily gossip email, and progress report. We also encourage you to send fan mail to your celebrity to thank them for their efforts and to let them know that you are watching and rely on them to guide your nearly non-existent political interests. Let them know that because of their cause-involvement, you have heard of a new country though you are not sure where it is exactly, and that because of their tweet, you spent one minute on CelebrAID's website before going back to Perez'.
Thank you CelebrAID for taking Celebarketing to another level!

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