I almost never forward stuff. But Rich Krasney had brought to my attention the fabulous video “Where the Hell is Matt?” on YouTube and I was in love. I actually forwarded the link to my friends and family and demanded they watch it, assuring them (and you): it’s safe for work viewing. I even made someone who worked for me come into my office and watch it, which I know is obnoxious and cruel because he can’t really tell me to buzz off, but I couldn’t help it. It’s that great.
So how excited was I to find that Matt Harding, the videogame programmer turned world-famous awkward dancer, is using his travels and his fame to raise money to buy laptops for children and then plans to go to Rwanda to teach them (thanks to Howard Lake for this tip-off). You can follow Matt at www.wherethehellismatt.com
In honor of Matt, I’m compiling a list of the people who have done the most good for the world using the attention they received for other reasons. Being a philanthropic advisor, my list leans heavily toward those who inspire others to philanthropy, I acknowledge others may be accomplishing greater results with their direct action. This list is about leverage.
- Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. She used to be considered a crazy, possibly incestuous oddball. He guest-starred on Jackass (I know because I watched that show. Now you know too much about me). They have now done more to bring attention to the global poverty and health issues, and the ongoing plight of New Orleans, than any government agency or nonprofit ever could. People flock to their movies and they continually command the world stage, as much for their family and philanthropy as for their acting. And their money is where their mouths are. I won’t hear a single word against them.
- Bill Clinton. The Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting draws committed philanthropists and passionate activists. Everyone there makes a public commitment about what they are going to do to make the world better. The next year, if they haven’t made good, they can’t come back. Recent additions to the Clinton Foundation list of programs include CGI U, for bringing the next generation of social leaders together, and the Millenium Network, for young professionals. Politics aside, he’s bringing together people who don’t just talk, they ACT.
- Bono. I seem to recall various studies that show some embarrasing percentage of Americans can’t find South Africa, or even the continent of Africa, on a map. Thanks to Bono and his (RED) campaign, and his collaborations with celebrity pals, the marketing power of some of the world’s largest companies is being used to tell the developed world about the problems of Africa. I believe in the promise of (RED): that teenagers made aware today become active tomorrow. Does buying stuff solve the world’s problems? No. People do. But before people will act, you have to let them know about the problem. Bono is a rock star.
- Oprah Winfrey. There was a lot of whining among philanthropy professionals about how “The Big Give” made it look “too easy.” I thought those folks completely missed the boat: the point is to make it look easy, because the point is to get people to think of themselves as philanthropists and to look for everyday opportunities to practice “random acts of kindness.” If Oprah featured a regular philanthropy guru on her daily show (a Nate Berkus or a Dr. Phil of doing good), she’d be number one on this list.
- Princes Will and Harry. I was too young to understand the Princess Diana thing. But her sons move me and make me focus on the better half of the Jekyl and Heidi personality of “the people’s princess.” I loved their charity concert last year, and Prince Harry in particular has carried on an enormous dedication to Sentebale, the charity he founded to build schools in Africa. Check out the MSNBC story on his work here. Given the British obsession with the royals, I guarantee these young men are setting an example for their entire generation across the pond.
Honorable Mention: Jet Li. I read an article recently where Jet Li, who has the title role in the just-released Mummy III, spent his interview talking about his philanthropy rather than his acting. He was just more excited about the philanthropy. A huge star with enormous range in Asia, he’s a major inspiration and has the potential to be a rallying point for Asian philanthropy.