And the winner is … How stars are using their celebrity to make social change

This awards season it’s great to acknowledge the ways celebrities are giving back. Many are reaching beyond classic “checkbook charity” to be advocates for causes in which they believe.

Amy Poehler advocates for Girl Power.

Did you know that Amy Poehler runs a web channel to build girls’ esteem? The motto for Smart Girls at the Party is “change the world by being yourself.” Episodes include regular segments like “Ask Amy,” where most recently the founder talked about how to be positive about yourself. There’s also a regular contribution from college students, where young women talk about navigating change, most recently, the ups and downs of rooming with your best friend. Looking for humor? You might like the Meow Meow Music a not-so-silly segment from Poehler’s peer Amy Miles, with singing, cats and a point of view presented by, you got it, a girl. Sample lyric? “If a cat had a pizzeria, anchovies wouldn’t cost extra …” All this accrues to giving girls tools for growing up if not strong, then at least assured that there are others like them and they’re not crazy to expect to be treated fairly or to aspire to greatness.

Meanwhile, actor and director Ben Affleck started the Eastern Congo Initiative in 2010, an outlet for both his philanthropy and activism. The humanitarian crisis in Democratic Republic of Congo is grim: In some areas of eastern Congo, 2 out of 3 women have been victims of rape and other forms of sexual violence.  Tens of thousands of children are recruited to become soldiers, and millions of people are denied the chance to earn a living and provide for their families due to continuing instability and poverty.

Affleck pulled a group together in order to bring to light these atrocities, while advocating for action that will allow the people of Congo to forge their own path to stability and peace. Some of their good works include funding a women’s justice group of lawyers and judges, prosecuting assault cases and training a nascent career track of paralegals in rural areas, and schooling vulnerable youth including former child soldiers, sex slaves, and orphans who never attended school. Affleck supports the grant making by going on the stump, using his celebrity stature to inform, educate and lobby for other governments to intervene in the crisis there.

Actress Glenn Close is also using her celebrity to power her activism. Close is working to de-stigmatize the treatment of mental health disorders, inspired by her sister Jessie’s struggle with bipolar disorder, as well as her nephew who lives with schizoaffective disorder. Close created, an advocacy platform for the public to pledge not to discriminate, and to learn the facts of mental illness. She was able to corral some other star power to help with the advocacy, including director and actor Ron Howard who donated direction of a public service announcement, and guitarist/ singer John Mayer who wrote a song for it.

Many more celebrities are finding new avenues to direct their passions, beyond dollars but to use their star power to sincerely advocate for positive social change. They’re setting an example for Hollywood’s next generation.



About christengraham

President of Giving Strong, Inc. Christen advises businesses, foundations and families for how to make a greater social impact.