Heather Freitag

George Washington University Global Communication masters student, focusing on international development and public diplomacy. Love to travel. Dabbling in photography.
Heather Freitag has written 2 posts for Take Five

Bono: Celebrity Diplomat Extraordinaire or Annoying Celebrity Fluff?

This week, Bono is storming through DC. He delivered a speech at an event at Georgetown on Monday, met with Vice President Biden yesterday, is holding a webcast with World Bank President Jim Yong Kim today and is meeting with lawmakers everywhere in between. Bono’s worldwide efforts over the years have made him a well-know figure in celebrity diplomacy; but, the concept of celebrity diplomacy is nothing new. Celebrities have represented organizations as ambassadors for decades. While some might scoff at the idea of employing celebrities as champions for important issues, it is easy to see where the draw comes from – attention. If managed correctly, celebrity diplomacy is a great tool for engaging audiences.

The Draw of Celebrity “Endorsements”

Celebrity diplomacy can be an incredibly effective resource because of celebrities’ ability to garner media attention.  Celebrity gossip and other entertainment-focused soft news is far-reaching and widely consumed.  While some may view the magazines next to the grocery checkout or television talk shows as strange places to go for news, many Americans look to these sources.  As it relates to diplomacy, this means that celebrities can often reach a wider audience than politicians or policy experts, and can engage people in topics that they may not ordinarily seek out or follow.

Detractors might argue that the fleeting focus on whatever issue a celebrity is peddling does not necessarily translate into action and does little more than inflate the celebrity’s ego.  If they care so much, why don’t they just donate their millions and leave the rest of us alone?  This view is all wrong.  Many of the programs celebrities support deal with universal issues that require broad changes in policy and attitudes, in addition to funding.  It might be true that the temporary spotlight on poverty or AIDS that a celebrity brings may not spur everyone to act.  Still, a conversation is started and many people might act, or maybe just start thinking differently.

Politicians Like Celebrities Too

Whether they feel silly admitting it or not, politicians like celebrities too.  Members of Congress and their staff can pretend that a celebrity making the rounds on the Hill is of no more interest to them than any other group promoting their issues – they are likely lying.  I worked on the Hill for two years and I know how the atmosphere is when someone like Angelina Jolie comes to the Hill – it is not the same as if the head of Refugees International comes to discuss the same issues; and I am sure that you can find more than one staffer roaming the halls a little more than usual this week trying to catch a glimpse of Bono.  Celebrities, for better or worse, also have an easier time catching the attention of politicians than policy experts or issue advocates.  Case in point – Bono met with Vice President Biden.

Still, liking celebrities is not the same as taking them seriously or listening to them.  InterMedia, with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, released a report entitled Government Decision-Makers’ Perceptions of Celebrities as Champions for International Development, which discusses pros and cons of celebrity diplomacy.  The report cites celebrities’ ability to raise the profile of issues, but also mentions that overall, lawmakers are skeptical of celebrity involvement.  Successful celebrity diplomats do not rely on their star power alone – they understand the issues that they advocate for and can engage in conversation.

In the end, celebrity diplomacy is much like any other form of diplomacy – it relies on legitimacy and credibility.  If celebrities are genuinely interested in the issues, that will come through; otherwise, it may just be PR fluff.


Opportunity is Calling – How Mobile Phones Can Increase Entrepreneurship among Women in Developing Countries

“I get more respect now,” she says. “Before people in the village wouldn’t talk to me but they do now.”

~Jamirun Nesa on owning a business (BBC News, October 2002)

Image source: BBC.com

Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), especially mobile phones, can have a huge impacton the business opportunities available to women in developing countries by providing access to markets, conserving time, connecting women with other business owners and fostering empowerment.

A common business opportunity is to sell goods that are either grown or handmade; however, many of the poor, especially women, have restricted access to markets because of time constraints, lack of transportation and safety concerns, among other factors. A cell phone easily addresses all of these issues. Without leaving their homes, women can call to check prices, find buyers for their products or place orders.

Additionally, even if women want to start businesses, they are typically responsible for the bulk of household activities and childcare, which is time consuming. In this respect, the efficiency and time saved by using a cell phone is invaluable. The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), in partnership with the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, recently released a report focusing on how connectivity can create entrepreneurial opportunities for women in India. One of the profiled entrepreneurs, Sunita, runs a silkworm breeding business. She not only uses her cell phone for market access, but also to remotely activate a water pump for her silkworm shed – saving her the 3-4 km walk to turn it on and off.

Another benefit of ICTs which is raised in ICRW’s report is that women can connect with other entrepreneurs. Social norms, distance and time constraints that would usually prevent these groups from forming are eased by cell phone ownership. As a result, many women form self-help groups with other entrepreneurs to establish business connections, stimulate creativity, identify best practices, answer questions and serve as a general support network.

Finally, the phones themselves can become a business.  In places where cell phones or landlines are scarce, individuals who have a mobile can sell minutes – a modern phone booth.  As an example, the Grameen Foundation established a program to give small loans to poor women to start this type of business.

Overall, by allowing women to access markets and making tasks less time-consuming, cell phones lower or eliminate some of the barriers to starting and operating a business. In turn, owning a business leaves many women feeling incredibly empowered. Women entrepreneurs can challenge social norms, gain respect from their family and community, improve their individual confidence and set examples for future generations.

From a policy perspective, programs that focus on increasing women’s access to ICTs are a relatively inexpensive way to address many problems that women entrepreneurs face in the developing world.

On an individual level, you can donate old phones to organizations that reuse or recycle them to provide phones to developing countries.  Some organizations, such as Hope Phones, will even accept broken phones and pay for shipping.

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