Questioning the Power of Celebrity: The Making of Give Us the Money

By Bosse Lindquist, Director of Give Us the Money
Posted on November 26, 2012

From Live Aid to Make Poverty History, celebrities have become activists against poverty. Bob Geldof and Bono have been the most prominent voices advocating on behalf of the poor. But have their concerts and campaigns really lifted millions out of poverty? Give Us the Money premieres tonight as part of the Why Poverty? series special on Global Voices.

 

Summer of 1974, I hitchhiked from Sweden to Kenya in order to escape my family and upbringing. I ended up teaching in a small rural secondary school by Lake Victoria. It changed my life in many ways and I fear I learned more about life than I managed to teach my students. Living on a local Kenyan salary in a mud hut gave me a crash course in the basics of life for a substantial part of Earth’s population. It also gave me a different perspective on development workers and foreign aid. 

I could see my fellow wazungus (white people) whiz by on the national road in luxurious air-conditioned cars, too often insulated from reality physically, culturally, and intellectually. To me, this seemed like at least a partial explanation to why many development projects didn’t deliver the goods in those days. Ever since I’ve been wondering what outsiders can do to affect change in somebody else’s country. Especially when it comes to beating the totally atrocious and unacceptable extent of people living in extreme poverty.

Getting the chance to conceive and direct one of the Why Poverty? documentaries gave me a chance to investigate whether there is foreign aid or advocacy that actually helps to make a difference. Focusing on Bono and Bob Geldof’s high-level lobbying also gave the added opportunity to check whether my prejudices about celebrity actually hold true – were their efforts as self-centered, short sighted, and superficial as many believe? 

Spending the better part of 18 months in the company of politicians, gatekeepers, lobbyists, rock stars, aid workers, government ministers, experts, and activists, confirmed the fact that much development money has been squandered in the past. But more surprisingly, it also proved that there most certainly are important efforts that deliver provable results. Today, about eight million HIV-positive people in Africa receive medication thanks to international and African efforts. Perhaps 50 million more kids receive primary education on the continent than before. Six of the world’s fastest growing economies are also on the continent. How much of this is due to celebrities, such as Bono and Bob Geldof, is impossible to say. Clearly though, their efforts have clearly helped in achieving this. For me, the sum total is a positive one. Though there are tremendous problems, injustices, and emergencies, the fight against extreme poverty isn’t hopeless at all. It helps to fight.

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