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How do Goodwill Ambassadors contribute to UN agencies mission (the case of UNICEF)


In changing realities various agencies and organizations commence to take more creative approaches in their activity. One of the illustrations of this assumption it’s cooperation of the UN agencies’ activity with celebrities so-called “Goodwill Ambassadors” in the field of humanitarian action. Tremendous growth of number of celebrity diplomats brings up a question about how do they contribute to the organization’s agenda and are there any that create impediments in that area. The author attempts to address this question by taking a look at some facets of their activity (raising awareness and fund-raising of UNICEF Goodwill Ambassadors). Here, it should be noted that one of the key features of this phenomena is social network’s involvement that plays crucial role in disseminating information about the most relevant issues of the day and attracting funds for agencies. At the same time, there are certain pitfalls that preclude them from being more active participants in humanitarian action.

Key words: goodwill ambassadors, UN, UNICEF, humanitarian work, celebrity diplomacy.


Актуальность, цели, задачиDespite the numerous efforts of the international community to cop withvarious conflicts or issues like natural disasters, apparently, there is still a lot to do, and, fortunately, international actors do understand that they have to cooperate more broadly and closely and take more creative approaches in order to achieve common goals1. One of the most fascinating tools used by wide range of international entities is “hiring” different movie stars, musicians and sportsmen to help them raise awareness among people or support in terms of fund raising to carry out programs they designed. Needless to say, the majority of international agencies (including a vast number of non-governmental organizations) have at least one so called “ambassador” who helps them in carrying out their mission2. On the other hand, there are some doubts in this field that mainly focus on an idea of self-promotion. Some experts contend that various celebrities use their partnership with an agency only to promote themselves3. In addition, the activity in the field of politicizing celebrities to some point affects such notion as “ambassador”, which was primarily implied “an accredited diplomat sent by a country as its official representative to a foreign country”4; so, to some extent, it broadens horizons of diplomacy by adding substantive humanitarian aspect. Hence, there an important question arises how this system works does and more importantly does it contribute to UN agencies (primarily, UNICEF) agenda taking into account tremendous number of Ambassadors of Goodwill. In order to answer this question some aspects and key features of their cooperation with UN agencies will be scrutinized with a special focus on UNICEF and its Goodwill Ambassadors and some attempts to make these partnership more clear and substantive also would be taken. The goal of this paper taking into account the research question is to find out specificaspects of the Goodwill Ambassadors’ contribution to UN agencies’ (UNICEF, primarily) agenda. Also given the goal there isa number of tasks that were introduced in order to achieve the goal:

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– conduct historical review in order to identify current situation and their (celebrities) activity in various projects;

– analyze their social media involvement (Twitter as an example);

– scrutinize documents and papers in field in order to find out what aspects are missing and propose measures that could positively affect activism of Goodwill Ambassadors.

In this paper this term will be broadly considered as a prominent man from the world of art, music, cinema or sport recruited by an international organization to highlight fundamental issues and to draw attention to its activities also UNICEF’s definition of this term will be a guideline (“well-known personalities willing to do their utmost to mobilize support for children among the general public and within their industry. These volunteers have a unique ability to touch people’s hearts with their passion and commitment”)5.

According to official website of the Fund: «Celebrities attract attention, so they are capable to focus the world’s eyes on the necessities of children, both in their own countries and by visiting field missions and emergency programs overseas. They can use their talents and fame to fundraise and advocate for children and support UNICEF’s mission to safeguard every child’s right to health, education, equality and protection»6. So the agency is guided by an assumption that mainly they make contribution to such dimensions: public awareness, fund-raising.

Historical background

First of all, we should cast a glance at historical aspect of this subject. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) was the first organization of the United Nations system to institute a Goodwill Ambassadors program in 1954. A famous film actor Danny Kaye was the first Goodwill Ambassador and we should admit that he succeeded in that field and due to his involvement in numerous projects of the agency in Thailand, Indonesia, Japan and other countries he managed to obtain his goal — to raise awareness about organization’s activity7. This idea was followed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in the early 1980s. Through time, the concept has proliferated to 16 United Nations system organizations and today, 13 organizations, including most funds and programs and four of the specialized agencies, have such programs within their framework. There were some transformations regarding their role and perception by society. In the early period of UNICEF activity, celebrity advocates such as Danny Kaye or Peter Ustinov can be described as “good international citizens”8. Throughout years, the UN’s practice of celebrity recruitment was renovated from an ad hoc, inter-personal series of relations between the show business and political realms into a more sophisticated system of engagement9.

One of the milestones in the development of these phenomena was 1997 when this idea was to some extent reintroduced by its Secretary-GeneralKofi Annan, who saw criticism of the United Nations as a public relations problem. In 1997, the Secretary-General decided to use actors, singers and sportsmen widely to persuade unwilling governments to honor their commitments made in UN forums and to inspire international public opinion to support UN aims. His idea led to a remarkable progress in the number of Goodwill Ambassadors — by June 2010, the United Nations had 175 such Ambassadors on the global scale, at the same time, hundreds of regional and national ones. Among the UN agencies, UNICEF had 33 global Ambassadors (including celebrities such as Whoopi Goldberg and Susan Sarandon), UNESCO — 42 (with Nelson Mandela and, for instance, Forest Whitaker), FAO — 32 (for example, Celine Dion), UNFPA — 11 (Princess Basma Bint Talal (Jordan) among them), UNAIDS — 9 (leaded by actress Naomi Watts), UNHCR — 9 (with Angelina Jolie as a special envoy), UNDP — 6 (including Maria Sharapova), UNODC — 6 (among them Nicholas Cage), WHO — 5 (one of representatives is Nancy Goodman Brinker), UNIFEM — 4 (including Nicole Kidman), and UNIDO — 4 (with Irish businessman Peter Sutherland) with UNEP- 3 (includingDon Cheadle)10. In addition to these, the United Nations crafted a leading group of celebrities called “Messengers of Peace” to “help focus overall attention on the honorable goals of the UN”11. By June 2010 there were twelve Messengers of Peace, including Charlize Theron, George Clooney and Michael Douglas12.

Theoretical background

So, movie stars and other celebrities represent UN agencies in various conflict areas and make millions of dollars in donations and involve the media in universal social issues. One might ask what indeed motivates celebrity activism for worldwide problems and how do they conduce to universal involvement. Here we should note that this idea of celebrity engagement can be considered in terms of using soft power introduced by neoliberal scholar Joseph Nye, Jr. that can be narrowed down to “the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payment”13 and to “the ability to affect others through the co-optive means of framing the agenda, persuading, and eliciting positive attraction in order to obtain preferred outcomes”14.

Andrew F. Cooper in his article dedicated to celebrity diplomacy outlines argues that they have certain influence on shaping global agenda, in other words, by speech acts they in certain extent contribute to a process of securitization in terms of bringing some issues up and attempting to solve it15. Mr. Cooper and others have described the phenomenon of celebrity’s engagement as “celebrity diplomacy”16. According to Cooper, the celebrity diplomat is seen as “largely a public phenomenon, defined by an activism on the world stage that is cast as the stylistic opposite from the insulated and secretive world of mainstream diplomacy”17. Another researcher M.D. Alleyne at the same time, for example, draws a distinction between the celebrity politician and celebrity diplomat18. This difference lies in the separation of political officials from the autonomous celebrity figure whose engagement are not restricted to national boundaries.

Ideas of John Street about stars embeddedness in political activism (their self-promotion aspect) are also crucial in this case19. The thing is one of the main critiques related to this system is that celebrities mainly participate in the campaigns launched by any organization to promote themselves not organization or make people pay attention to a particular issue. One of the reasons to think so it’s the fact that many movie stars even they advocate for peaceful development for children and other pivotal matters are filmed in cruel movies with an extreme amount of violence and other things that may contaminate children’s perception.

Also there are some other papers in the filed dedicated to analyzing the utilization of celebrities in organizational activity taking certain historical approach (for example, paper written by L. Tsaliki, C. A. Frangonikolopoulos)20. The problem is none of these papers take into accounts such aspect as technological (social networks) development that in certain ways helps explain their contribution. At the same, some them stress attention on role of social media in raising awareness, for example, when, after a visit to Africa, George Clooney appeared on Winfrey’s show in April 2006, donations to UNICEF sprung up by 20 per cent, and when Angelina Jolie gave an interview in CNN, contributions to UNHCR grew by more than half a million dollars21.

As for review of documents. We should put an emphasis on the fact unfortunately those documents that were examined in this case don’t contain valuable information about the Goodwill Ambassadors’s activism, at the same time, they are important in the context of consideration of humanitarian work fulfilled by UN agencies. For example, the financial report issued last year by UNICEF does not have almost any information about contemporary involvement of celebrities in its work22, hence, the last part of the work is an attempt to introduce some measures that would help to make their engagement more subtle. Other documents are dedicated to scrutinizing possible ways of making the aspect of celebrities’ contribution more holistic. The set of documents used in this article helps analyze various facets and issues that face different international institutions when they deal with celebrities as their “Goodwill Ambassadors”. Some news articles were also used in order to try to get a holistic picture of the celebrities efforts (as an example, an article about a project in India, where local celebrities made a great contribution in the field of education)

Основная часть, Arguments

The idea of “Goodwill Ambassadors” as was stated before was first presented by UNICEF several decades ago. One of the interesting ways of finding out the dynamics of changes is analyzing its activity in social networks and how does internet users reflect on various facets of an organization23. So, if we try to scrutinize UNICEF activity in the context celebrities and their humanitarian activity we should recognize the role of social networks in dissemination of information and raising awareness among people around the world. Also, if look at the statistics we can say that, for instance, the number of followers are tend to grow. For example we can consider a natural disaster in the Philippines in November 2013 of cause it does not necessarily implies that they were affected by them but it’s quite interesting correlation, of cause the number of request also are increased. One might say that in case of natural disasters the level of donations is usually high and it is what it is, but, from our perspective, their engagement makes the amount of donations greater. For example, one of the most prominent UNICEF Goodwill Ambassadors Olympic champion from South Korea, figure skater Kim Yu-na has donated more than $100,000 to help victims and endures of the horrific disaster in the Philippines, so it had a certain impact on number of donations and it also affected in terms of social coverage and. According to data provided by such service TweetReach the number of mentions after #UNICEF together with #KimYuna and #Haiyan has increased almost twice24. In addition, the donations campaign was supported by other UNICEF Goodwill Ambassadors such as Mia Farrow, Selena Gomez, Katy Perry and David Beckham as result for example more than 60,000 people overall have responded to their requests by spreading the information and making donations25. Here, we should say that number of retweets and mentions during some crisis situation also are tending to increase in comparison to a regular period when no disaster is unfolding.

The other example of celebrities and Goodwill Ambassadors contribute to raising awareness is UNICEF’s Indian division project “Awaaz Do” aimed at providing an opportunity for almost eight million uneducated Indian children back to education26. The thing is it was keenly sustained by Bollywood stars Priyanka Chopra and Shekhar Kapur, who kept disseminating information about the project. So during the three-month campaign, the #AWAAZDO hash-tag received 1,525 references and the @UNICEFIndia Twitter account gained 2,198 supporters. The campaign itself received 60,540 impressions on Twitter during the time period, as calculated by TweetReach. By the end of the campaign, the “Awaaz Do” website gathered 203,248 signups of people attracted to “joining the movement” to help get India’s children back to school. So, this illustration shows that celebrity’s involvement in various campaigns will more likely lead to distributing information about burning issues and therefore it celebrities involvement in social media commences to play important role in this aspect.

But there are certain pitfalls in this field, for instance, celebrities are to some point tending to cross the boundaries of their functions. For instance, over time Goodwill Ambassadors have become more critical of the moral stance of the UN. Mia Farrow is a longtime UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, and is an enthusiastic supporter of stopping the continuous genocide in Darfur argued that the small peacekeeping force set up by the African Union (AU) is inadequate in terms of the ongoing tragedy. More recently, for example, along with Farrow, another celebrity Richard Gere supported calls for the boycotting of the 2008 Beijing Olympics27.

Moreover, after scrutinizing a number of reports and documents issued by UNICEF we should say regarding the current situation we would like to propose the following steps that would hopefully make the work of Goodwill Ambassadors more effective.There should beаcertain amount of accountability that would, for example, take forms of reporting to the headquarter or to a division annually, offering new incentives for regional division to attract the celebrities to come and participate by introducing new forms of activity. Another suggestion is to renovate the old approach by organizing festivals of arts among the youth in their local community, creating a commission of evaluation of their activity among criteria of evaluation both quantitative and quality ones, for example, how many children did start attending various courses (if they provided) after visiting a celebrity, how much money did they earn on commercials et al. Here, also if we look at quantitative aspect there is an obvious tendency to increasing the number of Goodwill Ambassadors (that number should be reduced), but, unfortunately, there is no sustainable approach to evaluate their contribution specifically, for example, how much soccer star Leo Messi contributed to decreasing the number of children affected by poverty or something like that. Additionally, to our mind, there should be more cooperation within the United Nations body in extend of how to alleviate the process of managing this aspect, exchange of views. Also, we should put an emphasis on the fact that they are one countries have a lot of Goodwill Ambassadors’ attention, at the same, time some countries are not covered at all, here, we should pay attention to the fact mainly all this celebrity forces are focused on Africa, at the same time, unfortunately the amount of problems in different regions of the world are not tend to vanish right away. So, there is an obvious need to regroup the disposal forces in order to embrace as more countries and regions as possible.


So we have to recognize their role and contribution to agenda of agencies of the United Nations system. Their role has definitely changed thought time and nowadays with widespread mass media and social networks coverage they begin to play even significant role in the field humanitarian issues by participating in various projects aimed at providing help to children, mainly in Africa (this one of disadvantages of this system) that involvement kind of covers two dimensions: firs of all, it helps spreading information about a project or an issue there in Africa, as an example, that in its turn leads to fund-raising and donations (the only sources that UNICEF can use), and we should admit that their contribution here is enormous, but, at the same, as was stated before due to lack of transparency in the filed it’s not easy to identify how were these contributions used exactly, and what kind of goals did one or another celebrity persuade — is he/she involved for image or he/she really wants to make some difference, that is why there is a need of sophisticated scrutinizing of appointment stage and making some changes there, also, to our mind, it would better to reduce their number in order to start do some serious evaluations of their activity. But, overall, taking into account changing realities Goodwill Ambassadors are quite useful tool that organizations within UN’s framework have.


1For example, Resolution adopted by the General Assembly (65/1. Keeping the promise: united to achieve the Millennium Development Goals) // http://www.un.org/en/mdg/summit2010/pdf/outcome_documentN1051260.pdf

2Dyer, R. (2006). Stars as Images. In D. P. Marshall (Ed.), The Celebrity Culture Reader. 153 — 176. New York: Routledge.

3Alleyne, M. D. (2005). The United Nations’ Celebrity Diplomacy. SAIS Review, 25(1), 175-185

4For example, definition of “ambassador’’ in English // http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/ambassador?q=ambassador

5Goodwill Ambassadors & Advocates // http://www.unicef.org/people/people_Ambassadors.html


8Tsaliki, L., Frangonikolopoulos, C. A., & Huliaras, A. (2011). Transnational celebrity

activism in global politics : changing the world? Bristol, UK; Chicago: Intellect. p. 38


10Goodwill Ambassadors of the United Nations System // http://www.un.org/sg/mop/gwa.shtml

11United Nations Messengers of Peace // http://www.un.org/sg/mop/


13Nye, Joseph Jr. (2004) “Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics” New York Public

Affairs. p. x

14Nye, Joseph Jr. (2011) “The Future of Power” Public Affairs, New York. p. 20.

15Cooper, A. F. (2008). Celebrity Diplomacy. Boulder: Paradigm Publishers. p. 15

16Ibidem, p. 26


18Alleyne, M. D. (2005). The United Nations’ Celebrity Diplomacy. SAIS Review, 25(1), 175-185.

19 Street, J. (2012). British Journal of Politics & International Relations. August 2012, Vol. 14 Issue 3, pp. 346-356

20Tsaliki, L., Frangonikolopoulos, C. A., & Huliaras, A. (2011). Transnational celebrity

activism in global politics : changing the world? Bristol, UK; Chicago: Intellect.

21Baiden, R. (2013). The celebrity burden: Celebrity campaigns in the pursuit of humanitarianism. Michigan Technological University, UMI Dissertations Publishing. p. 40.

22United Nations Children’s Fund Financial report and audited financial statements for the biennium ended 31 December 2011 and Report of the Board of Auditors // http://www.unicef.org/about/execboard/files/A-67-5-Add2_Financial_reports-ODS-English.pdf

23Farrell, H. (2012). The Consequences of the Internet for Politics. Annual Review of Political Science Vol. 15 P. 35-52

24For example, TweetReach Report for Kimyuna // http://tweetreach.com/reports/9038765?oauth=1

25For example, official Facebook page of David Beckham // https://www.facebook.com/Beckham

267 Twitter Marketing Campaigns to Learn From // http://mashable.com/2011/07/06/twitter-campaigns/; Lending a voice to UNICEF’s “Awaaz Do” // http://www.bhatnaturally.com/online/lending-a-voice-to-unicefs-awaaz-do/

27Tsaliki, L., Frangonikolopoulos, C. A., & Huliaras, A. (2011). Transnational celebrity

activism in global politics : changing the world? Bristol, UK; Chicago: Intellect. p. 76

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