Dolly and the wildfires, Leo and the climate, Bono and ending poverty. It seems like every celebrity has a pet problem that they use their fame and fortune to try and solve. So can they do it? I took a closer look at a few of the biggest celebrity-economists to find out.
Dolly Parton: (Anti-) Fire Funder
What'd she do? Dolly (who “always believed that charity begins at home”) pledged to give $1000 a month to people made homeless by a series of wildfires that swept through parts of Tennessee last month.
Why did she have to do it? The wildfires damaged over 700 buildings and forced 14,000 people out of their homes. Barack Obama has given the okay for FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) to cover 75% of the state’s firefighting costs, but there’s not much government support available for people who’ve lost their homes and livelihoods after a natural disaster.
Is anyone else doing anything? There's been some support from national organizations like the Red Cross, local businesses, religious groups, and people like government employees or firefighters.Fellow country stars Taylor Swift and Kenny Chesney and even the Country Music Association have contributed to the fund.
Is she going to fix it? It'll certainly help families who immediately need shelter and money to buy food, but it's unlikely to help victims of natural disasters in the long term. The problem is, funds like this could make governments less likely to live up to their responsibilities to their citizens and leave rich individuals to pick up the pieces instead. When Dolly’s no longer around, or decides to stop giving, there might not be anyone left to help families in need.
Leonardo DiCaprio: Environment Enthusiast
What'd he do? Leo has donated $15 million to a number of environmental organisations, including conservation groups, groups tackling the effects of climate change and campaign groups trying to raise awareness about .
Why did he have to do it? With 97% of scientists now agreeing that man-made climate change is a thing, the polar ice caps melting, sea levels rising at an alarming rate and the world’s rainforests being eroded by the day, environmental destruction is a pretty pressing issue. In Leo’s own words, “The destruction of our planet continues at a pace we can no longer afford to ignore.”
Is anyone else doing anything? There are hundreds of charities and campaign groups world wide trying to prevent climate change before it’s too late. It’s high on the UN agenda but international climate summits generally start with a round of apologies from just about everyone for missing their carbon reduction targets yet again. The UK have just abolished the Department for the Environment, and the US have elected a president who doesn’t seem to think climate change is a thing, so it looks like we’re going to have to rely on celebs like Leo more than ever before.
Is he going to fix it? Helping local people to preserve the Amazon probably won’t stop global warming on its own. But the fact that Leo has donated to campaign groups and is using his celebrity power to promote the cause (he’s even made a documentary about it) shows that he’s aware there needs to be a widespread change in the way we live if we want to save the planet. Still, Leo is just one (incredibly handsome) person out of billions; fighting climate change is going to take coordination between governments, organizations, companies and people around the world.
Kim Kardashian & Kanye West: Sole Superheroes
What'd they do? Between them, Kimye donated 1,000 pairs of shoes to charity Soles 4 Souls, an organization that aims to fight poverty by providing shoes to people who can’t afford them.
Why did they have to do it? Soles 4 Souls estimate that 1.2 billion people around the world live in poverty. A lot of those people don’t have basic shoes to protect them from injury and disease. Even more don’t have good enough shoes to go to a job interview. Soles 4 Souls tries to fix that problem.
Is anyone else doing anything? Kimye and Soles 4 Souls are hardly the only ones trying to give shoes to people who need them. TOMS shoes famously donates one pair of shoes for every pair bought. There's also The Shoe That Grows, a campaign to distribute shoes that adapt to children's feet as they age. And Soles for Jesus, which is "changing lives two by two".
Are they going to fix it? This donation alone won’t solve the problem globally, but for the individuals who receive the shoes, this donation could be a real route out of poverty. Whilst Kimye have a lot of shoes between them, even if they donated all the pairs they own, it wouldn’t be enough to make sure everyone living in poverty is able to go to school. Again, like climate change there needs to be a coordinated effort between governments and economic institutions around the world to end poverty for good.
One Direction: Masters of Magic
What'd they do? Louis Tomlinson of One Direction hosted the Believe in Magic charity ball at the Natural History Museum and donated £2 million to the charity himself.
Why did they have to do it? Believe in Magic aim to spread “magic, hope and happiness” to terminally ill children by organizing "once-in-a-lifetime experiences".
Is anyone else doing anything? Lots of celebrities from Miley Cyrus to Clint Eastwood have donated to the similar Make a Wish Foundation, with many more giving their time to meet terminally ill children in hospital.
Are they going to fix it? It’s clear from the testimonies and photos from Believe in Magic and the Make a Wish Foundation that these donations really do bring a smile to the faces of terminally ill children. It’s also likely that the example set by these celebrity gives will encourage others to donate and enable the foundation to continue its work.
JK Rowling: Feminist Fighter
What'd she do? JK Rowling was named one of 2015’s top celebrities givers, donating £10.3 million of her personal fortune through her own charitable funds. The Volant Charitable Trust funds, amongst other things, programmes that help victims of sexual abuse, rape and domestic violence.
Why did she have to do it? Sexual and physical abuse of women is incredibly common. 1 in 5 women in the UK state they have experienced some kind of sexual violence in their lifetime, with 1 in 4 affected by domestic abuse. Despite these pretty shocking stats, government funding is hard to come by.
Is anyone else doing anything? Combatting sexual violence and ‘rape culture’ isn’t just about funding. It requires a fundamental shift in social attitudes towards women. Fortunately 2016 has been a good year in terms of celebrities making noise about female empowerment, with everyone from Emma Watson and Beyonce to John Legend and Patrick Stewart standing up for women’s issues.
Is she going to fix it? Given that women have been equal under the law for a number of years on paper, you'd think the 'powers that be' would be more proactive at tackling the lack of respect for those laws, rather than leaving it to JK Rowling to fix. Unfortunately, she's still needed – and funding these programmes has definitely helped create spaces for victims who to come forward about their experiences. But to actually end violence against women, like schools, law enforcement systems, and the media all need to do their bit.