Celebrity Charity Not Only Issue in Madonna’s Malawi Failure

Publié le par madonnafansworld

La charité de célébrité en question, pas seulement à cause l'échec de Madonna au Malawi.


Opinion: Celebrity Charity Not Only Issue in Madonna’s Malawi Failure
March 31, 2011, 11:00 am

The failure of a Madonna-sponsored organization to build a planned girls’ academy in Malawi says as much about the nature of “top-down development projects” as it does about celebrity-driven charity, according to a Guardian opinion writer.
Raising Malawi abandoned the school effort last week after project officials ran up $3.8-million in often questionable expenses.
The project’s failure shows that “good intentions are not enough,” Claire Provost writes in a contribution to the British daily’s online Comment Is Free opinion blog, but also “points to much deeper debates about how development happens: Can it come from outside and above? Or must it come from inside and below?
Ms. Provost says the spotlight trained on the Malawi scandal due to Madonna’s involvement should shine “less on the diva and more on the deeper challenges of development: transparency, accountability, and engagement from below.”

Source: Philanthropy Today - The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

 

Madonna's folly in Malawi
A western charity fails in a top-down development project. But the spotlight shines more on the star than on the unbuilt school
Claire Provost
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 30 March 2011 18.30 BST

In Malawi, about $3.8m (£2.4m) has disappeared and a school has been left unbuilt. Alone, that story would never make international headlines. But because the money and the project belonged to Madonna's charity Raising Malawi, the scandal has quickly made its way into media outlets worldwide.
Celebrities are, of course, not newcomers to the game of getting unprecedented media coverage for otherwise unpopular issues. The celebrity campaigner has become so prolific that there is now a website whose sole purpose is to keep a record of celebrities and their charitable causes. By today's count, it registers 1,676 charities and 2,493 celebrities.
In 2008, the development economist William Easterly said that part of the new millennium's explosion of interest in "saving Africa" could be explained by the mass advocacy celebrity campaigns spearheaded by the Bonos and the Geldofs of the world. But aside from the Malawi project's star-studded cast – Tom Cruise and Gwyneth Paltrow were also among Madonna's backers – there is nothing truly earth-shattering in this story of a development project that failed to break ground. We've been here before.
Indeed, from what's emerged so far, the story of Madonna and the unbuilt school has all the elements of a modern parable about the failure of top-down development projects. There's a wealthy western donor. There's the well-intentioned charity, Raising Malawi, whose name paints Malawi not as a country with a complex history, but as weak and infantile, in need of guidance and support from those who know better.
A heated land dispute pits villagers against the wealthy western donor and the Malawian government, which takes her side: "Don't you know better? You need a school. You should be grateful." Not long after, allegations follow of private jets being flown into the country, laden with luxuries (exercise machines and expensive wines). But the project only truly begins to falter after auditors uncover "outlandish expenses" – salaries, private cars and golf memberships – and the charity's executive director bows out. Amid the brewing controversy, the project is pulled by the wealthy donor, who hopes to cut her loses.
In the aftermath, staff members are suddenly left without jobs, and file suit for lost wages, unfair dismissal and non-payment of benefits. As the "mismanagement of funds" is said to have happened overseas, those among the general public who answered the charity's call for donations can do little to hold it to account. Though Madonna had chosen education as her cause, she has now been forced to share her spotlight with the much more complex development challenges of corruption, accountability and disenfranchisement.
In one sense, the message from the failed project appears simple: good intentions are not enough, and money in the wrong hands can be worse than no money at all. But the unbuilt school also points to much deeper debates about how development happens: can it come from outside and above? Or must it come from inside and below?
Celebrity engagement with development issues has, as one might expect, evolved over time. Today, celebrities are much more than pretty faces for charity appeals. They're also out and about, lobbying politicians and setting up their own foundations. But, according to William Easterly, celebrities have been too quick to rub shoulders and hobnob with the powerful. And they overstep the line, he says, by claiming expertise on the basis of their stardom.
What the world needs, he argues, is not the "celebrity wonk" who follows fads and promotes top-down technocratic solutions (Build more schools! Throw in some toilets!), but the "celebrity activist" who challenges power dynamics and questions the status quo. All too often, star-studded projects oversimplify complex issues and promote patronising messages of how the west can save the rest.
And besides, how can you focus on a complex issue when there's a celebrity in the room? When Time magazine published an Angelina Jolie op-ed on Darfur in 2009, it wasn't illustrated with an image of refugees or of Sudan's president, Omar al-Bashir, but with a close-up of cat eyes and Angelina's famous pout. In the process, say critics, attention is diverted away from the tougher, more nuanced issues in development.
Madonna now has under two weeks to respond to the complaints lodged by her former staff members. There are bound to be follow-up reports. Let's hope the spotlight shines less on the star and more on the unbuilt school, less on the diva and more on the deeper challenges of development: transparency, accountability and engagement from below.

Source: The Guardian.

Celebrity Charity Not Only Issue in Madonna’s Malawi Failure
Madonna poses with schoolgirls at the site of her planned girls' academy in Malawi last year.
Photo: Mike Hutchings/Reuters.

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