The celebrity factor of social good

The dust has started to settle following my participation in last week’s Africa-Middle East Regional Microcredit Summit. There were too many inspiring people to meet between sessions and dinners late into the night so I did not get to blog daily as intended. My new friends have since left back to their home countries or traveling Kenya and I’ve decided to extend my stay in Nairobi to process my learnings, experience the place and have a few intentional meetings with locals.

Now for my reflections on the celebrity factor of social good. I see two categories in this factor (1) celebrities who are famous first through successes ie. rock stars, actors, authors etc. then use their fame to support causes they believe in (2) those individuals who have wide spread solutions to social problems and have become well known for their good deeds.

I personally am not one for groupie hysteria but will attempt to keep an open mind as I grapple with the pro’s and con’s of the celebrity factor in this work.

I do not know what the role of the Royals are in this day and age, but these individuals have been born into this system and their voice and actions using applied systemic thought can bring a whole lot of good to an issue. I was quite moved by the speech of Princess Maxima of the Netherlands. I consider her to be a conscious actor in this work with clear insight in her contribution. Queen Sofia of Spain has been supporting the microfinance movement for a few years now so her thoughts on the regulatory frameworks of micro-credit deserves the peak of every influential ear. It was wonderful seeing the beauty and grace of the royals. President Kibaki played his role by officially opening the summit. I also noted other political dignitaries from parts of Africa and Europe.

Prof. Muhammed Yunus

The other category of people that I celebrate is the social entrepreneur (if they identify themselves as such) are those amazing individuals who often slog away at the cause they believe in for decades. Sometimes without recognition. When they do receivce recognition then it catapults the scale of their work. Their newfound fame has the value in expanding their contribution. According to Jim Collins, a key characteristic of a level 5 leader is that of humility. I have come across quite a few level 5 leaders who just want to get on with their mission. Society however values fame, which often conflicts with a level 5 leader’s modus operandi.

Linking this topic back to the microcredit summit, I consider both Prof. Muhammed Yunus as well as Ingrid Munroe to be level 5 leaders. Prof Yunus is acclaimed as the father of microfinance and is a Nobel Prize laureate because of his outstanding work. When I met him for the first time during his book launch tour in London in 2008, fans were almost fanatical around him. To me, Ingrid Munroe has a Mother Theresa demeanor about her. A feisty almost seventy year old who deviates the spotlight to the benefactors of her work. Ingrid is the lead founder of Jamii Bora and has lifted thousands of Kenyans out of abject poverty. On the final evening of the summit, she happened to be dancing next to me when women were called to the dance floor. Someone actually stomped on my foot to dance next to her! The media and groupies went wild trying to take a picture of her. I could see her discomfort and her moment of ‘letting her hair down’ was ruined by the nature of groupie hysteria. Why can’t we just let people be?! Support and appreciate their work while allowing the human factor to preside.

So, you decide on what side of the spectrum you lay, and your conscious response to it.

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