World Humanitarian Day: Celebs Who Use Their Powers for Good

To commemorate the United Nations’ World Humanitarian Day, we are highlighting a group of stars who consistently work to make the world a brighter place.
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Catherine McHugh
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To commemorate the United Nations’ World Humanitarian Day, we are highlighting a group of stars who consistently work to make the world a brighter place.

It seems every celebrity has lent their name to one type of charitable cause or another—to the point where cynics wonder if they are truly looking out for humanity or mainly looking for publicity. Although most of those in the public spotlight are not generally risking their lives to support those in need, many do sacrifice their time and money. Certainly their name recognition can be a powerful force in raising awareness for crucial or overlooked domestic and international social issues. Here is a closer look at the personal inspirations and latest accomplishments of five celebrities who are doing good.

Jackie Chan

Jackie Chan Phot

Jackie Chan

Actor/director/producer Jackie Chan grew up poor in Hong Kong but transformed himself from a stuntman/fighter to an unlikely leading man. His unique blend of masterful martial arts and screwball physical comedy has helped make him an international film star. 

Now one of Asia’s premier philanthropists, Chan announced in 2011 that he would donate half of his assets to charity when he dies. Chan says he always regretted his lack of a formal education, so he launched the Jackie Chan Charitable Foundation in 1988, which gives scholarships and other assistance to young people. Its services have expanded to include medical services, help for the poor and quick responses to natural disasters. 

In 2004, Chan inaugurated the Dragon’s Heart Foundation, which builds schools and helps children and the elderly in remote parts of China. To insure its success, he enlists kids from around the world to contribute. He matches all of the funds—and keeps all of their letters. 

After China’s Sichuan earthquake in 2008, he donated more than $1.3 million to relief efforts. This summer, he visited Nepal, giving out Red Cross aid in Kathmandu’s Lalitpur district in an effort to keep the earthquake that devastated the region in the spotlight. In the wake of two deadly explosions in Tianjin, China that killed more than 100 people last week, Chan has already pledged more than a half a million dollars to the rescue efforts and publicly praised the firefighters.

Shakira 

Shakira Photo

Shakira

Award-winning pop singer Shakira is the highest-selling South American artist of all time. Her humanitarian and advocacy work is focused on universal education and early childhood development, particularly the health, nutrition and stimulation of pre-school children. 

After visiting an impoverished area of Barranquilla, Colombia with her parents when she was a child, Shakira promised herself she would someday help the people there. In 1997, she created the Pies Descalzos (Bare Feet) Foundation in her home city. Its programs for children and their families offer real solutions to increase their quality of life. Shakira also supports similar projects in Haiti and South Africa as well as the ONE Campaign, ALAS and Habitat For Humanity.

In October 2011, President Obama appointed Shakira to the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, which advises Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on issues of educational success related to Hispanic students.

As one of UNICEF's Goodwill Ambassadors, Shakira has advocated for the importance of establishing political initiatives that put an end to the higher number of children without access to education. Earlier this year, she and FC Barcelona soccer star Gerard Piqué celebrated the imminent arrival of their second child by expanding upon their original concept of a “World Baby Shower” to benefit UNICEF and vulnerable children around the world. Participants could choose from a list of “Inspired Gifts” that directly benefit UNICEF’s work for children in some of the poorest and remotest places on earth.

Angelina Jolie

DO NOT USE: Angelina Jolie Photo

Angelina Jolie 

Angelina Jolie is well known for being a glamorous Oscar-winning actress and a film director but at this point, she has won even more awards for her global humanitarian efforts. While filming Tomb Raider in Cambodia, she became aware of worldwide humanitarian crises and eventually turned to The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which appointed her to be a Goodwill Ambassador in 2001. Since then, she has been on field missions around the world and met with refugees and internally displaced persons in more than 20 countries. Jolie covers all of her costs while on missions, and shares the working and living conditions as the UNHCR field staff.

Over time, Jolie has become more involved in promoting humanitarian causes on a political level. She has regularly attended World Refugee Day in Washington, D.C. She co-chairs the Education Partnership for Children of Conflict, which the Clinton Global Initiative founded in 2006. 

Jolie also routinely donates thousands of dollars to help countries recover from natural disasters. And last month, she spent four days in Myanmar to learn more about the country's situation in her capacity as both the co-founder of the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative, and as a U.N. Refugee Agency Special Envoy. 

George Clooney

George Clooney Photo

George Clooney

An actor, producer, writer, director, practical joker and former Sexiest Man Alive, George Clooney grew up in a family that was very socially conscious. He has supported numerous charitable causes, including the ONE Campaign, United Way and Oxfam. In 2010, Clooney co-produced a telethon, "Hope for Haiti," which raised $66 million for earthquake relief. 

In 2007, he famously co-founded Not On Our Watch with Don Cheadle, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, David Pressman and Jerry Weintraub to halt the genocide in Sudan. He and his father, Nick Clooney, also released a documentary, A Journey to Darfur, which recounted the trip they made there, with the goal of reaching a broader audience. The organization continues to fight these types of atrocities around the world. 

Last year, Clooney wed Lebanese-born British human rights attorney Amal Alamuddin, who worked on the Enron case, an adviser to Kofi Annan on Syria and was appointed to a three-person commission investigating rules of war violations in the Gaza strip. At this year's Golden Globe awards show, hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler noted Alamuddin's impressive accomplishments before joking, “So tonight her husband is getting a lifetime achievement award.” The Cecil B. DeMille award honors a celebrity who had a substantial impact on the entertainment industry, but the Hollywood Foreign Press Association said his humanitarian work factored heavily in the decision to choose Clooney. 

Last month, Clooney and Not On Our Watch board member John Prendergast, along with the Enough Project, launched The Sentry, which seeks to dismantle the networks of perpetrators, facilitators, and enablers who fund and profit from Africa’s deadliest conflicts. 

Bono

Bono

Bono

As U2’s front man, Bono has never shied away from using his star power to help fight poverty and hunger and is constantly in direct contact with world leaders and policy makers in his quest to make the world a better place.

He traces his inspiration to get involved in charity work to seeing The Secret Policeman’s Ball show benefiting Amnesty International in 1979. In 1986, World Vision invited him to Ethiopia where he developed an education program with his wife, Ali, that used one-act plays and songs to spread information on health, hygiene, and other issues. That same year, he helped organize Amnesty International's Conspiracy Of Hope tour with Sting

Bono has been a leader in the fight against poverty, and has helped to create the ONE Campaign, DATA, (RED) and EDUN, a clothing company that strives to stimulate trade with poverty stricken countries. He has also worked with Debt AIDS Trade Africa (DATA) against the spread of AIDS and for debt relief in Africa, participated in fundraising concerts such as Live 8, and his donated funds to One in Four Ireland, a charity that helps survivors of sexual abuse.

Last year, Bono revealed he always wears sunglasses because he suffers from glaucoma. Last month, he teamed up with eyewear makers Revo for the “Buy Vision, Give Sight" campaign that aims to get glasses to the vision-impaired. $10 from every sale of Revo sunglasses will go toward providing screenings and delivering prescription glasses to those suffering from impaired vision in under-resourced communities around the world.