Effective philanthropy is about far more than transferring cash from your bank account to some fund. Money in a vacuum is useless; it needs to be used strategically, you can’t simply throw money at a problem and expect it to be fixed. Activists and other mentally, emotionally, and otherwise invested people on the ground put those dollars to work through research and action. Sometimes it’s volunteers using donated dollars to make a difference, sometimes those dollars go to people who’ve dedicated their lives to working full time on relevant issues.
Previously, on this blog, we’ve discussed very rich, well-known philanthropists and the philanthropy of everyday people alike. These are not the only types of people who exist in the social impact ecosystem. Today, we’re highlighting how celebrities who exist between those two poles make an impact—specifically, how people who have become iconic and highly recognizable in the cultural and entertainment sphere lend their image (and sometimes their money) to further social impact causes.
Padma Lakshmi is an Emmy-nominated television star, producer, best-selling author, magazine contributor, jeweler, model, mother, and more—she’s a highly visible and very accomplished woman. She is perhaps most famous for her role as host on the long-running Bravo series Top Chef, where chefs compete for cash prizes and the prestigious eponymous title. She was born in India but grew up in the United States, where she’s built her career. She’s a great example of a celebrity using their position in popular culture to further causes they care about.
In the summer of 2020, Lakshmi debuted a new show, Taste the Nation, which she created, executive produced, and hosted. A second season is reportedly in the works. Unlike Top Chef, this show is clearly intended to educate. Each of the 10 episodes focuses, through food, on a specific culture present in America today, from Mexican to Native American to Thai to Gullah Geechee. In an effort to cut through a rise in anti-immigrant rhetoric, Lakshmi, an immigrant herself, began working with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), to shine a light on America's rich diversity of culture through the lens of cuisine. This television show is part of what resulted. She used her platform, specifically as a famous food television show host, to create an empathetic and educational cultural product. She gave the people from these cultures a stage to discuss the issues they and their communities face both historically and in their everyday lives.
Lakshmi’s lending her international platform to communities facing various struggles is admirable, but she’s done and continues to do much more in the way of activism. Perhaps her most crucial work has been with the Endometriosis Foundation of America (EFA), which she co-founded with Advanced Gynecological Surgeon Tamer Seckin, MD. Endometriosis is a disease affecting one in ten reproductive-aged people with uteruses. The disease, which has no exact known cause and no cure, is what happens when tissue similar to the uterine lining grows where it should not, i.e., outside the uterus. Lakshmi has long been open about her own struggles with the disease.
Besides working with the EFA, Lakshmi has been a strong advocate for Planned Parenthood. Notably, she and the other Top Chef judges wore pins of the organization’s logo on the finale of the show’s 15th season, which has surely had many thousands of viewers. She’s shown a commitment to educating people on what the organization does for reproductive rights.
Lakshmi is an ACLU Artist Ambassador for both immigrant and women’s rights. She’s a United Nations Development Programme Goodwill Ambassador. She’s shown time and time again that she is committed to both educating the public and pushing real change. In 2013, through the EFA, she worked with the New York State Senate to pass a Teen Health Initiative, which created an education program that remains ongoing today.
Clearly, changing the world is about more than just donating money. Yes, Lakshmi is a rich and successful celebrity and businessperson, but her social impact work is rooted in speaking up, speaking out, and getting things done. She’s dedicated time and money alike to furthering causes relevant to her, that she’s passionate about. She is a shining example of what it takes to enact change.
When you’re thinking about how you might engage in effective philanthropy or activism, think about what issues matter to you. Don’t simply donate money for the sake of donating money—consider the struggles you’ve faced in your life, consider the struggles faced by your communities. Your work should be driven by empathy and passion. If you’re not a celebrity, look for people who do have that presence, whether they’re locally famous or nationally famous, and are also invested in the issues you’re looking to change. Work with people relevant to the community you’re working within, people who can represent your mission as honestly and passionately as Lakshmi represents reproductive and immigrant rights.
Whatever your philanthropy and activism goals may be, ShareYourself is the place to pursue them. Our comprehensive project management and collaboration tools allow you to focus on the work at hand—we help keep everything tidy and organized, so you can focus on your goals. Figure out what matters to you. Reach out to other people who care as much as you do. Work together and watch the world change. Whether you’re looking to educate the public, fund a clinic, bring healthy and sustainable food resources to your community, whatever it is—you can do it on ShareYourself.