Celanthropy the Geldof Way

“Futility” was aid champion “Sir” Bob Geldof’s verdict on what he had achieved nearly a quarter of a century after the former Boomtown Rats vocalist organised the Band Aid song that mobilised a massive public campaign to help the starving people of Ethiopia. Geldof was speaking on a panel moderated by Michael at Forum 2000, former Czech president Vaclav Havel’s annual “brains trust” gathering in Prague.

Yet this was not some sudden conversion of Bono’s brother-in-arms to the anti-aid cause. Geldof delivered a typically technicolour refutation of Dambisa Moyo’s arguments against aid and celebrated the fact that 37 million Africans had gone to school as a result of the aid commitments won at the G8 summit at Gleneagles in 2005. He is just frustrated that poverty hasn’t been eliminated already.

Geldof is not sure if he’s a philanthropist because he doesn’t have a lot of money to give away. We think he is a classic “celanthropist” – a celebrity philanthrocapitalist – because, as he admits himself, his fame gives him “access”, which he can use to do good.

The other panelists had no such doubts about their qualifications as philanthropists. Yohei Sasakawa is chairman of the Nippon Foundation (and co-founder of Forum 2000). Czech supermodel Helena Houdova runs her Sunflower Children’s Foundation. Catherine Zennstrom, a French citizen, has recently established the Zennstrom Philanthropies with her Swedish tech billionaire husband, Niklas, the co-founder of Skype. Sigrid Rausing, also Swedish, is one of Britain’s most respected philanthropists, through the work of her trust.

Notice anything about these names? Firstly, there were no Americans – which shows how philanthrocapitalism is an increasingly global phenomenon, including in Japan, which is often described as a philanthropy-free zone. Second, the majority are women, an increasingly influential force in philanthropy, we are happy to say.

As for Geldof, our verdict is that his experience, along with that of Bono, is a deeply encouraging one. They have learned a lot, realized how naive and ineffective their earliest efforts were, yet they have stuck to their mission and driven themselves to find better ways to achieve it. Along the way, they have inspired millions of people around the world to be more altruistic and given many more the chance of a better life – which, as futility goes, isn’t bad.