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Should Angelina Pay a Visit to Her Beneficiaries?

February 2017

Three years ago, Angelina Jolie received the “Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award”, an honorary prize presented to certain celebrities who dedicate their fame (and their money, since according to the High Commissioner for Refugees, she has given over $5 million since 2001) to various causes. This award recognizes her commitment as Special Envoy to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, on whose behalf she has visited around 20 countries.

This story raises an ongoing issue regarding philanthropy: the relationship with beneficiaries. By that we don’t mean the organizations but the individuals who are the direct beneficiaries of services and projects. We mean site visits that establish a relationship between extremely wealthy people and extremely poor people, as well as the possible repercussions created by these visits.

Here is one example: a study conducted by UNICEF about tourism in Cambodian orphanages shows that out of 269 listed orphanages in that country, only 21 are government-run; the others are managed by non-governmental organizations. Within five years, these facilities and the number of children living in them have doubled. Why? Tourists are moved by what they see and agree wholeheartedly to provide the orphanages with financial support. Doing so, they contribute, unbeknownst to them, to encouraging this type of “market”.

Should one pay a visit to beneficiaries? Yes. Beneficiaries are people who live in conditions that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. Sometimes it takes hours to get to them; they live on garbage dumps, or in corrugated iron shacks, usually without toilets. They are so surprised to see anyone who might be interested in their living conditions that they ask loads of questions about you, your family, the country you come from, the reason for your visit and your motivations. Some cry or laugh when they tell you about their lives; others are scared or proud; others ignore you or don’t want to talk to you; others dance and sing for you; some will even draw you pictures. What do they all have in common? Dignity.

For these and many other reasons, a number of philanthropists undertake these visits. As long as the supported organization prepares and leads the visit well, and as long as visitors respect the local culture and obey basic rules of politeness, it is worth doing. That is at the core of philanthropy: an encounter with another human being.


Martial Paris is a Director Strategy and Impact, which he joined in 2008. He advises individuals and foundations in the areas of projects identification, strategic planning, grants management and impact evaluation


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Philanthropy Next Gen Boot Camp 2020

Next module in September 2020
The module will be held in French

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March 2020

Les Jeunes et la Philanthropie

Exchange around the commitments of the young generation
With the testimony of Mrs. Lia Ojjeh Martin.

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November 2019

Philanthropy Breakfast : Family Governance and leadership across generations – The role philanthropy can play

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May 2017

Workshop with social enterprises: how to facilitate access to employment for underprivileged young people?

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