That was the question answered in a series of articles published by the Christian Science Monitor on August 22.
Reporter Danna Harman interviewed a variety of celebrities, humanitarian professionals, and Africans to see what kind of impact celebrity's are having on the continent. She was met with mixed reviews, but concluded that overall it is having a positive effect. We are left to wonder if maybe their impact could be increased by better coordination and overall planning.
In the first article, Can Celebrities Really Get Results? Bruce Sievers, a visiting scholar at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif, points out that,
"There are so many dimensions to intervening in a different culture. The question is, how well informed are all the celebrities trying to do a thorough job in Africa, let alone those who just travel over and are blown away by the poverty?"
Maybe a more important question is are they willing to stick with their "cause" as long as necessary for it to succeed?
The answer, of course, is that it depends. Celebrity attention to Africa runs the gamut. Some stars show up for a single celebrity poker match in Las Vegas or a benefit cocktail party in New York to raise awareness for an issue. Others write large checks, lend their names, and even roll up their sleeves to help, but still court controversy along the way. And yet others get deeply involved, hiring advisers and studying to understand the challenges, before deciding on what role they can play most effectively.
Former President Clinton reminds us that celebrities are humans too and that while the struggle to change societies may be a long time coming, lives are still being changed.
"We should not have unrealistic expectations," says Clinton, at the conclusion of the interview in Zambia. "It's not easy to change societies ... but still, all of us can change lives."
"Celebrities are like other people who do this ... some of them will stay at it for a lifetime, some of them will quit. Real life will intrude on them just as it does on the rest of us. They will have children and want to spend more time with them ... or they will get bored or get sick. But on balance, these high-visibility, high-profile movie stars are part of a global movement of giving, which is a function of our interdependence."
In the second article, Harman tackles the questions surrounding celebrity adoptions. Her conclusions again are mixed but this data point is hard to argue with:
In October 2006, after Madonna took custody of David, phone inquiries to WHFC (Wide Horizons For Children which helped Jolie with her adoption, but not Madonna) increased by 38 percent – this despite the fact that the agency had nothing to do with Madonna's adoption and does not even facilitate adoptions in Malawi. In July 2005, the month Angelina Jolie's adoption became public, the number of phone inquiries received by WHFC more than tripled over the previous month.