Asia Scope

Is Altruism Easier for the Beautiful?

Is beauty a prerequisite for a UN goodwill ambassador? Some appointees in our region and beyond would have us believe it is.

The United Nations Summit on Climate Change held in NY this week has been making headlines. While in related news, Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen has just been named a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Environment Program. This makes some of us wonder: Is above-average beauty a prerequisite for the role? Over in the West, some high-profile goodwill ambassadors include American actress Angelina Jolie (UNHCR – United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), 90s pop group sensation Spice Girls’ member Gerri ‘Ginger Spice’ Halliwell (UNFPA – United Nations Population Fund) and iconic beauty Audrey Hepburn who served the role for UNICEF back in 1989.
And over in the East, there are some just as aesthetically endowed female appointees that may just confirm the suspicion that all goodwill ambassadors are created…equally attractive:

Ashi Sangay Choden Wangchuck – The Queen of Bhutan. Wangchuck has been a goodwill ambassador for the UN Population Fund since 1999. A regal beauty, always publicly clad in her colorful traditional costume, her efforts include creating Renew, an NPO for the relief and empowerment of disadvantaged women and adolescent girls in Bhutan.

Lara Dutta –Indian Bollywood actress and Miss Universe 2000. Dutta has been a goodwill ambassador for the UNFPA since 2001. About her work to educate youth, particularly in AIDS/HIV related issues, Dutta has said, ‘While I know that I am only one voice, and that no one individual can eradicate these problems alone, I believe that my efforts, and the efforts of my fellow goodwill ambassadors make a difference.’

Anggun Cipta Sasmi – Indonesian singer-songwriter. Sasmi has been named a goodwill ambassador for the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN) as of 2009. She has been hailed as the best-selling Asian recording artist ever outside the east-Asia region. In 2010, Anggun will embark on an acting career in a film directed by Oscar winner Claude Lelouch. Of her work with FAO she has said, ‘Everyone can count on my continued, tireless support to FAO/United Nations’ activities and worldwide campaign against hunger.’

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Misako Konno – Japanese actress and writer. Konno has been a goodwill ambassador with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) since 1998. She has proclaimed it ‘better to teach people to grow rice than to give them rice,’ for it ‘is the essence of development assistance.’ She urges her fans to support efforts to combat poverty worldwide.
And the verdict is… One of the key objectives of the goodwill ambassadors program is to promote global public awareness of the key issues including poverty, hunger, health and welfare. The reality is that in doing so it has become a trend to recruit those who may already have a public following. And celebrity status does often, in some industries, have a large part to do with good looks. Goodwill ambassadors include a variety of international faces. Chinese martial arts and film stars Jackie Chan and Jet Li, Japanese Olympic marathon athlete Yuko Arimori and Australian comedy duo Roy & H.G., may be some examples of others who do not fit the mould of superior attractiveness. Influence to some degree and a genuine desire to do good are more likely prerequisites for a GA gig – so there’s hope for the rest of us after all?