Who Are the United Nations Goodwill Ambassadors and What Do They Do?

Since 1954, the United Nations has been appointing carefully chosen celebrities to highlight different issues that the U.N. considers important. These U.N. Goodwill Ambassadors volunteer to visit far-flung areas of the globe, emphasizing the mission of the United Nations. Today, there are over 200 U.N. Goodwill Ambassadors.

How It Began

In 1954, well-loved actor, comedian and singer, Danny Kaye, was chosen by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund to be their first goodwill ambassador.

For the next 33 years, Kaye went to areas of the globe where children live in deplorable conditions, helping to draw attention and charitable contributions to help improve the children’s lives. He also assisted in food distribution efforts. Until Danny Kaye became the first Goodwill Ambassador, few knew of the work of UNICEF in helping children around the world who were in need. Kaye did public service announcements, interviews with the media, travel and personal appearances to spread the word, making UNICEF’s mission known throughout the world.

One of Kaye’s best promotions for UNICEF was his “Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF” campaign. He flew in 1968 to 65 U.S. and Canadian cities in five days to drum up the support of children as UNICEF volunteers. This prompted the Guinness Book of World Records to dub Kaye the “World’s Fastest-Flying Entertainer.”

Danny Kaye was so instrumental in aiding UNICEF’s efforts to help children in need that he accepted the 1965 Nobel Peace Prize the organization won on its behalf.

How Are Goodwill Ambassadors Chosen?

Different U.N. agencies choose Goodwill Ambassadors from celebrities in fields such as:

  • Entertainment
  • Sports
  • Science
  • Literature
  • Art

These people make a commitment to volunteer to put a spotlight on some work of the United Nations around the world to help improve the lives of others.

Goodwill Ambassadors are chosen by the heads of funds sponsored by the U.N., U.N. programs and by specialized U.N. agencies, like UNICEF, the U.N. Human Rights Commission and the World Food Program. They work to spotlight the work of the United Nations on issues like plight of impoverished and disadvantaged children, refugees, empowerment of women and sustainable development.

Some Goodwill Ambassadors Today and Their Work

David Beckham, the famed soccer star, was appointed to his Goodwill Ambassadorship in 2005. Since then, he has cast a light on the plight of children experiencing impoverishment in countries such as Sierra Leone and the Philippines. He helped create a children’s center in Manila and assisted hurricane survivors. In 2012, he encouraged then U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron to put the weight of his country in support of ending malnutrition in children.

Angelina Jolie became a U.N. Goodwill Ambassador in 2001, after she was involved in a movie production in Cambodia. She continued to be a Goodwill Ambassador until 2012. During that time, she went on over 40 field visits. Because of her work, she was appointed the Special Envoy to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Emma Watson, the actress, kicked off the “He for She” campaign to encourage men to work with women to fight gender inequality and gender discrimination.

Nicole Kidman was appointed in 2006 as a Women’s Goodwill Ambassador. Her work is to help end discrimination against women. She is involved in the U.N. Women’s “Say No – Unite to End Violence Against Women” initiative.

Jackie Chan became a UNICEF ambassador in 2004. He is drawing attention to two issues – HIV/AIDS and children who have been maimed and injured by land mines.

Orlando Bloom, the actor, became a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in 2009, after his work in 2007 with children in some of Nepal’s most impoverished areas.

Mia Farrow, the actress, has been a UNICEF ambassador since 2000. She has worked for the agency with children in Chad, the Central African Republic, Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria and Haiti.

Sir Roger Moore, of James Bond movie fame, has been involved with the U.N. as a Goodwill Ambassador since 1991. He has helped raise awareness and funds for clean water supplies in the Middle East and Africa with the “Check Out for Children” campaign. Working in partnership with Marriott Hotels, the U.N. raises funds through donations requested at the hotel chain when the clients check out. Ongoing since 1995, this successful campaign is one of the longest-running partnerships between the U.N. and business.

Through the work of their celebrity Goodwill Ambassadors, the U.N. seeks to end inequality and poverty throughout the world.

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