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Angelina Jolie in Sri Lanka, from the U.N. Web site.

Celebrity involvement in charity work has a long history, and it’s sure to continue with a new crop of Hollywood stars who are lending their profiles to humanitarian causes.

Actress Mira Sorvino announced her participation in Amnesty International’s new campaign, “Stop Violence Against Women,” on March 9.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
Actress Minnie Driver traveled to <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Southeast Asia in February as a representative of Oxfam’s “Make Trade Fair” campaign. She spent time with female garment workers in Cambodia whose monthly earnings average $45.
 
Sorvino and Driver are just two of a handful of young celebrities who’ve recently attached themselves to some sort of charitable organization.
 
One of the highest profile “endorsements” has been that of Angelina Jolie, who became a United Nations goodwill ambassador in 2001. Jolie won an Oscar in 2000 for “Girl, Interrupted.” She is perhaps best known, though, for her marriage (and divorce) to filmmaker/actor Billy Bob Thornton.
 
“She has a genuine interest in refugee issues and she is fantastically popular,” Kris Janowski, spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, told Reuters when Jolie was chosen for the ambassadorship. “The kind of people who find the U.N. boring–young people and teenagers who are not interested in refugee issues–adore Angelina Jolie.”
 
She has traveled to Africa, Asia, Latin America and many other countries, keeping journals during her travels. She also won the U.N. Correspondents Association’s first Citizen of the World Award, given in 2003.
 
Ruud Lubbers, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, said of Jolie at the awards dinner, “She has helped put the spotlight on a disenfranchised group–refugees–and also those who are not in the headlines and who are victims of long forgotten crises,” according to an Associated Press article.
 
“It’s a new generation,” Yvonne Acosta, external relations officer at the United Nations, said of the young stars in a Fox News article. “The media is celebrity-focused now … The cause is put in the public eye immediately when a celebrity is involved.”
 
That claim was borne out when Heifer International was inundated with interest after the organization was highlighted on an episode of NBC’s popular presidential drama, “The West Wing. (Read the EthicsDaily.com story, “Heifer Hoofs Onto ‘West Wing,'” for more.)
 
Bradley Whitford, who plays Josh Lyman on the show, is a supporter of Heifer International, along with his wife Jane Kaczmarek and a handful of other celebrities.
 
Other examples abound, with one of the best being that of U2 lead singer Bono. He founded the organization DATA, standing for Debt, AIDS, Trade-Africa, in 2002 to help advocate for solutions to the continent’s crises.
 
Adrienne Leicester Smith, Oxfam America media director, told Fox News that celebrities who dedicate their time for causes aren’t necessarily looking for self-promotion opportunities.
 
“I think anybody willing to put time and energy into going to a developing country, which can be quite a shock, and have the kinds of experiences that Angelina or Minnie have had, deserves the benefit of the doubt,” Smith told Fox News. “There are much more palatable causes they could’ve adopted if their only goal was promoting themselves.”
 
But celebrity involvement in charities has its downside, some say.
 
“Celebrity endorsements are double-edged swords, because you can end up having to simplify your message to the point of blandness,” said Paul Corry of the National Schizophrenia Fellowship in an Observer article. “But they can certainly help us to raise awareness, which is our big problem. And that can open doors when you’re lobbying policy makers.”
 
Corry’s organization has the endorsement of Oscar-winning actress Dame Judi Dench, best known to American audiences for her roles in “Chocolat,” “Shakespeare in Love” and “Mrs. Brown.”
 
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.