Editorial | Dude, where's my philanthropy
Social impact speakers should focus more on what they’ve done to give back
October 6, 2013, 7:15 pm · Updated October 7, 2013, 12:17 am·
Tonight, Ashton Kutcher will arrive on campus to speak as part of the Lauren and Bobby Turner Social Impact Executive Speaker Series.
In past years, the speaker series has attracted big names, including Andre Agassi, Magic Johnson, Ludacris and Eva Longoria.
These speakers all have noble foundations and have drawn large crowds to their talks. But they have lacked one thing: a consistent focus on their actual social impact work.
Students have noted their disappointment with previous speakers taking too much time to give the audience an autobiographical description of themselves and too little time speaking about their actual organizations.
This is somewhat expected — it would be a little jarring to go to a talk by Kutcher in which he doesn’t mention his acting career.
But it’s better to inspire us because of what you’re doing and why you’re doing it than because of who you are. It might not be easy for the average student to relate to big-shot careers or people who have millions to pump into new organizations, but it’s relatively easy to connect to why someone’s passionate about what they’re doing to give back.
In this sense, we’d like to see not only big names at these events, but people whose lives have been defined more by their work on the ground than by what they did before giving back.
We don’t need to completely throw out the star power or discount how influential celebrities who start their own organizations can be. In fact, actress Brittany Snow’s talk this past spring proves it can be very impactful. What made Snow such an effective speaker, though, was her very personal dialogue behind why she started the Love is Louder campaign. Indeed, many found her to be extremely sincere and relatable.
If the celebrity is only marginally involved in social impact work, it can’t hurt to bring in a second speaker whose work revolves primarily around helping others. The second person could even be a very active member of the celebrity’s organization.
This concept might not please the people who complained about Geoffrey Canada, the Commencement speaker two years ago, but it would really benefit the people who want to learn what they can do.
We’re not complaining that speakers like Longoria or Ludacris are invited to these events. Bobby Turner is right when he says that certain celebrities like Ashton Kutcher are “empowering people to be proactive through [their] investments.” That’s something Kutcher should rightfully be praised for, and we just want to hear more about that during these talks.
It can be difficult to convince students who attend these events to give back in large ways. To do so, it can’t sound like giving back is a secondary thought.
Ashton Kutcher may have recently taken on a biographical role in the movie “Jobs,” but that doesn’t mean we want to hear his life story when he comes to campus.
Rather, we’d like him to take the famous words of the man he emulated — “Think differently” — and bring that attitude to this year’s event.