Image source: www.UNHCR.org

On May 2, the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, announced the appointment of Academy Award winning actor, Cate Blanchett as a Goodwill Ambassador.

This announcement came as Blanchett returned from a mission in Jordan, where she witnessed the ongoing humanitarian support to people displaced by the conflict in Syria. In light of meeting those seeking refuge, UNHCR released a video (here) of Blanchett speaking of the importance of compassion and our innate desire to connect is what makes us human.

‘We have a deep vein of compassion …. It seems we are at a fork in the road, do we go down the compassionate road or the path of intolerance’?

Capitalising on the influence of prominent public figures plays an important role in bringing to light many of the issues NGOs, grass-roots, and many other organisations are striving to aid. It seems we need a central figure, someone who is respected, appealing and perhaps holds a connection to the cause; to inform us about what to care about and how to go about assisting if we have the inclination.

The support of an impassioned celebrity for a cause can help to reach a new audience, albeit this reach can only drive so far. Working on delivering a campaign message which genuinely touches a nerve with the public is of greater importance.

UNHCR is not alone in utilising public figures for influence, many organisation seek persuasion through these channels. Depending on their profile, interests and level of responsibilities, gaining support from prominent figures can place the organisation at the forefront of the people’s awareness and act as a liaison between audience and organisation.

When seeking local support, ambassadorship can take on a different ideal. If used to gain meaningful connections with the community, utilising local leaders and people prominent and well-respected in the industry can be of far more importance. Key ambassadors for the Asylum Seeker Resource centre located in Footscray are 2010 Australian of the year Prof. Patrick McGorry and writer, human rights advocate Arnold Zable. Likewise, youth worker, author and former refugee Abdi Aden was appointed Australian Red Cross Ambassador. These somewhat less prominent figures all aspire to achieve the same as those with notoriety, to pull public awareness and gain support for the causes they champion.

Blanchett asks the audience a poignant question ‘what type of world do we hope to live in?’, perhaps this is the reason we need public figures championing causes. Perhaps we need to be reminded of what is important; a central figure championing causes that need our focus and to highlight the issues that will define the type of world we live in.

Words by Lucy Davidson