September 5, 2019,   11:44 AM

Charity Beyond Borders

Jamila Gandhi



Whether it is genuine altruism or a publicity drive, the last two decades have witnessed a rise of charity work beyond regional borders. Billionaires, entertainment stars and activists have made global humanitarianism and international aid a norm and have used their position of power to make a positive impact and raise much-needed awareness.

While A-listers and philanthropists give back across the world irrespective of geography, Brazil, Cambodia and Malawi in particular have received consistent and dedicated investments by many charitable donors over several years.


South America’s largest country draws tourists for its beaches, football and multiple world heritage sites. As the world’s ninth-largest economy, Brazil has an estimated urban population of over 87% according to the World Population Review. Conversely, indigenous people in the country make up only 0.5% of Brazil’s population, and this number has been on a steady decline for decades.

While in Brazil for her 21st birthday last year, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai met new local partners and long-time activists working to improve educational opportunities for indigenous and Afro-Brazilian girls. Her Malala Fund reports that 1.5 million Malawian girls are still out of school and denied an education because of racism, exploitation, and poverty in 2019. The organization has expanded to Latin America and committed to supporting the 30% of indigenous people that are illiterate by connecting Brazilian education activists with local educators. By investing in local leaders and supporting research into the financial cost to the state when girls drop out of school, the now 22-year-old hopes to accelerate progress for girls’ education and equality.

Likewise, environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio’s eponymous foundation has been heavily involved in protecting Brazil’s indigenous people. The indigenous Kayapo people control the largest protected area in the Xingu region, which spans 11 million hectares and has more than 20 indigenous cultures living in its forests. By supporting the Wild Foundation, the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation (LDF) has committed to help increase the capacity for the Kayapo to monitor and defend their lands from illegal activity. Logging, illegal fishing, gold mining and encroachment interfere with protecting the ecological integrity of the primary forests.

In the wake of the more recent 9,000 wildfires in the Amazon rainforest, the Earth Alliance (EA) formed an emergency Amazon Forest Fund with an initial commitment of $5 million to focus critical resources on the key protections needed to maintain “the lungs of the planet.” Launched in July, the EA was created by Oscar-winning actor Leonardo DiCaprio, alongside entrepreneur Lauren Powell Jobs, and investor Brian Sheth, in response to a growing climate crisis and staggering loss of biodiversity threatening the stability of life on Earth. In Brazil, for instance, the forest fires have threatened the indigenous people whose land covers about 110 million hectares of the Amazon. The $5 million will be distributed directly to local partners and the indigenous communities protecting the Amazon and the diversity of wildlife that lives there.


Every year over a million tourists flock to visit Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia—the world’s largest religious structure, built in the 12th century. Despite having a growing tourism industry and being one of the fastest-growing economies in Asia, Cambodia’s GDP per capita remains low compared to neighboring countries. Access to affordable financing for water and sanitation remains a critical barrier for families. Approximately 80% of Cambodians live in rural areas, and 79% of the population has no access to piped water supply, according to the World Bank.

Recognizing this urgency, four years ago Water. org began piloting WaterCredit, a microfinance pay-it-forward system to bring household water and toilet solutions through small loans. Founded by Academy award-winning actor Matt Damon and business partner Gary White, laid the groundwork in Cambodia in 2014 and launched the first WaterCredit program in 2015. The program had an ambitious goal of reaching more than 300,000 people in three years; however, it achieved that goal in less than two. With a reach of 1.2 million people, the solution has provided $141 million in loans.

Actor and humanitarian, Angelina Jolie, has also been vocal about her missions surrounding philanthropy in Cambodia. She was reportedly awestruck by the beauty of the country and the graciousness, resilience and warmth of the Cambodian people during her first visit in 2000 while filming Tomb Raider. In 2003, she set up the Maddox Jolie Program, naming it after her eldest son Maddox, who was born in Cambodia. Now named the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation (MJP), it works in remote, post-conflict communities to help vulnerable families in rural communities meet their basic needs and access services in health, education, agriculture and gender equality.

Since establishing two healthcare clinics in 2014, the foundation has treated an average of 11,000 patients annually, across 18 villages in a remote area of the western Samlout district. MJP launched the Shiloh Scholarship in 2017, which provides financial and practical support for children to continue with their education. It is currently supporting 10 students’ vulnerable families in Samlout. In the same year, Jolie released her directorial debut, “First They Killed My Father,” which chronicled Cambodia’s days under the Khmer Rouge. Jolie also maintains a home in the country.


Located in southern Africa, Malawi is landlocked and shares a border with Mozambique, Zambia and Tanzania. The country is home to central Africa’s highest mountain and the continent’s third-largest lake, offering wildlife, culture, adventure and scenery. The Malawian people’s hospitable nature has led to the country becoming known as “the warm heart of Africa,” luring in the most high-profile stars. Although living conditions in Malawi have improved over the last decade, the country remains one of the poorest countries in the world.

To address this poverty, tennis champion Roger Federer has been supporting educational projects in the country since 2011. UNESCO reports that if all girls living in Sub-Saharan Africa completed primary education, 14% less would be married around the young age of 15. As the president and founder of the Roger Federer Foundation (RFF), the record-breaking sports star has been dedicated specifically to the field of early childhood care, aiming to educate children to take control of their future and actively shape it.

In 2011, the RFF and Action Aid Malawi launched a ten-year initiative to improve early childhood education in Malawi and to systemically change its education landscape, partly by opening preschools inaugurated by Federer himself. To date, 92,100 children in 330 centers have received access to preschool centers and 20,100 children transitioned from supported preschool centers. By 2020, the program will be rolled out in 80 areas and 480 preschools in 10 districts of the country.

Self-made Barbadian musician Robyn Rihanna Fenty shares a similar bond with the country and consistently advocates for secondary education. The award-winning singer and songwriter was honored by Harvard University with its 2017 Humanitarian of the Year Award for her philanthropic efforts. In the same year, she visited Malawi to spend time with key educators, government officials, students and mentors to promote education on behalf of her Clara Lionel Foundation (CLF) and in partnership with Global Citizen.

The country suffers from an acute lack of secondary schools, which impacts rates of attendance, and making children extremely vulnerable to exploitation while traveling long distances to school. In 2018, the organization donated thousands of bicycles and hosted a bicycle repair training workshop to make traveling to school for young women slightly easier and give them the skills to maintain their bicycles. CLF is aiming to reach its support for girls’ secondary education in Malawi to over 7,500 girls by 2021.

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