Excerpt: If It Takes a Village, Build One: How I Found Meaning Through a Life of Service and 100+ Ways You Can Too
Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF is a Halloween tradition that began in 1950, when five kids in Philadelphia decided to collect money to help the children in postwar Europe, using milk cartons that they had decorated themselves and raising $17, a considerable sum at the time. The tradition took off, and soon, children across the United States were collecting money in official orange UNICEF boxes. Over the years, U.S. kids have collected more than $150 million for UNICEF, while Canadian children have raised more than $96 million in Canadian dollars, and Hong Kong kids have contributed more than $5 million in Hong Kong dollars—figures that I bet would have astounded those first five kids in Philly.
Sarah Jessica Parker was one of the many U.S. children who grew up participating in this tradition, so in 1996 I contacted Michelle Kydd Lee, a wonderful woman who is the executive director of the CAA Foundation. CAA is one of the leading talent agencies in the world. Its foundation exists to help the agency's clients and employees serve. Michelle was so cool and immediately liked the idea of the future Sex and the City star being that year's Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF spokesperson. Sarah Jessica also liked the idea and agreed to appear at our annual kickoff event. She has gone on to support the program—and UNICEF—in numerous ways, as she is now a Goodwill Ambassador. I owe a debt of gratitude to Sarah Jessica Parker and Michelle Kydd Lee, because my thought that you should find a celebrity who had a genuine connection to the cause proved true very early on in my career at UNICEF and set the tone for my work at the agency.
Likewise, TV journalist Katie Couric and poet Maya Angelou stand out in my mind for the level of dedication and commitment they brought to their roles as Ambassadors. Katie in particular was very good at communicating to the public an overall sense of UNICEF's goals: universal access to clean and safe water, immunizing every child against major diseases, ending child labor, improving health care, and decreasing mothers' mortality rates. Part of her ability to be such a passionate and effective spokesperson was that she was so well informed about the organization's work and the hot button issues that affected the global communities UNICEF supported.
To make sure all of our Ambassadors were as well informed, one of my most important responsibilities was to plan UNICEF assisted field trips, official visits that allowed our celebrity spokespeople to tour a particular region and meet with field- workers, doctors, volunteers, other UN staff, and members of partner NGOs, as well as, of course, the communities receiving UNICEF aid. These visits let our spokespeople see UNICEF's achievements for themselves as well as what problems still remained to be solved.
During these trips, I needed to publicize the celebrity's activities, using his or her fame to gain attention for the people living in the countries where UNICEF worked, while also making sure that the trip reflected the celebrity's interests. We needed to know both what we needed to get out of a trip and what our celebrity spokesperson wanted to get out of it. To this end, I generally worked with our Ambassador's publicist and manager while also communicating with our field offices, helping them put together a trip that would speak to the celebrity in question.