UNHCR’s good­will ambassador

Exhibited by
Pierre-Bernard Le Bas
October 26, 2009
Medium of Communication
Broadcast and television, press advertising, radio.
Target Audience
Awareness, major gift, intermediaries.
Type of Charity
Human rights & civil liberties, international relief/development.
Country of Origin
Switzerland/ International.
Date of first appearance

SOFII’s view

Goodwill ambassadors have become the accepted public face of many INGOs, particularly those in the UN system. But UNHCR’s selection, recruitment and deployment of their public celebrity is a textbook example of how to do it. They chose the right person, gave her the freedom and opportunity to do the job in her way and supported her well. This resulted in a vocal, articulate and passionate ambassador for refugees who hugely enhances the profile of UNHCR’s work.

Creator / originator

The UNHCR public relation team

Summary / objectives

To create a long-term relationship with a VIP that can then be the worldwide best ‘spokesperson’ for the cause.


In March/ April 2001 Hollywood star Angelina Jolie visited some refugee camps in Sierra Leone. When her birthday came in June, UNHCR brainstormed about what sort of gift could be sent. The idea came to send something unique that only UNHCR could send. It was a digital picture representing some of the staff and refugees she had met holding a large banner saying ‘happy birthday Angelina’. That picture was sent to her home in LA. It was printed as A4, framed and given to her. Angelina was extremely moved, describing this as her most touching present ever. She became UNHCR’s goodwill ambassador, has visited dozens of refugee camps, given her own money (she is the largest individual donor to UNHCR) and been featured in hundreds of press/radio/TV interviews promoting the refugee cause. To the cause of refugees, this is worth millions.

Special characteristics

A unique example of how to develop and manage celebrity leadership.

Influence / impact

Angelina Jolie’s role as UNHCR’s ambassador gives the organisation unique visibility and reach in major world events (the Olympic Games at Salt Lake City, Davos World Economic Forum, interview on CNN Larry King Live, hundreds of press clippings, website traffic, millions of dollars raised (the cash value is estimated to be above $5 million minimum, plus in-kind value of media space).


Very small for the birthday gift and virtually no costs afterwards, as Angelina Jolie has always covered all her own costs. One staff member is allocated full time to manage UNHCR’s end of the relationship.


See above.


Because UNHCR has managed to engage a major celebrity with very simple means at virtually no cost. The main criterion was first and foremost to create a strong feeling of belonging. The rest was the building of a true, genuine relationship without focusing on money first. The results speak for themselves.