How to Spread It: Angélique Kidjo

2013-07-07 14:00

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Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Angélique Kidjo (52) is one of Africa’s leading celebrity philanthropists.

She uses her fame to advocate for many projects, notably those that support girls and women on the continent.

She is a founder of the Batonga Foundation, which provides girls in five African countries, including her native Benin, with access to secondary and higher education through the building of new schools and the provision of scholarships, materials and mentors.

Kidjo is a Unicef goodwill ambassador.

She lives in New York.

Your philanthropy work through the Batonga Foundation embraces a variety of issues – from disadvantaged children to HIV/Aids. You are particularly involved inthe education of girls. Why?

Educating girls in Africa gives them the strength and the tools they need to be the mothers of change.

My mother was educated and she fought for me to go to school, despite pressure from many in our extended family who argued that only boys should be educated.

And my daughter is now in school.

Once an Africanwoman is educated, she fights to ensure both sons and daughters receive an education.

From this is born a tradition that is passed on and grows from family to family, from generation to generation – a tradition that is going to change the future for Africa.

Can you give an example of someone whose life has been changed by any one of your projects?

I think when we work in this field, we have to be humble.

We’re trying to help and every situation is so complex and so unique, but when I speak with some of the girls the Batonga Foundation is supporting and see the dreams in their eyes, I’m very hopeful.

Which of your songs best sums up your passion for philanthropy?

Batonga, I guess. It talks to a little girl and says: ‘You are poor, but you dance like a princess, and you can do as you please, regardless of what anyone tells you.’

In a way, it was already about women’s empowerment 25 years ago when I wrote it.

What kind of philanthropist would you describe yourself as?

I try to be an advocate for the people who don’t have my chance to have access to the media.

I always speak up against the growing inequality in the world.

This is one of the main problems our world faces.

What or who inspired you to become involved in philanthropy?

I have been so blessed to get an education when I grew up in Benin.

My dad was not rich, but he managed to send all his 10 kids to school.

The African continent has given me so much culturally, emotionally and musically.

I feel I have the responsibility to give back. My dream is that every girl on my continent will have the same chance I had.

You are active on Twitter. Has social networking helped to spread the word about your work?

Yes and no. You can post a lot of messages on Facebook and give a lot of information to people, but I have noticed that it doesn’t really mobilise them deeply.

There is nothing stronger than talking – or singing – to people while looking them directly in the eyes. You connect in a real way.

Do you have a best giving moment to share?

When one of the Batonga girls told me she wants to be president of Benin, I asked her why and she replied: ‘The men haven’t done a great job so far, so maybe women should get into power.’

Does giving make you happy?

Yes. I feel blessed by the beauty of my culture. I am so proud of where I come from. I don’t know where I’m going, but I surely know where my roots are.

Global conferences around philanthropy and advocacy are now firmly established on the international calendar.

Can such gatherings produce real change, or are they just big networking fests?

A little bit of both, I guess, but they are anyway better than social networks, for sure.

»?For more information about Kidjo’s work, visit www.batongafoundation.org

»?This series was developed in partnership with the Southern Africa Trust

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