Celebrity philanthropy, even if well-meaning, can be rich with pratfalls and posturing. In 2007, actor Brad Pitt founded the charity Make It Right to build eco-friendly houses for low-income residents of New Orleans who lost their homes in Hurricane Katrina. Ecologically trendy turned out to be economically troubled, however, with the average cost per home soaring beyond $400,000. That in turn made it impossible for the nonprofit to stick to its goal of selling the dwellings only to residents who had lived in the poor Ninth Ward before the storm. Recently the organization learned that the glass-infused wood used to build stairs and decks on the houses without the usual decay-preventing chemicals has already started to rot, long before its promised 40-year lifespan. Planet-friendly Make It Right is thus in a bind, illustrating the classic aphorism that good intentions aren’t enough to solve problems.
Elsewhere in the celebrity sphere, actress Scarlett Johansson found that, after eight years as an ambassador for Oxfam, the international hunger charity had declared her persona non grata. Her crime? An alliance with SodaStream, the soft-drink company that has a factory in the West Bank, where Israeli-run enterprises are boycotted by Oxfam. Rather than quitting the company, Johansson declared she was quitting the charity. The factory might actually be “a model for some sort of movement forward in a seemingly impossible situation,” she suggested to the U.K.’s Observer. As SodaStream’s CEO told the BBC, “We’re giving livelihood to 500 Palestinians who feed 5,000 people, who will have no other jobs. Throwing them into unemployment is not what’s going to bring peace to this area.”