The Anti-Bono: Shakira's Crusade For Early Childhood Development

Most people know Shakira as a worldwide pop sensation, but she's also starting a political and philanthropic movement to promote early childhood development in Latin America. Sounds familiar — but her brand of activism seems different from, say, Bono's.

Shakira - who is profiled in this Sunday's NY Times Magazine - her boyfriend, and friends have started a group called ALAS, (Spanish for "wings") a group of Ibero-American singers who work to gain political support for early childhood education, nutrition, and healthcare throughout Latin America. Scott Malcomson of the New York Times Magazine says their goal

is on a scale beyond the reach of private charity. It requires the steady effort of the state. It cannot be addressed by rich countries' check-writing. So the trick is to take pop celebrity, marry it to big business and permanently alter the way Latin American governments help care for the young and the poor.

Shakira says "it has been scientifically proven that a kid that receives proper stimulation and nutrition during these early years will develop all their potential in life: intellectual skills, learning abilities, social and emotional abilities." She also says that, "for each dollar invested in the early education of a child, this child will eventually return to the state $17." Malcolmson argues that her project is different from the kind of celebrity activism so in vogue these days because of its scale — Shakira needs to get governments to change their policies, something mere benefit concerts won't do — and because it is homegrown.

Luis Alberto Moreno, president of the Inter-American Development Bank, explains:

When you compare everything that everybody has done - Bono and others - toward Africa, it has been largely G8-type artists, or from G8 countries rather, looking to Africa," Moreno explained. In the case of ALAS: "Latino artists are looking to Latin America, and I think that is unique. And I think that is extremely powerful, because their relationship is deeper as a consequence.

It remains to be seen whether Shakira's crusade will really change the world. Her meeting with heads of state at the 2008 Ibero-American Summit went well, but by 2009 skeptics were already wondering what it had accomplished. One Colombian columnist questioned whether Shakira really cared about the affairs of her native country, Colombia: she called Shakira "more Canadian than Colombian." Whatever happens, Shakira is creating a new brand of celebrity philanthropy, one that may be more in touch with local needs than that of Bono or Angelina Jolie. It will be interesting to see how it evolves.

Shakira's Children [NY Times Magazine]