Time's Persons of the Year

Time Magazine has named rock star Bono and philantrophists Bill and Melinda Gates as Persons of the Year for their humanitarian work for the world's poor. This culminates in a year of charity for victims of poverty, disease and natural disaster.

From CNN.com:

At Friday's photo shoot for Time, Bono said, "I'm experiencing an unusual feeling. I think it's called being humbled.

"The work that I do with DATA and the One Campaign has been helped by what Bill and Melinda do," he said. "This can be a generation in which we eradicate extreme poverty."

Bono is a co-founder of the DATA (Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa) organization, which fights poverty and HIV in the developing world. From that organization was spawned the ONE Campaign to Make Poverty History.

"It has been a great year for global health to get more visibility," Bill Gates said Friday. "The more people know about it, the more they want to act."

The magazine said that while sudden disasters grab the headlines, other tragedies unfold daily.

"And who is proving most effective in figuring out how to eradicate those calamities? In different ways, it is Bill and Melinda Gates, co-founders of the world's wealthiest charitable foundation, and Bono, the Irish rocker who has made debt reduction sexy," Time's managing editor Jim Kelly writes.

The Gateses, the magazine notes, "spent the year giving more money away faster than anyone ever has."

In January, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation committed $750 million to improving access to child immunizations, accelerating introduction of new vaccines and strengthening vaccine delivery systems.

The foundation focuses on education, global health, improving public libraries and supporting at-risk families, according to its Web site. The Gateses awarded grants to schools in Texas, Colorado and Massachusetts, as well as the Lutheran World Relief program, which received $640,000 to help nomadic communities in Niger avert food crises.

Bono was one of the organizers behind this year's Live 8 concerts in nine cities worldwide. The concerts were aimed at getting the leaders of the world's developed nations to come to the aid of impoverished Africa. They did so at the G8 summit, agreeing to double aid to Africa to $50 billion by 2010 and cancel the debts of the poorest nations.

"Bono charmed and bullied and morally blackmailed the leaders of the world's richest countries into forgiving $40 billion in debt owed by the poorest," the magazine said.

However, not everyone is feeling joyful this honor. Travel writer Paul Theroux bashed the Gates and Bono in a recent New York Times opinion piece. "It seems to have been Africa's fate to become a theater of empty talk and public gestures," said Theroux. "But the impression that Africa is fatally troubled and can be saved only by outside help - not to mention celebrities and charity concerts - is a destructive and misleading conceit."

Mr. Gates has said candidly that he wants to rid himself of his burden of billions. Bono is one of his trusted advisers. Mr. Gates wants to send computers to Africa - an unproductive not to say insane idea. I would offer pencils and paper, mops and brooms: the schools I have seen in Malawi need them badly. I would not send more teachers. I would expect Malawians themselves to stay and teach. There ought to be an insistence in the form of a bond, or a solemn promise, for Africans trained in medicine and education at the state's expense to work in their own countries...

...Bono, in his role as Mrs. Jellyby in a 10-gallon hat, not only believes that he has the solution to Africa's ills, he is also shouting so loud that other people seem to trust his answers. He traveled in 2002 to Africa with former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, urging debt forgiveness. He recently had lunch at the White House, where he expounded upon the "more money" platform and how African countries are uniquely futile.

Maybe celebrities might not know everything and have a solution to all the world's problems, but their celebrity brings attention to issues that would other wise get ignored. It is up to the people, not just billionaires and celebrities, to create solutions.


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