On Sunday, American Idol’s Simon Cowell came on Oprah and gave a generous donation to the family of a child with cancer. After the presentation, he digressed from helping cancer victims to helping developing countries. He said a few sentences about how aid and charity is the most effective way to reduce poverty in Africa. Oprah praised this comment and encouraged all of the audience to give money to charities.

Many celebrities do the same. Bono is perhaps the most famous for promoting aid in Africa. And because these celebrities have the media coverage and the access to a wide audience, people listen to them.

But how much do they actually know about what they’re promoting? How well do they understand the real effects of aid throughout an entire continent? Have they even been here? And if so, did they see anything besides a fancy hotel room and a staged performance by children who have been “helped by aid”? Do they know any stories besides those fed to them through what Owen Barder calls poverty porn?

If you want to help, great. But choose who you listen to wisely. You can trust the opinions of celebrities like Bono and Oprah and Simon Cowell. Or you can trust people who actually have experience in the field and write about it here and here and here and here and here.

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