• David Grammig

Meta-Philanthropy & Celebrity-Diplomacy - A Conversation With Former UN Diplomat Enzo Di Taranto

As a diplomat with the United Nations and an award-winning global strategist, di Taranto has been up close and personal with the world’s conflicts—scenarios like the freedom struggles in South Africa and Indonesia or the ravages of war in Kosovo, Somalia or Colombia. But he has also been witness to their resolutions, brought about by strategies and collaborations with men and women who employ an innovation of the mind, to shift perspectives, and solve systemic problems. As such, he has shared the company of the people who influence populations, men like Desmond Tutu, Paulo Coelho and Bill Clinton.

From such interactions and experiences, along with his two master degrees in development economics and international relations, di Taranto holds a unique skill set—the ability to combine solutions to the world’s problems with the monetary aid and network of influences that can realize them. For decades, he has successfully done so through such visionary campaigns like Action 2, the Network of Men Leaders, and UNiTE, which was launched by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in 2008. The UNiTE campaign, which di Taranto is manager of, calls on governments, civil society, women’s organizations, young people, the private sector, the media, and the entire United Nations system to join forces in addressing the global pandemic of violence against women and girls.

You work with a lot of celebrities who are in the limelight, but many influential people work behind the scenes - especially wealthy families. What influence do they have on your work?

Celebrities are often able to rapidly generate massive reachout. Through my work at the UN, I have seen movie stars like Leonardo Di Caprio, Sean Penn, Nicole Kidman and Charlitze Terhon using effectively their influential power to support specific countries and global campaigns. Wealthy families have also been playing a key role, also providing substantial funding to selected entities or causes. The most known examples are Ted Turner – who donated $1B to the United Nations – and Bill and Melinda Gates – who have been donating hundreds of millions of dollars for public health activities worldwide. This is a new trend by the wealthiest who have been signing the "Giving Pledge": an initiative promoted by Warren Buffet and Bill Gates to donate more than half of their fortunes to philanthropy causes during their lifetime.

Which qualities do you appreciate the most in family-run businesses and why?

They vary depending on the family and industry. Obviously, their capacity to rapidly channeling significant funding is one of their main asset. In some cases, the personal leadership of renown family’s members – like Prince Albert II, Bill Clinton and Giorgio Armani – can magnetize great global support. Other influential leaders – like Richard Branson and Elon Musk – have been using their influential power to support innovative projects like the creation of the world’s first Smart Climate Zone in the Caribbean.

Large corporations and multinationals have an interest in supporting sustainable and impactful causes. So what are the biggest differences when working with family businesses vs. multinationals? 

Family businesses have a much faster decision-making ability compared to the slow and cumbersome bureaucratic procedures of large corporations and multilateral organizations like the UN, World Bank and European Union. This may be critical to rapidly support vulnerable populations during natural disasters. I remember that after the devastating hurricane in Haiti in 2010, wealthy families provided immediate humanitarian assistance to the affected populations, while the slower infrastructure of the international cooperation was set in place. Moreover, wealthy families can provide their personal network of related families and philanthropies to quickly increase fundraising campaigns. On the negative side, my experience is that wealthy families often support specific charities with one-time donations which have a marginal impact. Indeed, I am working to sensitize them to engage in longer-term causes – like campaigns, circles and platforms – that have a sustainable long-term  impact. This is the objective of the “Circle X – Elite with Purpose” that we are going to launch during a Mastermind dialogue during the Miami Yacht Show on 15 February 2020.

How do you engage with families, family offices or private wealthy individuals who have the capacity to support your project? 

As I said, I found that Masterminds – that is: well-organized and solution-oriented dialogues around key social, humanitarian and development issues – are effective tools to engage wealthy families. For instance, during the recent Mastermind that we organized in NY, in the occasion of the UN Climate Action Summit, Andrew Forrest – the richest person in Australia who also signed the Giving Pledge - explained how his family and Foundation have been supporting climate change solutions. Likewise, Jazmin Grace Grimaldi – daughter of Prince Albert – and Kiera Chaplin – granddaughter of Charlie Chaplin – presented their work in support of electric mobility.

In which way do you consider yourself an innovative creator?

In everything I do, I try to combine creativity, technology and passion with style and attention to details. As a teenager, my role models were Enzo Ferrari and Giorgio Armani, two men who have managed to create successful global brands with the passion of simple artisans. They still inspire me greatly, together with Steve Jobs. I see them like a modern Leonardo Da Vinci or Michelangelo. Their style and personality influence me deeply.

As a world-renowned strategist, diplomat and manager of innovative programs and global campaigns, you have worked with influential people around the world. Who has been the most fascinating and inspiring person you’ve met/collaborated with, and why?

Well, it is difficult to choose one person only. I often meet presidents, Nobel Laureates, Oscar-winners, world champions, celebrities, top models, successful business persons and many talented people who may not be famous, but who inspire me greatly. But, if I must really pick one, I would say President Clinton: a brilliant man with a great charisma, but also a very human touch.

Since the 1990s you have worked for the United Nations. How did you get involved in that work and what keeps you inspired to bring about positive change in the world?

I started working for the UN when I was 25 years old and had the privilege to give my little contribution to some historical events, like the peace agreements in Colombia, Mozambique and Nicaragua, and the election of Nelson Mandela in South

Africa. I have traveled throughout the globe visiting remote areas in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Kenya, Mali, Morocco, Laos, Somalia, South Africa, Swaziland, just to mention a few. Then, I moved to UN Headquarters in Germany and New York, where I focused more on complex program management, strategic communications, celebrity-engagement and the use of new technologies to foster a positive change in the world.

What can you tell us about some of the books that you have written?

When I moved from Central America to Southern Africa in the early 90s, I wrote a novel titled “World Peace 2050”. It narrates my vision of the world through an emotional human story. I imagined that the United Nations would evolve in a new global, but streamlined, organization responsible for three ambitious goals: World Peace, Education for All and Planet Sustainability. Despite the fact that I wrote it 20 years ago, I could foresee many global trends, particularly what I call “e-democracy”—that is the incredible impact of new technologies to influence global politics. We may not yet see it clearly, but it is changing the world in an extraordinarily significant fashion. In the future, political parties, religions and participation will change totally in a very positive manner. I am also proud to have co- authored a publication on the role of media in crisis situations with the Nobel Gabriel García Márquez. I have published many other things. Through writing, I feel that I can truly express myself.

In all of your endeavors over the years, for which would you like to be remembered for the most and to what do you attribute your success?

During my assignments at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, I managed the UN Secretary-General’s UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign, which is supported by Oscar-winners Charlize Theron and Nicole Kidman, among others. During my coordination, SG Ban ki- Moon also launched the Network of Men Leaders: a coalition of men, such as Peace Nobels Desmond Tutu and Muhammad Yunus, as well as the spiritual Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho. In the same period, the Campaign’s regional components in Africa, Latin America & the Caribbean were also launched. That assignment really fit to my true talent and skills, as I could provide my experience in the celebrity industry with a strategic global vision, knowledge of different countries and complex management skills, particularly resources-mobilization and partnership building. When I moved to Haiti in 2010, I continued fostering the engagement of top celebrities to support humanitarian causes, things that I have also been doing through my involvement with philanthropic and social-business platforms in the Dominican Republic, Dubai, Hollywood, Stanford and Monaco. In May, I was invited to a side event on women empowerment organized during the Cannes Film Festival. It is good to see that the entertainment industry contributes to good causes, and I will continue working to engage it towards human rights, education and planet sustainability.

In all your UN assignments, what has been the most difficult thing to manage?

Working in multicultural and multireligious teams is very challenging. You have to coordinate different personalities and mindsets. And it is even more difficult in conflict and post-conflict contexts where emotional distress is profound.

And the most fun part of it?

Paradoxically, the most difficult aspect— people management—may also be fun because it opens my mind and lets me understand deep aspects of human nature which apply to everybody, regardless of diverse cultural and religious backgrounds. Human energy follows the same principles in every human being. In reality, there are no truths, just different mental perspectives.

What do you consider the greatest causes for people to support right now in history, and why?

There are two strategic causes on which everybody should focus: planet sustainability and education for all. Without them, the survival of human species is at risk, at all levels: spiritual, emotional, economic and physical. That is why I appreciate and support the work of Leonardo DiCaprio and Jay Z to promote environmental issues. And Mark Zuckerberg’s initiative Internet.org which aims at providing internet access to two billion people, including poor populations in remote areas of the world. I told you that I foresaw these fundamental dynamics decades ago in my novel “World Peace 2050.” Now, they are slowly unfolding.

What can you share with us about your Stanford University project, the XZEN Celebrity Training Boutique? Was there a particular experience that inspired you in this?

During my assignments at the United Nations Headquarters—in both Germany and USA—I managed global programs with strong Information and Communications Technology components (ICT4D). I also learned the key role of celebrities in conveying positive messages to global audiences. During my UN career break in 2014, I developed innovative research at both Florida International University (FIU) and Stanford University where I combined these two powerful elements—Celebrity Diplomacy and New Technologies—to support philanthropic initiatives, such as: Rock Against Trafficking, Orphaned Starfish Foundation, Monaco Better Future Festival and World Leaders Forum Dubai. I am honored to support these inspirational global platforms.

Enzo, thank you very much for answering my many questions and the interesting insights to your projects.

If you wish to contact Enzo di Taranto you can do so by email - enzoditaranto@hotmail.com

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