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12 Celebrities Committed to Improving the World

Leonardo DiCaprio

Leo has become well known for his activism. He’s a vocal supporter of gay rights, but his focus is environmental protection—a cause he’s very serious about. In an interview about his movie The 11th Hour, DiCaprio called global warming “the number-one environmental challenge.”

He doesn’t just talk the talk, though: He’s donated millions to charity, giving Haiti’s relief fund and the Wildlife Conservation Society $1 million apiece in recent years. He even lives in a home covered in solar-paneling and drives low-emission vehicles, of which he owns three: a Toyota Prius, a Fisker Karma plug-in Hybrid, and a fully electric Tesla Roadster.

Emma Watson

Watson has gone far to promote women’s rights and advocate feminism—literally. She’s visited Bangladesh and Zambia in efforts to promote education for girls and has been appointed as a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador.

Watson has given several speeches supporting women’s rights: one in Uruguay calling for women’s involvement in politics, one at the World Economic Forum’s annual winter meeting, and one at the UN headquarters in New York City to help launch her HeForShe campaign. The organization takes a unique and intelligent approach to supporting feminism, calling on men to support gender equality and subsequently erase the notion that feminism is simply a struggle for women by women.

George Takei

George Takei was an active member of LGBT organizations long before the public even knew he was gay. Since he’s come out, however, he’s become a major figurehead for the community and a very vocal supporter of equal rights. He’s also been acknowledged for his contributions to US-Japanese relations.

His notoriety as an activist is due in large part to his huge social media presence, as he uses his Facebook and Twitter to distribute his own PSAs and commentary on issues of inequality.

Angelina Jolie-Pitt

Angelina Jolie-Pitt and her husband Brad Pitt are one of the most well-known celebrity activist couples. Jolie’s humanitarian efforts started after filming Lara Croft: Tomb Raider in war-torn Cambodia and seeing the crisis first hand. After finishing the movie, Jolie began visiting refugee camps around the world, taking over 40 field missions in more than 30 countries within just a decade.

Jolie has also spent a good deal of time working with institutions that support the preservation of wildlife, organizations that provide legal support to child immigrants, and institutions that promote women’s rights.


Bono’s fame as a musician is almost equaled by his status as a philanthropist. The National Journal named him the most politically effective celebrity of all time, largely for the work he’s done to support needy areas of Africa, and he was Time Magazine’s 2005 Person of the Year.

Since the start of his activism, he and his band mates have spent an immense amount of time performing benefit concerts and recording singles for various relief funds. Along with Bobby Shriver, Bono has started two separate initiatives — DATA, an organization that fights to eradicate poverty and aids in Africa, and Product Red, which raises money for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria.

Barbra Streisand

Barbra Streisand has contributed to several causes throughout her career. In 2006, she donated $1 million to Bill Clinton’s climate change initiative, and in 2007 she helped raise funds in an attempt to defeat California’s Proposition 8. Then, in 2009, she gave a $5 million dollar endowment to the Barbra Streisand Women’s Cardiovascular Research and Education Program at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, and she performed in a fundraising gala for Israel Defense Force charities in 2011.

The Streisand foundation, established in 1986, has provided over $16 million by way of nearly 1,000 grants given to "national organizations working on preservation of the environment, voter education, the protection of civil liberties and civil rights, women’s issues, and nuclear disarmament.”

Michael J. Fox

Fox publicly revealed in 1998 that he suffered from Parkinson’s disease. Since that time, he has become a leading advocate for Parkinson’s disease research. He started the Michael J. Fox Foundation in 2000, an institution that aims to further research and improve treatments for those living with Parkinson’s.

By itself, the organization has invested over $450 million and become the leading force and the largest nonprofit funder in Parkinson’s disease research. His work in this field earned him a spot in Time Magazine’s 2007 list of 100 people “whose power, talent or moral example is transforming the world."

Ellen DeGeneres

Ellen DeGeneres frequently uses her show as a platform for discussing and spreading awareness of pet care and animal rights issues. She’s a partial owner of Halo, a company that makes holistic pet care products, and the show’s website regularly promotes various pet adoption initiatives. In 2009, PETA named her “Woman of the Year” for her sustained efforts.

She’s also gained recognition for her humanitarian efforts as well. In November of 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton named DeGeneres a Special Envoy, or Representative, for Global AIDS Awareness.

George Clooney

Clooney is yet another celebrity that uses his wealth and influence for good. He, along with several other celebrities, is heavily involved with the Not On Our Watch Project, which focuses attention and resources on preventing and stopping mass atrocities.

Clooney has been an advocate of and voiced his support for efforts to help Darfur’s refugees, to promote equal rights for homosexuals, and to support victims of the 2010 Haiti Earthquakes. His continued interest in and work toward global stability and peace have earned Clooney the appointment of UN Messenger of Peace by the United Nations.


Kristen Bell

Kristen Bell has been a vegetarian since she was only 11 and has been a vocal supporter of animal rights for almost as long. She’s spent time fostering animals from the Michigan Humane Society and currently supports the Helen Woodward Animal Center in San Diego. Bell commonly frequents fundraising events for nonprofits dedicated to protecting animals, particularly ASPCA fundraisers.

On top of her work for animals, Bell is also involved with the non-profit organization Invisible Children, Inc, which aims to increase awareness of the civil war in Northern Uganda, and has appeared in a PSA for Do Something’s healthy living campaign.

Willie Nelson

Nelson has a long and diverse history of activism. In 1985, with Neil Young and John Mellencamp, the musician established Farm Aid to assist family farms and increase public awareness of their importance. For that cause, Nelson, with the help of other musicians, has raised tens of millions of dollars.

More recently, Nelson has spoken out in support of the LGBT movement‘s fight for equal marriage rights, and has also campaigned for the passage of the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act. He and some business partners even formed Willie Nelson Biodiesel, making him an environmental activist as well.

Yoko Ono

Yoko Ono has been opposing war and promoting peace since the 1960s. More recently, however, her activist efforts have become more environmentally focused. She and her son, Sean Lennon, launched the group Artists Against Fracking in August of 2012.

The group, now with nearly 200 members, fights to expose harmful fracking practices and the subsequent contamination they can cause. By way of raising awareness and organizing peaceful demonstrations, the group aims to end natural gas fracking and protect citizens from the potential release of toxins into the air and water.