Nuevo Culture

Charlize Theron and RAD Are Shifting Awards Season’s Focus from Fashion to Philanthropy

If you thought awards season was all about Oscar gold and high fashion, Arienne Phillips and Carineh Martin, the founders of Red Carpet Advocacy (RAD), would like to change your mind. The weeklong announcements tied to the RAD Impact Awards honored “cultural icons who inspire purpose,” a.k.a. stars whose commitment to giving back has become a fundamental part of their work. This year’s winners list includes Michelle Obama, Charlize Theron, Margot Robbie, Laverne Cox, Travis Scott, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, and Amanda Gorman. Through highlighting endeavors like Scott’s Cactus Jack Foundation or Chopra Jonas’s advocacy for women’s education in India, the virtual event uses the platform afforded by celebrities to shine a light on significant issues.
More than signal boosting, the event allowed each of its stars to select an honoree to share their award with, and a charity that will receive a sizable donation. RAD’s charitable focus was heartening for recipients like Theron, whose Africa Outreach Project (CTAOP) shared its Impact prize with nonprofit Small Projects Foundation, based in Buffalo City, South Africa. “Any award that causes this kind of impact in this day and age, during a moment when people are living under hard times, is a blessing,” she shared on the phone from Los Angeles. “Being able to reach out to Aya at Small Projects and let them know that every single child they work with would be able to go back to school was incredible.”

Theron began CTAOP in 2007 to address the inequities within South Africa’s handling of the AIDS epidemic. As a teenager in the 1980s, when the nation was hardest hit, witnessing the devastation caused by the disease changed her outlook permanently. “AIDS impacted everyone, but in South Africa especially, there was a lack of information,” says Theron. “Old traditions were at war with something that was bringing a country to its knees. [Seeing this] as a young girl marked me in ways I can never forget. The experience made me realize that as we’re moving forward and figuring out how to take care of the immediate needs [related] to HIV and AIDS, like having antiretroviral drugs, there was still a lack of prevention care. The rest of the world got out of the cycle, but South Africa never did. We have 1% of the world population, yet we’re almost 20% of the HIV population.”
According to the World Health Organization, South Africa currently has more than 7.1 million people living with HIV within its borders, and 4.1 million of those are women. A staggering 18.9% of adults are HIV positive, and each week nearly 4,600 more people are diagnosed. The virus has had a lasting impact on all aspects of society. “An entire generation has been wiped out,” says Theron. “The lack of access they had to lifesaving information about HIV and AIDS was the impetus for starting the project.” The focus of CTAOP is empowering the youth of South Africa in order to prevent the further spread of HIV and AIDS. That mission means creating HIV prevention programs, partnering with and supporting community based charities to teach sexual and health education, and offering services like counseling. 
Small Projects Foundation, which benefits from this year’s Impact award, reaches the most vulnerable in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. For the last 32 years, the nonprofit has been helping assist with the development of communities. Their most recent project, Zero Dropout aims to bring students who left school due to the coronavirus crisis back to complete their education. “We’re looking at an over 30% [drop-out rate] especially in this area of rural Eastern Cape province,” explains Theron. “Outside of the obvious things that we think of when we think of education, it provides skills that let young people thrive in their adulthood.” The initiative is especially important given that domestic violence rates in South Africa have risen during the pandemic, just like in the United States. “When young people are reliant on their safe space being school and you remove that, they are essentially trapped at home with an abuser,” says Theron. “This is a global issue. What was lifesaving for most of us—staying at home and not leaving—has been a death sentence to many people.”
CTAOP has been working directly with the group since 2018. Pre-COVID, Theron visited South Africa regularly to meet with nonprofits and seek out worthwhile causes. The Small Projects team impressed Theron with their commitment to the kids within their community and their tenacity when dealing with teenagers. “What struck me was that everything they did was so youth friendly. When you’re dealing with adolescents—and we all know what we were like when we were adolescents—it’s tough. You can have a great message and good intentions, but if you can’t reach the most vulnerable, you’re missing the mark,” says Theron. “Small Projects does such a great job of reaching those young girls who are not going to school, not getting an education. If a student doesn’t come back to school, they check up on them, make sure nothing is going on at home; they don’t give up.”
Thanks to RAD and a generous donation from Amazon, Small Projects Foundation and CTAOP will be able to devote even more resources to their efforts. For Theron, the true measure of success is seeing how the initiatives they’ve begun are helping people in the long term. “We started a youth leadership program that’s been going on for two years now, and we’re looking at 20 students that are going to be graduating out of big universities,” she says. “We’re the ones who are inspired by these students who people say we’re helping. They’re helping the world [and] because of these opportunities, I truly believe they’ll change our future for the better.”