So, you may or may not have heard of this Lady Gaga character. On February 29 she officially launched her new project, the Born This Way Foundation, just down the street from where I am currently sitting.
The BTWF is a “youth empowerment” foundation – read, anti-bullying, though LG is clearly trying to step away from that framing of her work. It’s pretty exciting, especially since to my knowledge there is no other philanthropic out there dedicated to this effort quite so broadly. (The wildly popular, widely renowned It Gets Better Project – which also includes Gaga among its supporters – was the first nationally-recognized, private effort of this kind, and specifically focuses on LGBT youth.)
The mission of the BTWF includes three “pillars”:
1) Safety – creating a safe online space for young people to engage and celebrate their individuality
2) Skills – providing tools and training for young people to advocate for self-empowerment and expression
3) Opportunity – providing community-level engagement – again, spearheaded by young people
From the information that is currently out there, it’s a little unclear the exact form that the above pillars will take (a school- or community-based curriculum? Online training tools? Specific policy advocacy?). However, I for one remain optimistic. Gaga is clearly a savvy businesswoman, being worth several millions of dollars and all. She lives and breathes the message of self-empowerment. And she’s already a role model to thousands of teens. Assuming that she surrounds herself with people who can help her implement programs and measure impact, she’s probably one of the few celebrities likely to be able to make a significant difference just by being herself. The main purpose of the foundation, it seems, is to normalize the message of self-empowerment – something we can all get on board with.
More information about the foundation – including a place to read and share inspiring stories of bravery and information about how to donate – can be found on the foundation’s website. If you’re really not pressed for time, you can also watch the launch video from Harvard University – featuring Oprah, Gaga, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, and Foundation co-founder Cynthia Germanotta, who also happens to be Gaga’s mom – which runs about an hour. The foundation is also currently holding a poster contest to come up with a “visual representation” of the BTWF’s work; the contest closes this Friday, March 23.