How Kelly Killoren Bensimon and her family are using the forces of social media, traditional media and personal brand building to make positive change in the world.
Hey baby, how’s your brand? Everywhere you turn these days, otherwise normal, well-adjusted people are talking about the importance of their personal brands, the proper use of social media and how to grow their network of followers and friends. Wasn’t it just a few years ago you thought Facebook, Instagram and Twitter were frivolous past-times, like playing Minesweeper or Candy Crush Saga?
Now it seems to be commonly accepted that for anyone launching a business or seeking to be recognized as an expert, there’s no shying away from social media – or any media, frankly. A strong personal brand requires visibility – which leads you to more customers, more paying gigs and…wait for it…more power.
That’s right, we said “power”. Your media presence gives you a platform upon which you can speak, tweet and share your views. As respect for your voice (i.e. your brand) grows, you begin to influence people’s opinions and actions. They turn to you for your perspective on certain matters. That, dear friends, is power.
Now before you get all Lex Luthor on us, we recognize that the reason most people build a brand is not because they are power-hungry supervillains; they merely seek to get more people to buy their services or books or cupcakes or whatever it is they are selling. However, once you have built a brand and established an audience, you have an amazing opportunity to create social change – hopefully, positive social change. In other words, you really can use your powers for good!
A powerful example
The Real Housewives of New York City alumni and friend of Golden Girl Finance, Kelly Killoren Bensimon, is a terrific example of someone who has established a powerful personal brand, which she tirelessly uses for good.
Three years ago, Kelly was filming on the site of Housewives, when Haiti was hit with the devastating earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands of people and left some three million people without homes, jobs, schools, food or water. Kelly immediately began thinking about how she could use her platform as one of the ‘Housewives’ to help with relief efforts. She reached out to her fans, began to fundraise and ran a marathon to raise even more money. With the funds secured, she traveled to Haiti where she helped dig wells to bring clean drinking water into impoverished communities.
This summer, Kelly and her 15-year old daughter returned to Haiti, this time on a mission with Generosity Water, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing clean water to communities in developing countries. Before they went, they once again raised money and awareness for the charity. As Kelly says, “With a media platform, even more than the money you raise is the database you can compile for these charities. Millions of people and supporters. One tweet can go to millions of people. Just think of the actions you can inspire.”
Generation of change
Kelly believes that the teenagers and kids of today are the ones with the real potential to implement social change. They are growing up naturally interacting with social media, reaching huge audiences and connecting with others around the world, without so much as raising a pierced eyebrow. It is therefore incumbent upon older generations to help guide them toward a sense of social responsibility and awareness, teaching them how to use their powers for good.
“I took my daughter twice to Haiti,” said Kelly. “I wanted her to go and see the wells we have built, to show her how much change can happen when people do what they say they will do. She visited the children at an orphanage and saw for herself what a difference having water from a well can make to their lives.”
Beyond building wells, Kelly wanted her daughter to meet the other mission volunteers. “She saw all these doctors, consultants and professional people who were using their vacation time to do exhausting work around the clock in order to help others. I want my kids to be exposed to people like that: inspiring, hard-working, generous people.”
Kelly’s daughter went on to raise $7,500 and built a well of her own that will supply water to people for 20 years. “The experience has given her more empathy,” says Kelly, “and a greater understanding about the hierarchy of needs.”
Of course, you don’t need to go to Haiti to teach your kids about helping others. Kelly started out taking her girls on food drives for the Salvation Army and on trips to the Food Bank for New York City.
“I didn’t expect anything of them at first, just brought them along when I would go volunteer or visit,” said Kelly. “Afterward we would talk about what they saw and I would offer positive encouragement. ‘Did you see the effect you had on people? When you handed that woman the bag of groceries, did you see how she smiled at you? Can you imagine how different her week will be knowing she has food to eat?’”
Kelly sees it as making kids comfortable with social responsibility. “Many kids are just not exposed to real levels of poverty and crisis. They know other people have less than them but don’t really think about how those people feel or what they can do to help. The more exposure they have, the more empowered they feel about helping and it becomes ingrained in them. They feel comfortable contributing on their own terms.” Wielding your power
We all have finite resources. Once you and your family begin using your powers for good, you will quickly find that there is always more work to be done. More great causes, more people in need and more donations required. There will always be more requests for support than you can ever handle. So how do you choose what to support and what to decline?
Kelly offers these tips:
-Be aware and be proactive. When you choose to work with a charity, get to know how it works, financially and operationally. Always be hands-on when raising money and understand exactly where and how that money will be used. Unfortunately, there are people out there who create charities just to host parties. Seek out quality organizations that really need your help and where you can make the most impact.
-Focus your efforts. Choose one or two causes or commit to a sector. Kelly and her daughters have chosen to support charities that provide food and water to people in need. In addition to being a Celebrity Ambassador for Generosity Water, Kelly and her girls support the Food Bank for New York City.
-Give what you can. You receive a request from a friend or a charity asking for support. You believe it’s an important cause and want to help, but you don’t have the means to provide what they are asking for. Be honest. There are always different levels of support. If you can’t afford to buy a gala ticket, offer to help stuff swag bags instead. If you don’t have the time, maybe you can help corral a couple other volunteers.
Your own mission
We love the way Kelly and her family are using the forces of social media, traditional media and personal brand building in order to make positive change in the world. The philanthropic work they do to help others has the add-on effect of bringing them closer together as a family unit. It is a virtuous cycle of goodness that we hope will inspire you to find your own mission, too.
As summer heats up, Id like to explore some things that are an integral part of my DNA. For my summer vacation, I took my 15 year old daughter on a trip to Haiti again to see all the amazing wells that have been put in, even one at an orphanage by Kim Kardashian, and celebrity colorist Chaz Dean of Wen products. We also went to Jacamel where a new school is going to be put so the children in a rural part of Haiti will have incredible education due to Dev Pro, Operation Blessing , and Generosity Water. I even learned how to Cat Daddy with Francia Almendarez from ABC’s Secret Life of an American Teenager, and acclaimed singer Jojo. I also compiled a HOT list of who’s HOT in the Hamptons: you’ll see who they are and why they are HOT. Marley Ficalora brings us the Hamptons skater culture, Sasha Charnin Morrison fashion director of US Weekly clues us into what HOT in fashion right now. And if you love good music and need a little downtime in this heat wave, check out Donna D’ Cruz and her summer hot list.
See you in AmNy and always let me know what you love and don’t love, or what you area dying to hear from those whom I admire so much. Ask away.
After the Earthquake, Haiti suffered, but the people of Haiti lived with hope. Its my third time to Haiti and every time I come back, my biggest reflection is not what Generosity Wateror Operation Blessing are going to do for this amazing culture, but how this culture survives while smiling. They want for nothing and need everything. Its an impressive culture. The Bassin at Jacamel has the most gorgeous water, Rebo coffee and Vanilla extract is delicious and strong in flavor. the jewelry is incredible, and the wood work and furniture is unbelievable. WIth all that talent, now I see why they smile. They have hope despite adversity. Thank you to all the donors who have supported me in my clealn water initiative,and thank you Generosity Water and to Operation Blessing with your amazing fish farm. You are bringing a school to Jacamel with Dev Pro, so now they have water, educated, and are learning to fish to feed their country. Im humbled and grateful for the beauty I have been exposed to.
Kelly Bensimon went to Haiti with Generosity Water, an organization building clean water wells in developing countries. She even visited one of the wells that she raised money to fund — which is now providing clean water to over 500 people every day.
That’s so cool to see the results of your hard work and donated money!
The kids then showed her a dirty stream — where they had originally gotten their water — that has caused many people to get sick. The new well means everything to them!
Here’s what Kelly said:
“The best part of this whole experience is spending time with the kids in the village, and seeing how happy they are. Its pretty amazing to see how we can have such an impact on a village by simply building a clean water well.”
Beautiful! Watch video above and wait for the Prezzer shout out! SO MUCH LOVE!
It was such a pleasure to meet President Bill Clinton. Not many people impress me, but his philanthropic efforts in Haiti make me so intrigued. I had a great discussion with him about my efforts towards helping Haiti building clean wells with Generosity Water.
Congrats President Clinton for helping us help others!
Kelly Bensimon on her charity work with Generosity Water: ‘It’s not about being a celebrity, it’s about being a human being’
Cause Celeb highlights a celebrity’s work on behalf of a specific cause. This week, we speak with Kelly Bensimon, former model and star of Bravo TV’s “The Real Housewives of New York City”, about her involvement with Generosity Water, an organization that works to provide clean water to people in developing countries. Bensimon recently returned from a trip with Generosity Water to Haiti.
Generosity Water’sgoal is to set up wells in villages that are protected from contaminants and organize water committees to distribute and protect this water. So far the organization has installed 131 wells worldwide.
Bensimon, a Rockford, Ill., native, has two daughters with her ex-husband, fashion photographer Gilles Bensimon.
Bensimon: The goal of Generosity Wateris simply to bring water to countries in need.
Q:You just returned from Haiti with Generosity Water. Did you have any memorable experiences while you were there that you’d like to share with us?
Bensimon: It was really unbelievable. One of the most important things that we have to remember when we visit a place like Haiti is that [in their] hierarchy of need, water is at the top. Close to 1 billion people don’t have access to clean water worldwide, and 3.5 million people die from water related illnesses every year. So basically, [if] you want to be a humanitarian and a build a hospital, you can’t [just] build a hospital if you’re not stopping the reason people are being [sent] there, like for water-related illnesses.
But, one thing that really struck me was that in Haiti the government donated this plot of land, Canara, and they said, “listen, you know your homes have been devastated so we’re going to offer this land to you,” but there was one problem: there was no water.
The wells in Haiti are more expensive than they are in other places because you have to dig deeper. The actual wells that are built in Haiti are $6,000 versus the normal $3,000. The most important thing to remember is people can survive weeks without food; they can only survive three days without water. When I saw young girls, 10-year-olds, walking around with 40 pounds of water on their heads that I couldn’t even carry, and they weren’t in school, I thought to myself: “No. You go to school. I’ll take care of your water.”
Q: Especially as a mother yourself, that must’ve been something that really stuck with you.
Bensimon: As a mother, I was so upset by the process. I just couldn’t believe it. So, basically what I did was I enlisted my Twitter followers to support me, and I matched them, and I had my friends match me [with donations.] So it was just an amazing opportunity for everyone from my friends to the fans who love “Real Housewives.” They’ve been incredibly supportive and generous. I am so grateful for that. That was really impressive.
Q: Are there other charities you’re involved with?
Bensimon: There are so many other charities I’m involved in. I work with Feeding America. I donated some proceeds of a special charity airing last year. I also do work with the Museum of Modern Art, and I also work with Hale House.
Q. Why do you think it’s important for celebrities to be involved with charity work?
Bensimon: I think it’s not about being a celebrity; it’s about being a human being. It is interesting to see that the world is really small. That is one reason why I was able to make even more of an impact [because] I spoke the language. I [speak] French. So, I was able to go to the orphanages and to schools and speak to kids. Actually, I was able to go into the hospitals and communicate to the people there, be it doctors, nurses, whoever, because I spoke the language.
The world is really small and knowing a second language is really important. There were just so many layers to this trip. But, obviously bringing water to the world was one of the most important things.
Q: What are some upcoming projects that you are working on?
Bensimon: Right now I’m really focusing on Generosity Water. I want to help them raise as much money as I can. Also, I spoke to my older daughter, who’s 12, and I said maybe for her birthday and my birthday, because they’re both in May, that we would maybe [go to an orphanage I went to], and work on raising some funds. And go down there and actually clean up an orphanage. Not [by] bringing them things they can’t have, but just [by] making their lives a little better. So I am trying to enlist my kids to be supportive of the world as well, [because] they’re at that age.
Q. Now, is there anything that you would like to add?
Bensimon: I am just grateful for the opportunity. I am grateful to Bravo for allowing me the ability to have a voice and to be a public figure where I can actually make an impact, and make someone else’s life a little bit better. It is really an honor.
Kelly Bensimon from Bravo’s “Real Housewives of New York” visits Haiti with Generosity Water from Feb 15-17, 2011.
In this video Kelly is in one of the largest tent cities in Haiti called Camp Canara where nearly 10,000 people moved after the earthquake and have to walk miles every day to find water. Kelly is passionate about helping people have access to clean and safe drinking waster and has been actively involved in raising money to fund multiple wells in Haiti.