Madonna Is “Like a Virgin” in Philanthropy with Malawi Education Project


March 28, 2012; Source: USA Today (AP)

The NPQ Newswire has previously written about Madonna’s on-again, off-again commitment to build a school for girls in Malawi, which was followed by an IRS investigation of the Kabbalah Centre in Los Angeles that was the singer’s partner in the event.

The plan had been to spend $15 million constructing the school, but last spring, some $3.8 million had been spent by Madonna’s Raising Malawi charity without any construction happening. At that point, the construction project was shut down, purportedly while things were righted. The Associated Press now reports that the school project is over and the $15 million committed to school construction has been replaced by a $300,000 grant from Raising Malawi to an NGO called buildOn which will “develop 10 schools…[that will] serve about 1,000 boys and girls in the southern African nation of 15 million that is among the poorest in the world.” How $15 million for one school translates into $300,000 for 10 schools isn’t clear, but Malawi officials aren’t happy with the surprise change in plans and say they were left out of the planning.

Trevor Neilson of the Global Philanthropy Project, identified as Madonna’s adviser, told AP that it wasn’t true that the partnership with buildOn was a surprise for the government, pointing out that six government officials attended the Raising Malawi contract signing with buildOn. AP reports that Neilson “stressed Madonna remained committed to helping children in the country, taking a new ‘community based approach’ by working with buildOn.” Another group, an organization caring for orphans and vulnerable children called Consol Homes, also said that it had been defunded without explanation by Madonna’s foundation, but Neilson said that funding is continuing through the middle of the year, but that there were “major concerns” about the performance of Consol’s management team.

Three aspects of this story strike us as particularly interesting.

First, what happened to the Kabbalah Centre? It was Madonna’s partner with some of the grantmaking and the real estate. We raised questions about it last spring and summer. Where did the money go? Where did the Centre go? Next, how did the philanthropic auditor, Global Philanthropy, become the philanthropic advisor? Madonna hired Global Philanthropy last to “audit” the staff of Raising Malawi, who it seems had been a little rambunctious in spending money for things that weren’t quite along the lines of helping kids in Malawi. How Global Philanthropy moved from auditor to advisor in this situation is interesting to be sure.

And lastly, Madonna’s shift here is a bit like the disappointing results and eventual program shift of Oprah Winfrey, who reportedly spent $40 million on a school for girls in South Africa, only to determine that it wasn’t a sustainable model. These little, one-off educational ventures by celebrities in Africa seem to miss the importance of better, systemic assistance for literacy and skills—and teacher training—throughout those nations’ school systems. One-offs by Oprah and Madonna sometimes don’t get much above zero.

Material girl” Madonna is wealthy enough to have afforded some good technical advisers during her odyssey into education in Malawi, but somehow she has meandered through this process “like a virgin” in philanthropy.—Rick Cohen

  • Dennis Gibbons

    Madonna is taking the advise of foreigners instead of taking advise from the Malawi Ministry of Education. This know it all attitude is what has been causing problems in development in Africa. Madonnas funds were being managed by the Kabbalah center in Los Angeles and not from Malawi. Malawi proved that out of the 3.8million that Madonna claimed to have spent on the Academy Project, only 800,000US$ reached Malawi. And out of that amount, most of it was spent on two huge parties that Madonna held in Malawi to lauch the project and then to break the ground. Madonnas attitude that when things go wrong blame the Africans and black people for wrong doing is just plain racist. Money was managed from Los Angeles and only pennies got to Malawi. In 2010 Raising Malawi spent 2million on hiring private jets to fly from Los Angeles to Malawi. How is it they are going to build schools for 300,000US$ but they happily spent 2million US$ to fly Michael Berg to Malawi to attend the parties? Raising Malawi has closed all their projects in Malawi and have not announced that they have, why because they are still raising money on their website for projects that do not exist anymore including Consol Homes. Consol Homes has not received money from Raising Malawi since June 2010. Madonna claims to have raised 18million for the academy this is a very conservative figure, now she says she will spend 300.000 to build village schools without windows, where will the rest of the 18million go. Madonna should explain what she intends to do with all money raised for Malawi. Money raised for Malawi should be sent to Malawi. Global philanthropy claims to have conducted an audit, when our media house demanded that we see the audit they refused, the reason is, Raising Malawi would never allow an audit, the Kabbala center would never accept to be audited by independent auditors, they have too much to hide.

  • rick cohen

    Dear Dennis: Thank you for your comment. There is a bit of a ring to this like the Invisible Children video about Joseph Kony which seemed not to go down very well with Ugandans. In any case, you raise important points and we will try to follow up on two:

    1. Our earlier coverage of this mentioned in some detail the relationship with the Kabbalah Centre. After our article (though not caused by our article), the IRS announced it was conducting an investigation of the Kabbalah Centre. Usually the IRS won’t comment on ongoing investigations, but we’d like to try to see what we can learn about what the IRS learned about the Kabbalah Centre and its relationship with Madonna’s Raising Malawi project.
    2. It’s difficult to know what kind of “audit” Global Philanthropy conducted on Raising Malawi. We suspect it wasn’t an audit done by a CPA meeting the Generally Accepted Auditing Standards of the AICPA, but more like a program audit. But given the controversy surrounding this effort for some years now, both Raising Malawi and Global Philanthropy would do great good for Malawi and Madonna by releasing the audit. We’ll see if we can get it.

    Thanks for the comment.