The Lady Gaga Case Study in Philanthropy

Jennifer Wheary
November 10, 2011

The Boston Herald reported last week that Lady Gaga is being used as a case study in a Harvard Business School class on effective media marketing.  The case study focuses on Gaga's risk-taking, particularly around mounting an ambitious first solo tour in 2009 and using social media to create a legion of followers -- "Little Monsters" as they are known, 15 million strong on Twitter.  At 25 years old, @ladygaga has more on the ground global influence than many sitting presidents.  

This makes it all the more fascinating that Gaga has started the Born This Way Foundation. The foundation, created in partnership with heavy hitters like the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the California Endowment, and Harvard University, will address issues of youth empowerment and self-confidence. In a statement, Gaga talked about her vision for the foundation's impact:

Together we hope to establish a standard of Bravery and Kindness, as well as a community worldwide that protects and nurtures others in the face of bullying and abandonment.

Some have been critical of Lady Gaga's efforts because they say the foundation will perpetuate a moral standard of sexual tolerance that is offensive. Such criticism should be acknowledged as a form of flattery. Any expressed fear of Gaga's message is proof of her relevance. Gaga is a master of marketing, with the ability to influence millions in an instant with a 140 character tweet. What happens when she puts that momentum into a well-funded philanthropic effort that has broad grass roots support and a high level of programmatic organization? The potential for real and measurable impact.

The Born this Way Foundation website has little backgound information right now, just a statement of principles, a hint of promise, and a form to collect email addresses.   It says: 







The last line on the web page is a form saying "I, [enter YOUR NAME] [enter EMAIL], WAS BORN THIS WAY."

The prelude is an important one, getting at values that are difficult to deny.  Who does not want empowered, humane, accepted youth?  Yet it is the last line on the page that delivers the most punch.  It is written in the form of a pledge.  You sign on to the principles and simultaneously sign up to help.  In the process Gaga is growing the number of her co-conspirators and collaborators and garnering their commitment not to complain, but to do something positive.

The foundation will formally launch in 2012, presumably with a definitive call to action and a long list of signatories already on board.  There is a huge lesson for activists here about how to move mountains.

This article was originally published on PolicyShop, the web blog of Demos.  It is reprinted here with permission.

Jennifer Wheary is a Demos senior fellow.


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