Charlize Theron and Annenberg's Unusual Support for HIV Work in South Africa

The Annenberg Foundation and Charlize Theron wouldn't seem to have much in common, beyond their popularity in Los Angeles. But since 2010, Annenberg and Theron have been working together for HIV and AIDS prevention in South Africa.

Ms. Theron's Africa Outreach Project (CTAOP) began supporting community-based organizations providing HIV prevention services to African youth in 2007. This January, the Annenberg Foundation awarded CTAOP a 4-year, $1 million grant through the New Venture Fund (NVF). This grant will enable CTAOP to help community-based HIV education and screening provider Mpilonhle expand its mobile health clinic fleet and add water access and sanitation development to its core programs. Annenberg's recent grant isn't its first for CTAOP. The southern California foundation began supporting Mpilonhle through CTAOP in June 2010 with two 20-month, $500,000 grants.

It's no surprise that CTAOP would support Mpilonhle's work. Ms. Theron's South African roots and passion for an HIV-free generation of youth dovetails with Mpilonhle's work perfectly. The Annenberg Foundation's involvement, however, is out of the ordinary, given the intense focus of chair Wallis Annenberg and her three foundation officer children on Los Angeles-centric animal welfare and artistic causes.

Ms. Theron's Hollywood connection may have earned Annenberg's attention, given the Annenbergs' regional and topical emphases. Since 2010, 90 percent of Annenberg's financial support for health and human services efforts in Africa has gone to CTAOP. Giving in Africa accounts for less than two percent of the Los Angeles-based foundation's grants. Compare that to Annenberg's California grantees, which account for more than 60 percent of the foundation's recipient projects. Although health and human services grantees make up about 25 percent of Annenberg's total, only a handful are devoted to combating HIV.

It's more likely that CTAOP won the Annenberg grant thanks to a recommendation from NVF, a public charity associated with social enterprise advisory firm Arabella Advisors. Arabella founder Eric Kessler founded NVF in 2006 in response to philanthropists' demands for an efficient way to launch and operate charitable endeavors. He remains the chair of NVF to this day.

Annenberg's priorities may be an odd fit for HIV prevention work in South Africa, but NVF's Fund for Global Policy and Advocacy targets projects that “strengthen global health and development efforts by building public awareness” and “advocating for additional funding” for the global health and development community. Mr. Kessler's presence on the board of Friends of the Global Fight Against AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria suggests that his influence may have guided Annenberg-via-NVF's support for CTAOP's HIV prevention work.

Historically, organizations seeking Annenberg grants for work outside of the United States have faced long odds. The relatively complex chain of giving linking Annenberg to Mpilonhle suggests that organizations able to leverage star power in Los Angeles or win over philanthropic advisors like Mr. Kessler may be able to (indirectly) leverage an Annenberg Foundation grant to do good abroad.