{ Celebrity + Humanitarian = Celebritarian }

The Celebritarian of the Month is: LIYA KEBEDE.

“Dying trying to give life does not have to happen.” Liya Kebede


Millions of people around the world have LOOKED at Supermodel Liya Kebede.

Now…it is time to SEE her.

On June 15, 2009, a woman who was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, who wears a size 2 dress and stands 5’10 tall, sat on a United Nations panel in New York City; at the Secretary General’s Forum on “Advancing Global Health in the Face of Crisis.” Her long, silky straight, jet-black hair was parted down the middle and pulled back into a bun. She wore a billowing white blouse, no makeup and no jewelry. In front of her on the table were her notes. Her only accessory was a pencil.

She leaned into the microphone and said, “I have a story to tell…I met this young woman in Ethiopia when I started working with WHO: the World Health Organization. She was a 17-year-old girl, living at home with her mom, and the father of her child had left because he could not handle his responsibilities. She told me that when she was pregnant she had to walk about an hour to go to the nearest clinic. There were no blood tests, and no birthing classes there. When she was ready to deliver she went to the hospital and was asked to pay for the gloves that were going to be used for her, the sheet, the syringe, the water…all of it, and she did not have any money. So…if you didn’t have any money you are sent back home. The photographer from the WHO was documenting this, and realized that he could not just sit around and do nothing. He went into his pocket, and paid for a safe delivery for this woman. This woman delivered in a hospital that did not have running water.”

Next, she picks up a small purple and white box; the same size as a box of Band Aids, and opens it.

“This is a birthing kit. It’s very simple; it has a piece of soap, gloves, some gauze material, plastic sheets and a cord. This actually costs $10 – so women who come to the hospital or clinic to deliver are expected to have $10 to pay for this, and this is supposed to save their lives. So…what happens if this woman needs IV fluids? Does that mean since she can’t pay for a syringe she wont get one? Does it mean a doctor wont use gloves because she has not paid for it?”

These words of profound love and compassion for voiceless mothers-to-be around the world sound like they came from an obstetrician; but instead, they were eloquently spoken by the eleventh-highest-paid fashion model of 2007 in the world: Liya Kebede.


Supermodel, humanitarian, philanthropist, and activist Liya Kebede was placed under an exclusive contract by fashion designer Tom Ford, for his Gucci Fall/Winter 2000 fashion show because as he put it, “When you look at her and notice that she is literally breathtaking, you realize that while you appreciate that physical attribute – a genetic gift from her mother and father, you have the choice to ‘see’ her too.”

She was the May 2002 cover model for Paris Vogue; who dedicated the entire issue to her, and the first black woman to be named the Newest Face of Estée Lauder cosmetics in 2003, a milestone for the then 57-year-old billion dollar brand.

Kebede has been featured in some of the world’s most coveted luxury brand advertising campaigns; including, Tiffany & Co., Yves Saint Laurent, Dolce & Gabbana, Victoria’s Secret, L’Oréal Paris, Balenciaga, Louis Vuitton, and Gucci. She has also appeared on the silver screen; opposite Oscar and Golden Globe winner Eddie Redmayne in the Robert De Niro directed film The Good Shepherd.

On the runway, she is literally in a class by herself. Her beautiful brown skin and delicate features never overpower the haute couture gown or ‘must have the perfect body to wear’ bikini she is modeling; instead, the clothing comes alive as she walks past editors, socialites and buyers – towards flashing camera lights. In the Gucci Autumn/Winter 2004-2005 collection she made skinny black pants look like body art, caused jaws to drop when she glided down the runway to Dusty Springfield’s “The Look of Love,” in a purple silk cocktail dress, and heard applause and gasps of admiration when she reappeared a few moments later for the finale, wearing Ford’s iconic white crystal dragon back-draped cut out evening gown.

Yet while all of this beautiful modeling was going on…her thoughts were laser-focused on using her global platform to spread awareness, and garner support for an issue so close to her heart, that she would make attending whatever conference, or granting any interview she had to do a priority – to effect change.


In 2010, Liya was the opening Keynote speaker at the Social Enterprise Conference at Harvard University. She stood in front of the podium as the Founder of The Liya Kebede Foundation, the WHO (World Health Organization) Goodwill Ambassador for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health, and an advisory board member for the Mothers Day Everyday Campaign. After attendees watched a video of her work with at-risk mothers in Africa, she took to the stage and said, “I got involved in maternal, newborn and child health because as a mother I could not stand by and watch mothers die in childbirth when I knew we could save them.”

This short, powerful and important statement sums up the energy behind a woman’s choice to embrace her past, connect it to the future, and do all that she can do to save lives.

During her speeches at Harvard and the United Nations; in her interviews on CNN and Al Jazeera, and while speaking in front of a host of global policy makers that have the power to help her cause, she has educated the world on this underfunded and overlooked plight.

Liya Kebede has taught us that…

In Ethiopia, dying in childbirth is deemed “normal,” and as common as hearing that someone in the west has died of cancer. She was shocked to discover that the problem had been all but eradicated in other parts of the world, when she began to travel as a model, which exposed her to other cultures.

In developing countries, girls are forced into marriage too early. Often, their bodies are not developed enough to bear children, and the countries lack of birth control takes away their ability to wait to start a family – when they are better able to give birth to a healthy child. Often, their under-developed bodies cannot handle the birth; and they can find themselves completely alone, in a dirty hut, and in excruciatingly painful labor for days on end.

In Ethiopia and other developing countries, many women must walk miles to reach the nearest health center. More often than not, this means they cannot get the help they seek, so they struggle to give birth in a pitch black, dirt floor hut on their own. Often, they bleed to death because there is no one there to help if a complication should arise. If they survive, and their bodies are too young to handle the birth properly, they may end up suffering from Fistula; a small hole created by constant pressure from the fetus, which renders her incontinent. When this happens, she is usually rejected by her husband and expelled out of her village due to her foul smell.

Complications from pregnancy or childbirth, is one of the leading causes of death for women and children in developing countries.

A child whose mother died is up to 10 times more likely to die within two years. Less likely to be immunized or attend school, and may end up exploited, abused and suffer from malnutrition.


Liya Kebede was calm – yet fearless – when she said:

“When you are faced with women dying, because there aren’t proper roads or ambulances to get them to the clinic in time; instead of funding blindly or giving up, its time to take a new approach such as building waiting homes besides clinics, so expectant mothers can reach doctors in time. Some thought of bicycle ambulances or flashlights to light the health workers way to reach remote villages in the dark. Service is about passion, and commitment – but it’s also about pure unrelenting stubbornness.”

“Simply put, mothers die because we haven’t invested in saving them. If we agreed that a woman should see a medical professional at least once during her pregnancy; if we ensured that every mother has a skilled attendant by her side, and clean surroundings during birth; if we invested in basic health care such as a tetanus vaccine for mothers, and if we gave mothers oxytocin injections to prevent postpartum hemorrhaging, we could dramatically cut maternal mortality. “

Liya Kebede’s mission is…

To reduce maternal, newborn, and child mortality in Ethiopia and around the world. Why? Because she believes that saving the life of the mother saves not just the child’s life, but also the entire community.

Liya Kebede wants the world to know…

“The chance to help people transform their lives is priceless, and has enriched my life more than I can say.”

“My work with Lemlem (her Ethiopian clothing company) and my foundation have given me so much. I’ve seen lives transformed and despair turned into hope. My career has brought me so many opportunities but perhaps the biggest gift my career has bought me is the opportunity to give back. I believe this will be the century of social entrepreneurs. New technologies are stretching the bounds of our imaginations, and tools like social networking are shrinking distances between us. “

“More and more philanthropists are tracking impact, and demanding accountability. We are learning to attack problems at their root causes, and invest in sustainable empowering programs instead of a one time aid project that will fill an immediate need, but will never help people change the reality of their lives.”
“Seek and find the way you can serve. Find what makes you alive and weave it into your daily life. Don’t listen to people who say it’s impossible, just prove them wrong.”

So when you look at Liya Kebede – yes – you will see beauty but please also SEE

A MENTOR – because whether you are a mom on a budget who can only afford to donate $25 to her foundation, or a self-made millionaire who can do even more; Liya is the type of person that you can look up to, and strive to be like through your own philanthropic efforts.

STRENGTH – because that is what it takes for her to keep returning to the dark, dirt floor huts that women all over her native country live in to hear their stories, take that information back to those that can help make a change, and never give up being their champion.

BRAVERY – because just like Elizabeth Taylor, who was told to focus on her career as a leading Hollywood actress, and not cast herself as the first celebrity to support the fight against AIDS; Liya took on not just this issue, but accepted the lead role in the film Desert Flower; the autobiography of a Somalian nomad woman; Waris Dirie, who endured female genital mutilation and later became one of the first black Supermodels in the world.

INTELLIGENCE – because when you listen to her calmly and clearly articulate not only the root cause of this issue, but offer a clear and concise plan on how to eradicate it, you know that you are dealing with an educated activist first, and a fashion model second.

PRIDE – because she loves her native country so much, that she went back to lift the artisan weavers out of squalor, and create jobs for them with her Ethiopian made fashion brand Lemlem. Preserving this African hand-made fabric weaving tradition is just as important to the worlds preservation of culture, as is the tradition of making a French haute couture gown. Neither art can be forgotten without losing an important part of the worlds artistic history. Kebede strongly encourages the manufacturing of clothing and accessories in her native Ethiopia, and other African artisan communities. She is proud to share that African artisans offer on-time deliveries, beautifully made products and should be looked at as an untapped resource for creative collaboration. Her dream is to see “Made in Africa” as common as “Made in China” on the insides of countless quality products around the world. Her heart sings knowing that this will literally mean another African family is lifted out of poverty, by doing what they have shared for generations as a family-taught artisan skill, and knowing that the work that comes from their very own hands, will be appreciated throughout the world.

And most of all…LOVE. Love not just for her own two children, but for mothers and children everywhere that can be saved if more people stop and listen to her message, then simply choose to get involved at any level they can.

If you have read this entire article to get to this very sentence – thank you. You are one more person in the world that is aware of this issue, and that is where change begins.

Please visit The Liya Kebede Foundation website (here) to learn more about her work, support her efforts and share the information with your family and friends.

When you can find the time, please watch the following videos of her interviews and speeches; where she will inspire you to not only become aware of this issue, but also encourage you to join her in the fight to solve it – and yes – this issue is one of those rare issues that can actually be solved.

1) Liya Kebede CNN Revealed

2) 2013 Global Diaspora Forum, Liya Kebede in Conversation with David Ensor

3) Riz Khan – Supermodel Liya Kebede

4) Supermodel Liya Kebede on Protecting Vulnerable Populations

5) Living Proof | Liya’s Diary

6) Supermodel Liya Kebede Connects Traditional Ethiopian Weavers to the Hottest Boutiques

7) 2010 Social Enterprise Conference at Harvard University

The Celebritarian honors humanitarian, philanthropist and Supermodel Liya Kebede, for her bravery, kindness and compassion.

“We don’t all have Bill Gates’ resources, and we are not all in the position to build comprehensive health systems from scratch; but that doesn’t mean we can do nothing. Every time you get involved, no matter how small, you are effecting change in that one persons life, and to that person, that’s everything. You have to take solace in that. But at the same time when the opportunity arises we can raise our voices, and make noise so that the people who can help build health infrastructures do.” Liya Kebede