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As one of the music world's biggest stars. Shakira has sold more than 50 million records, sells out stadiums from continent to continent and is among today's most active humanitarians. You'd be hard-pressed to find a corner of the planet where she isn't recognized, especially after her recent contributions to the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Her performance of the tournament’s official song, “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa),” during the official kick-off concert and again at the closing ceremony in Johannesburg was a testament to Shakira’s international reach not only as a musician but also as an icon.
“It was such an honor to be part of a global event. I had the most amazing time,” she says. “Everywhere I went I met such beautiful people who welcomed me to their country. I never felt so much love in one month.” She says the experience could only have been better if her native Colombia had qualified.
“That it took place in Africa was special. I felt connected to people of all cultures. In many ways, ‘Waka Waka’ was an injection of joy in my life. The song is about optimism.”
This month, Shakira’s preparing to release a new album and her worldwide tour is well under way. But don’t think that all the energy and effort she puts out are merely in the name of promoting her brand. For Shakira, it’s not just about her career: It’s about using her star power to bring attention to the plight of the young and poor.
Her tireless work on behalf of children, particularly in developing parts of the world, is more personal than most people realize. As a little girl in Barranquilla, Shakira Isabel Mebarak Ripoll saw her father forced to declare bankruptcy. Her family had to sell all its possessions, leaving Shakira utterly distraught.
“It was the end of the world for me. But then my father showed me that things could be worse.” She vividly recalls seeing the slums, where orphans lived on the streets. “It opened my eyes, and it made me want to go out and succeed as an artist so I could come back and help these kids.”
At 18, Shakira—whose name means “thankful” in Arabic—set up her Barefoot Foundation, which builds schools for children all over Colombia. More recently she helped found and promote the ALAS Foundation (Fundacion América Latina en Acción Solidaria), which lobbies governments to commit to early childhood development programs across Latin America through educational, healthcare and nutritional platforms.
“It’s important to understand the difference education makes,” she explains. “We have seen its transformational power. Education should be a birthright. That’s my biggest focus.”
Shakira’s influence as a humanitarian has helped raise a significant amount of money. In 2008 she received a $200 million commitment from Carlos Slim Helu, Mexico’s billionaire telecom tycoon, and Howard Buffett, son of Warren, to donate to early childhood development initiatives in Latin America. Along with her ability to generate funds, she also raises awareness as a Unicef Goodwill Ambassador. Naturally, such fervent activism brings with it speculation about possible political aspirations.
“I’m always political in the sense that I’m committed to fighting for the young and the poor, and I will always use my role as an artist and an activist to lend my voice to people who don’t have one,” Shakira explains. “We should all take part in shaping the destiny of our world. But I will never take political office. It would actually limit me in many ways.“
Photographs by Marc Baptiste; Styling by John Moore