NEW YORK — True to the occasion, there were no celebrity sightings or red-carpet step-and-repeats at Gucci’s and UNICEF’s 10-year anniversary gathering Tuesday at the Tribeca Grand here.
Instead, a crowd of 100 viewed a screening of “Growing Tall,” a short film that profiles how a Mozambique community has benefited from improved educational opportunities made possible by Gucci over the past decade. Shot by the Brooklyn-based filmmaker Christina Voros, who is better known for “As I Lay Dying” and “Kink,” the documentary depicts how learning can definitively change the lives of children, parents and teachers In Mozambique. Through its collaboration with UNICEF, Gucci has helped more than 7.5 million children in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia to get a better education.
Through its more than $20 million commitment, Gucci has helped UNICEF train 8,700 teachers, build nearly 300 classrooms and set up 1,800-plus water and sanitation systems, among other things. In Mozambique alone, as of 2013, 5.5 million primary school aged children were in school, compared to 4 million eight years prior.
After the screening, Gucci president and chief executive officer Marco Bizzarri said, the union is not marketing-driven. “I think this is something that everybody should do. We never talk a lot about this collaboration — we just do it,” he said. “Certainly if you look at the movie, you will feel passionately to do something — to collaborate with Gucci or someone else, or to do it by yourself. If we just move one person [to take action], it’s enough. But it should be natural, organic. You have to feel it.”
Caryl Stern, president and ceo of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, said, “What’s exciting to me is that Gucci chooses to use that film to celebrate our anniversary. It’s magnificent. You know lots of people would just throw a party. But they’re actually giving voice to changes that wouldn’t be heard otherwise and telling the story of education.”
There are more children refugees than in any other period in history including the post-World War II period. Just as Bizzarri mentioned a few of the many areas of international unrest — Syria, Iran, Iraq — Stern said, “Take Syrian refugees alone. Jordan, which is about the size of Los Angeles and has a population of about 4 million, has taken in a million refugees in a matter of months. And Jordan by no means has the infrastructure of the U.S. That gives you just a little microcosm of what the world is facing today.”
Salma Hayek, a cofounder of Gucci’s Chime for Change, is pictured in “Growing Tall” embracing Syrian refugees at a UNICEF Protection Center in Lebanon. “This is work for her,” Stern said. “It’s got to be real. We’re not interested in public relations campaigns. We’re interested in someone who feels deeply and has the ability to attract others to hear her voice.”
She said that UNICEF was the first organization to sign up celebrity ambassadors, by lining up Audrey Hepburn and Danny Kaye. That has led UNICEF to be “very picky” about whom they align themselves with, Stern said. “One of the things that Gucci does for us is they are highly selective. Their endorsement means something. They create a beautiful product, they always have. They are perfectionists in what they put their name on. With their customers, the same is true. They know Gucci wouldn’t put their name with us unless we were worthy of that.”
Conversely, Gucci clients are increasingly eager to help, according to Bizzarri. “More and more customers are looking for ways to get involved, especially now with what’s happening in some parts of the world. We see things from a very, very far distance but the reality is huge…Choosing the country is not easy because you could go everywhere. You’re a tiny part of a bigger environment so that’s why we decided to do something. As soon as you start, the more you realize how big the problem is.”