Natalie Portman Hates Poverty, Loves Lattes

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Bwogger Pierce Stanley was lucky enough to attend CPU’s presentation on microfinance (starring Natalie Portman!) Here, he reports back with notes on Natalie’s outfit, micro-lending, and Village Banking.

So it looks like Homeboy Jeffrey isn’t the only celebrity with a Harvard degree taking on poverty at Columbia these days. Fresh off the releases of  Wes Anderson’s Hotel Chevalier and The Darjeeling Limited, none other than Natalie (nee Hershlag) Portman descended on Lerner 555 today for an all too brief, hour-long discussion of microfinance and the fight against world poverty entitled “Action and Leadership in the Fight Against Poverty.”  While Natalie was rather autumnal in a super-short pumpkin-colored dress and sandals that looked more like mini deconstructed baskets, the event sponsored by the CPU and FINCA  was ultimately more bark than bite.   

Microfinance was the topic of the hour (Natalie is the FINCA Ambassador of Hope), however the event turned out to be a lot of fluff: more an exercise in watching Natalie sip a Starbucks grande latte and wax poetically about her trips to Uganda than an engaging discussion about the benefits and drawbacks of microfinance lending.  Indeed, it was hard to take Portman seriously.  When asked later about this apparent disconnect, Portman said, “Its not about feeling bad about what we have, its about giving and sharing what we have with others. Its very easy to condescend.  Seeing the reality of the situation changes everything, so you have to travel.”

Natalie hurried into the packed room amidst a swarm of agents, handlers, and of course her mother who follows her to most of her engagements. The few stragglers who weren’t able to get in scratched anxiously at the windows trying to catch a glimpse of the former queen  of the Galactic Empire. CPU and a SIPA grad student opened the function in classic fashion, providing a short history of microfinance, discussing the Village Banking concept, and of course celebrating the Banker to the Poor himself, Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus.  It was even revealed that SIPA offers 6 classes in microfinance, and MiCrolumbia  is a student-run lending campaign that is just starting to get on its feet but has a ways to go. 

After showing a brief video made by FINCA in Mexico of Natalie struggling to articulate why she likes being the poster child for micro-lending, Natalie had a chance to redeem herself by speaking in person, and here she demonstrated a delicate balance of grace, cuteness, and intelligence.  Portman spoke mostly about the integral role of women in the Village Banking system, arguing the necessity for groups to go into villages in which the majority of women make under three dollars a day and create a village bank that supports individual business enterprises, fosters social responsibility, and empowers women and children.  Portman noted, “Once you’re there, you say to yourself I am not going to forget this.”  She touched upon her trips to Israel and celebrated Queen Rania of Jordan as her inspiration for joining the microfinance cause, a cause that she said she wish she had known about during her college days.    

As such, the actress urged college students to join the cause early saying, “You have the ability to spread the word, fundraise, and spread technology.”  Indeed, Portman suggested that technology is an important way to promote microlending efforts, citing the creation of Natalie Portman MySpace and Facebook groups as “hip ways of reaching kids in 2007.”  She drew giggles from the audience when she said about Facebook, “I know you all check it like twenty times a day.  Its what I’ve heard, you know, word on the street.” 

Q and A was a weak attempt at building room-wide discussion.  Instead, it turned into about five questions that were answered by Portman and then supplemented by a FINCA director afterwards.  A discussion of the effectiveness of lending projects ensued, and the event got technical with descriptions of the need for cultural sensitivity and the hiring and training of local people.  Particularly interesting was one student’s asking of advice for his attempt to build a microfinance project in Ramallah and another student’s wondering if lending projects offer any real benefit beside feeling good about yourself at the end of the day.  Portman laughed this question off by wondering if people would be more inclined to contribute to microfinance projects if there was an incentive like, “I’ll kiss you after you give us fifty bucks.”  However, she was quick to suggest that microlending for no profit may not be as effective as organizations that provide small loans for profit, noting “the more the better” and suggesting that competition ensures that those who seek loans will choose the best lender. Ultimately, Portman declared that the “mission of microlending is social” and that we need to “try to measure returns that way.”



  1. "I'll kiss you ..."  

    ...after you give us fifty bucks."
    And thus Natalie Portman solves the problems of world hunger and poverty in one fell swoop.

  2. f.d.  

    considering the majority of the people there didn't even know what the topic of the talk was going to be before they got there, and might not even have known what microfinance was (the elevator was packed and that's what everyone was saying) it was a pretty cool deal to have her come and raise awareness, even if she didn't give the same kind of in-depth talk as someone else could have (which probably would not have been as full nor even covered on bwog).

  3. observer  

    I think that she deserves a lot more credit than this post gives her. The paragraph beginning with "Microfinance was the topic of the hour..." makes it seem as if her visit didn't accomplish anything. I think that she really helped to open a lot of people's eyes to a new, worthwhile cause, and to make an important point that although we might be at great, prestigious ivy league institution, that doesn't necessarily mean we're being educated about the world around us. I mean, what was expected out of her visit anyway? I think she did what she should have-- to talk about something she believes in and her experiences with it, in hopes that maybe she'll turn some other people towards the cause as well.

  4. o' natalie  

    mmm plus she's hot

  5. deepthroat  

    its your fault if you don't know what microfinance is... its been around since 1970 - i would expect students at columbia, especially those who claim to be changing the world to know damn well some of the intricacies of microfinance and engage the new so-called poster-child of it on a deeper level

  6. idiot  

    This Bwog author needs to get a good dose of shut-the-fuck-up.

  7. Actually,  

    I'm pretty sure the "hip ways of reaching kids in 2007" quote should be attributed to the SIPA student.

  8. bwog  

    your snark has its time and place, but you've gotta pick your spots better. you can't be pessimistic just for the hell of it -- especially not when natalie portman's involved. why would you ever get on a queen's bad side, especially an insanely hot one?

  9. well,  

    bwog's finally found how to get more defensive than snarky comments: make the topic a hot, semi-respectable actress.

  10. Natalie Raps  

    When I was at Harvard
    I smoked weed every day
    I cheated every test
    And snorted all the yay

  11. C3P0  

    dear pierce stanley

    Natalie Portman was never Queen of the Galactic Empire. She played Queen Amidala who was Queen of Naboo and later became Senator Amidala, representing Naboo in the Republic. The Galactic Empire did not exist while she was in a position of authority.

    get the facts ass and may the force be with you

  12. semi respectable?

    yeah right...being the object of a bunch of star war geeks masturbatory fantasies (even worse in bad star war movies) and then having her crowning achievement as the protagonist in an anti authoritarian movie which would have even made orwell blush in how over the top, silly and implausible it was

    and oh yeah. in between she did the zach braff directed pretentigasm called garden state

    she might be cute, but she hasn't done a good movie since the professional

  13. anon

    I think Natalie has been incredibly brave exposing herself like this on these FINCA Micofinance campus tours. And sure you'll have the token 'she's just doing it for self-promotion' retortion, but when there are posts like this, the reality of the vulnerability she's subjecting herself to it is apparent. Natalie has never been the most articulate and I think people expect so much because of her academic past but academic excellence still doesn't contribute to being able to express yourself clearly. One thing that is clear is her passion for the cause and I find it respectable of her to use her celebrity to draw attention to the cause even she herself may know that she's not the best person to articulate it

  14. anon  

    This is just a really poorly written post. It starts out with a negative spin but then none of the quotes it gives support any of the negative accusations. Having actually been there, I think this is a really terrible portrayal of what went on. I think it's more important that she cares about something enough to try to educate others about it and that she's actually doing something.

    And whoever said that it's your own fault if you don't know what microfinance is because it's been around since the 70's... does that mean you know everything that's been in around since the 70's? Maybe people should know what it is but I have a bunch of friends who are very well educated and informed and still had no idea.

  15. disagree  

    I can't believe we went to the same event. On this issue more than any, I can't stand bwog's default practice of being so snarky and cynical about everything. Yes, it was a bit too short, but I also thought it was a worthwhile way to get people informed and talking about an important issue, even if they only came for the starpower.

  16. Why

    Why do universities indulge this half-wit?

  17. ...  

    bwog is simply a lame-as-fuck outlet for columbia hipsters/cynics/et al to bitch about everything and anything that goes on at Columbia.

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