Academy Award-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o, who recently joined Watch Hunger Stop, talks about philanthropy, inspiration and optimism.

With so many important issues out there, what is it about the fight against hunger that speaks to you?

Hunger is a defining issue for our world and climate change is worsening the problem. We must work to change this dynamic.

How did your partnership with Michael Kors come about?

I’ve admired the work they do to fight hunger for some time. Last year, they asked me if I’d be interested in joining them and I was thrilled to say yes.

You are engaged with a number of different philanthropic efforts. How do you decide which efforts merit your time and energy?

I find what speaks to me and sparks passion. I am proud to support Watch Hunger Stop because it focuses attention on solutions to the problem of hunger and encourages people to take action on an individual basis.

“My mother and father taught me that philanthropy is my human responsibility.”

Do you think it’s important for artists and people in the entertainment world to take on philanthropic causes?

No: I think it is important for each and every one of us to take on philanthropic causes, and recognize that we have a role to play in shaping the world we live in. The intention to be philanthropic should start in private and with the individual learning to care about more than just themselves. Artists and people in the entertainment world are in a unique position to influence large groups of people to recognize that power within themselves and institute change, but the responsibility to humanity is best shared by all.

Did your family instill in you any particular beliefs about philanthropy?

My mother and father taught me that philanthropy is my human responsibility. This was engrained in me from a young age, and I have continued to live by that philosophy, partnering with the likes of WHS and using my voice to speak up for matters that I believe to be important.

“Women’s issues are human issues.”

You have been a powerful advocate for women in recent years. Please talk a bit about how fighting hunger aligns with your support for women.

Women’s issues are human issues. Hunger is a human issue and therefore hunger is a women’s issue. Michael Kors and WFP are working hard to eradicate hunger by helping to fund school meals. When students can eat, they can perform better in school which in turn leads to greater opportunities in life. In so doing, this program is facilitating better opportunities for women and girls on a daily basis.

You have a children’s book, Sulwe, coming out soon. What made you want to talk directly to children?

I want to instill the notion of self-worth when children are still formulating their identities, before the society at large has a chance to dictate their value for them.

Do you have a role model, or someone you especially admire, when it comes to activism and philanthropy?

I have watched my mother grow as a philanthropist all my life. She is selfless to a fault, passionate and dedicated to the causes she takes on and patient beyond comprehension. She acts, not for the public glory but for the private satisfaction that giving back gives her. She takes her philanthropy very personally and I love and admire that about her.

How do you find the energy and desire to help others while pursuing your busy career?

Giving feels really good to me, so I make time for it!

Would you say that you are fundamentally an optimist or a pessimist about the challenges facing the world today? Can you explain why?

I oscillate between optimism and pessimism, to be honest! I feel optimistic when I am in a position to contribute something positive and constructive in my work as an actor, author, producer, sister, daughter, cousin, auntie, friend or philanthropist. I feel optimistic when I engage in the constructive work of others that I respect and admire, when I can feel the forces of good conspiring and multiplying in the world. But there are times when I am overwhelmed by the destruction and evil in the world too, and in those times, I suffer a quiet panic. But then I remind myself of Robert Bresson’s words: “Make visible what, without you, might perhaps never have been seen,” and that renews my faith in myself and in my ability to effect change in the world. Just because we cannot fully fix some of the larger issues facing our world today does not mean we cannot make small differences that add up. If Watch Hunger Stop is able to provide a school meal for even one child, that is a positive change that I am proud to be a part of. So I guess optimism wins the day after all!