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Producer behind Nelson Mandela's 70th birthday tribute returns for new global campaign

Tony Hollingsworth is the esteemed producer behind nine of the world's largest broadcast events over the last three decades.
Nelson Mandela Concert
Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute Concert at Wembley Stadium in London 11th June 1988. (Photo by Dale Cherry /Daily Mirror/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)Mirrorpix / Getty Images

The Wall: Live in Berlin 1980, Nelson Mandela’s 70th Birthday Tribute in 1988, and Nelson Mandela: An International Tribute for a Free South Africa in 1990.

What do all of these events have in common, beyond serving as historical landmarks in world history? Each broadcast was conceived by the same man, Tony Hollingsworth. 

Hollingsworth has produced some of the world’s largest broadcast events, each profiling a unique issue that affected the masses. Now, years after his last global event, he is ready to dive back in for what could become one of his largest ventures yet.

The Listen Campaign is an annual global media campaign fueled by creative artists with the aim to help the 1 billion vulnerable children around the globe, a number that’s become even more staggering since the COVID-19 pandemic begun.

Whitney Houston
Whitney Houston performing at Wembley Stadium in honor of Nelson Mandela's 70th Birthday. Mirrorpix / Getty Images

Hollingsworth — the director and CEO of the campaign — has tried to approach all of his work by keeping an explicit social cause at the center while understanding what mechanisms of communication he can leverage to make the biggest change. For the Listen Campaign, he told TODAY that he pondered the question, “How could it be that there are 1 billion vulnerable and disadvantaged children in the world? Not mildly vulnerable and mildly disadvantaged, but very vulnerable and very disadvantaged?”

Rather than center on one singular project, the multi-media campaign is helping 75 projects worldwide — including in the United States — all while amplifying the voices of the children themselves as a central aspect of the campaign. Through the Listen Charity, grants and funding will be provided to these projects, whose aim is to help better the physical and psychological health of the children.

“The core of it is how you tell those stories,” Hollingsworth said. “Now, you may use visual artists, you may use writers, you may use film stars and musicians to carry the message along, but that core bit of communication is really important — how you tell the problem, how do you talk about the problem.” 

Hollingsworth emphasized the involvement of the children within the campaign, adding, “Very early on, I knew it was absolutely important to let the children talk about their problems and then let the children take us to the projects that are helping them and explain how they help and as much as possible to get the children to be the narrative.”

Samuel L. Jackson and Natalie Portman are among some of the celebrities and creatives who will be participating in the campaign, helping to enable a platform for the children to create their own narrative while they ask the questions and simply listen.

In the first year of the campaign, 75 projects will be supported across the world. Each project was vetted and selected by the team after reviewing the children’s charity sector in order to amplify their message and expand their reach. Some aspects of the campaign will center on a handful of the international projects, as well as projects that are more local and central to where you are in the world, giving a holistic view of some of the global initiatives happening in addition to those that may be just in your backyard. 

Natalie Portman in Uganda filming for the Listen Project in 2007.
Natalie Portman in Uganda filming for the Listen Project in 2007. Dave Hogan / Dave Hogan/Getty Images

As the years progress, Hollingsworth would like to see the initial 75 projects to grow into hundreds, continuing to build and expand off of the first year’s foundation into new projects and regions.

“If you can show people solutions to these problems, which isn’t out there at the moment, then we think they’ll multiply at that point, they’ll be replicated, and they’ll be expanded,” Hollingsworth said.

This time around, Hollingsworth has been able to not only leverage the star power from international celebrities, but also the power of social media, old and new, to create a sense of community and new ways to get the public involved.

So far, the Listen Campaign has launched their Listen Collectibles Auction and Shop, which includes an NFT auction of historic music performances from the likes of Diana Ross, BB King and more.

Samuel L.  Jackson

Later this year, Hollingsworth will return to his roots with Listen Live, a global live broadcast that is estimated to reach over 500 million viewers worldwide. The event aims to feature more than 100 musicians, television and movie stars, and big name brands. In Los Angeles alone, Hollingsworth anticipates between 28 and 35 international musicians along with a dozen movie stars to introduce vignettes from the children, though no names have been announced just yet.

As for what Hollingsworth hopes is the end result of the campaign, it’s not awareness, but rather knowledge of the solutions available to help.

“We want people to have knowledge of the solutions to the problems faced by vulnerable and disadvantaged children,” Hollingsworth said. “To know those things, to have lots and lots of different examples… If we could get that knowledge base up, then we know a lot more things will happen."

"People will give more, corporates will spend more on it. People will understand what is good aid and what isn’t good aid. The fourth big thing is people themselves will actually take action and say, 'We know how to solve that problem.'"