Qualifications for United Nations Goodwill Ambassadors

A goodwill ambassador represents a United Nations agency and brings public prominence to the cause.
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The United Nations is an international organization that aims to bring together the nations of the world to work for peace, justice, human dignity and social progress. Much of its work centers around children, refugees, women and disease in developing countries. The United Nations goodwill ambassadors are prominent individuals who harness the positive power of their celebrity status to promote the mission, ideals and work of specific United Nations agencies throughout the world. Ambassadors are commonly well-known athletes, actors, musicians, authors and former politicians.

Public Prominence

    Goodwill ambassadors must first and foremost be individuals who can bring large-scale attention and awareness to the United Nations agency they represent. The United Nations takes on goodwill ambassadors of regional, national and domestic prominence. These individuals should be household names with mass appeal -- people who are generally well respected and well liked. Ambassadors turn the public eye to the UN agency’s cause and highlight the work that needs to be done. Goodwill ambassadors’ prominence can also help significantly with both fundraising and government legislation, as they may have access to those with significant wealth, political power and personal resources. One of the most well-known goodwill ambassadors in the U.S. was Angelina Jolie, who served the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees. Other notable ambassadors include Christina Aguilera, Nicole Kidman, Susan Sarandon and Shakira.

Dedication to the Cause

    Rather than representing the United Nations as a whole, ambassadors serve one of the United Nations’ many agencies, such as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the Joint United Nations Programmes on HIV/AIDS and the United Nations Children’s Fund. Goodwill ambassadors should be individuals with a demonstrated record of care and concern for the cause of the United Nations agency they represent. Some agencies, such as the UNHCR, require that individuals work with the organization for a period of time before signing on as an ambassador. Those with a history of volunteering, fundraising and advocating for organizations with similar causes also make excellent ambassadors. Ambassadors who serve for long periods of time may be promoted to positions of higher prominence within the agency. For example, Angelina Jolie served for 10 years as an ambassador for UNHCR, and now serves as the Special Envoy of High Commissioner Guterres.


    It is paramount that a goodwill ambassador prioritize her work as an ambassador and set aside the time to serve the agency. Many agencies require goodwill ambassadors to travel to places throughout the world where their work is being done. The United Nations Development Programme, for example, asks that goodwill ambassadors visit developing countries so they can observe the agency’s work first-hand and bring the message back to their home country. In addition to travel, ambassadors must also have the time to fundraise, speak before political bodies and advocate publicly for the organization.

Personal Qualities

    Individuals serving as goodwill ambassadors should positively represent their United Nations agency. They should be able to accurately and enthusiastically convey the mission and work of the organization, meaning they must be articulate, poised and well-spoken. Goodwill ambassadors should also be extremely compassionate and capable of understanding the gravity and complexity of the agency’s cause. For example, ambassadors representing UNICEF, such as Orlando Bloom and Whoopi Goldberg, should be able to interact with children from around the world and understand issues related to children's education, health care and more. Additionally, ambassadors' public behavior should reflect positively upon the organization they represent, and they should not have a history of outlandish or potentially embarrassing conduct.

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