Each month, we highlight a celebrity’s work on behalf of a specific cause. This month, actor Rainn Wilson talks about his work on behalf of the Mona Foundation, which works to support educational initiatives and improve the status of women and children around the world.
Question: What is the Mona Foundation?
Answer: The Mona Foundation is a charity that supports grassroots movements towards education in developing countries. What makes me so excited about it is it’s not some charity going into a place and saying ‘We’re going to build a road here or a school here or a soccer field here.’ They go in very sensitively and look for things that are already working and then lend their financial support … whether it’s an orphanage in the Amazon, a school for native Indian speakers in Panama or a girl’s school in Tanzania. … There’s no infrastructure to it, so literally 97 percent of your money goes directly to support these initiatives.
Q: How did you become involved with the Mona Foundation?
A: As “The Office” started taking off and I started getting more and more requests to do various … charity events and stuff like that, I thought (that) rather than just do a benefit here and a fundraiser there, I really should find something that I feel passionate about and put it at the top of my list in terms of giving it my time and energy and focus. And one of the heads of the Mona Foundation, a woman named Mahnaz Javid, actually knew my father when he was living in the Seattle area and contacted me through him. Then I talked to my dad … did a little research and talked to people that knew about it and everything I heard was just A-plus reports.
Q: Has your Bahai faith affected your choice to become involved with the organization?
A: The Mona Foundation certainly shares a lot of priorities with the Bahai faith. One of the most important teachings of the Bahai faith is universal education. Bahais believe that’s actually a spiritual imperative for human kind. … We need to educate women and girls and the equality of men and women is also a very important spiritual principle in the Bahai faith, so these were all in alignment.
Q: What is the most impressive thing that this charity does?
A: I think they really listen to the needs of the community that they’re supporting. … There’s this school for native Indians that live in the mountains of Panama and it’s the only school of its kind that teaches in that native language. When they asked what the needs of that school were, they said, ‘Well we want to train people to teach our language.’ I know the people from Mona were like, ‘Really?Are you sure you don’t want running water, you don’t want desks or you don’t want to … build a dormitory or something?’ and they said, ‘No, that’s what we really, really want.’ Instead of saying we’re not going to give you that, they said, ‘OK … we will raise the money to make that happen.’
Q: Have you had a personal or memorable experience since becoming involved with the Mona Foundation that you’d like to share?
A: We had a nice fundraiser and a bunch of people from “The Office” came to that, but I’ve only been involved with them for about six months or so and I’m getting more and more involved. We’re planning a trip to Tanzania in January to visit a school. My wife and I are very excited about that.
Q: Have your co-workers on “The Office” helped you support this charity?
A: Yeah. They all came to the fundraiser benefit and have been very supportive. … And the stars of “The Office” are getting involved in in charity work themselves.
Q: When people hear that funnyman Rainn Wilson is involved with such a serious cause, what do you think their reaction is?
A: It might be a little disconcerting, like ‘Oh, that annoying, dorky guy on that TV show is involved with charity raising money for orphanages and girl’s schools?' But, you know, as a Bahai I believe first and foremost we’re all world citizens and we just need to do what we can do to make the world a better place. Whether you play a dork on TV or not. … You don’t have to be a celebrity to get involved with charities like this. You could literally raise $100 for a bake sale and you could help make the world a better place, not just with the Mona Foundation but with any charity you chose to support. And that’s one of the things that the Mona Foundation does is that it keeps it on a very small, real human level.
Q: And if people want to find out about the Mona Foundation, what should they do?
A:MonaFoundation.org is the Web site
Interviewed by Corey O'Neill, NBC News
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