"I was making a lot of money for something that is a pleasure and realizing how a third of that would end up doing a lot of good," she told Readers Digest in May 2007. "I just don't need that much. It's a simple decision." Jolie is nominated as one of Beliefnet's Most Inspiring Persons of the Year for her personal commitment and ongoing work to raise awareness about humanitarian crises throughout the world.
In 2001 Jolie approached the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and asked how she could use her celebrity to help raise awareness about places like Cambodia. Within months, she was visiting refugee camps in Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone and Tanzania. She paid the costs of all her trips and shared field accommodations with UN workers.
Later that year, the UNHCR named Jolie a Goodwill Ambassador. "We cannot close ourselves off to information and ignore the fact that millions of people are out there suffering," she said at the time. "I honestly want to help. I don't believe I feel differently from other people. I think we all want justice and equality, a chance for a life with meaning." This launched a transformation in her public image from tabloid "wild child" to social activist.
"What I admire most about Ms. Jolie is that someone used to living in a glamorous environment should feel such compassion and commitment towards a group so far removed from her world," said Gonzalo Vargas Llosa, a UNHCR senior policy officer in Darfur. "Those who have seen her [with refugees] talk about how genuine, straightforward, and natural she is."
As a Goodwill Ambassador, Jolie has focused on people displaced by war and ethnic conflicts, meeting with displaced Chechens in the Russian Federation and with Iraqi women and children in Syria. After a 2005 visit to Chad, where millions of people have been displaced by the conflict in the Darfur region, she and Pitt donated $1 million to three agencies caring for those refugees. This year she starred as Mariane Pearl in the film "A Mighty Heart," based on Pearl’s book about the kidnapping and murder of her husband, journalist Daniel Pearl.
Today, Jolie is the co-chair of the Jolie-Pitt Foundation, which reflects the actress's concern for children in war-torn and impoverished areas. Among its first beneficiaries were Global Action for Children, which helps AIDS orphans, Doctors Without Borders, several agencies that help the Darfuri refugees, The Daniel Pearl Foundation, and a boys' hospital in Sudan. In addition, she has personally donated over $3 million to the UNHCR.
Among her motivations, she says, are her children. In 2002, she adopted a Cambodian boy, Maddox, and in 2005 she adopted an Ethiopian girl, Zahara. Last spring, she adopted a boy, Pax, from Vietnam. Jolie gave birth to Shiloh, her daughter with Pitt, in 2006. She chose to have the baby in Namibia.
"I live a bold life, and I'm a happy mother because of that," she said. "I think the bigger question is, Am I living the life that I want my kids to see? If something happened to me doing something I believed in, then I suppose that's the legacy I would leave as a mother."