Close-up: Live Issue - Critics claim charities should be left off the Cannes agenda

Getting delegates to give at Cannes will not be easy at first, Rachel Gardner says.

Whatever one thinks of Cannes, there's something about the International Advertising Festival that never fails to draw the crowds.

Lavish villas and wildly extravagant parties are among the ingredients that have adland's jet set gravitating to the beautiful surroundings of the French Riviera in their droves year after year.

Excess is the name of the game, with bad behaviour and hedonistic all-night drinking sessions a normal spectacle among the swarm of communications professionals.

Amid this unashamed oasis of profligacy, apparently sheltered from the effects of the worldwide recession, three senior industry figures hope to inject a sense of altruism to proceedings by asking the hedonists taking part to donate money to charity.

Cannes Do is the brainchild of Robert Campbell, the managing director of Outsider, James Studholme, the managing director of Blink, and Robert Campbell, the UK executive creative director at McCann-Erickson. It was launched in October 2003 with Maria Carbonara, the former producer at Leo Burnett Milan, as its project co-ordinator.

They hope to raise more than 400,000 euros this year by inspiring members of the glitterati to sacrifice the next two glasses of Champagne or a cab ride to the airport (each costing around 50 euros) and divert the money into Ashoka.

It may sound like the name of a trendy boutique in Notting Hill, but in reality the charity, which was launched 22 years ago, backs social entrepreneurs.

As its mission statement outlines, it searches for "extraordinary individuals with unprecedented ideas for change in their communities. Ashoka identifies and invests in these social entrepreneurs when no-one else will."

The grass-roots initiative moves to drive social change in education and youth development by funding "fellows" in 48 countries. One of the charity's recent achievements is to have equipped 60,000 children from the Brazilian slums with computer and internet skills.

Sceptics might point out, although extremely worthy, Ashoka is not a household name, unlike Save the Children, which has unveiled its own "skip a treat" initiative, to help deprived children.

But Campbell explains they chose the charity because of its creative nature.

The executive creative director and his fellow founders are the first to admit they are not among charity's prime movers and shakers; nevertheless, the sentiment behind Cannes Do is a solemn one.

The philosophy is simple: after becoming sickened by the hiring of luxurious apartments and yachts at the festival, they want to "give something back".

Campbell is quick to point out this is in no way an attack on Cannes.

But he believes the festival, with its global appeal, is the natural focus for a charity.

He says: "There's always a feeling about Cannes that it's very excessive and in a certain sense it is. We want to prick people's consciences and get them to give something back to the wider community."

It's not the first time Cannes attendees have performed selfless acts for a worthwhile cause. A charity cycle ride for the Leuka (leukaemia) appeal is now in its fourth year and is set to ride into the festival on 24 June this year. Launched by five amateur cyclists - three directors, a head of TV and a ski instructor - the ride has 30 cyclists this year, many drawn from the film and advertising industries.

However, the irony of collecting for charity at this money-spinning event will not be lost on many.

Last year's income from the sale of delegate passes and entries alone hit 20 million euros, despite entries being down by 5 per cent.

Indeed, Campbell, who has been spotted over the years cruising the Croisette in an Aston Martin with long-time friend Studholme, and is renowned for renting opulent villas, has come in for a degree of flack from some quarters.

While the list of supporters is a long and illustrious one - headed by WPP's group chief executive, Sir Martin Sorrell - others feel Cannes Do is an attempt to make people feel uncomfortable about their spending and Cannes is not the right time or place for a collective conscience-salver.

Although no-one from within the advertising industry was willing to go on the record berating Cannes Do, one critic says: "I think it's arrogant for Cannes Do to assume that people in our business do not already give to charity.

"What's more, those who go to Cannes, do so to get drunk, meet up with their friends and to see great ads. There's no need to add another agenda to it."

Although the fundraising body is not officially linked to Cannes, its organiser and millionaire chairman, Roger Hatchel, has promised space in the festival palace.

Donors, who can currently make their pledges online at www.cannesdo.org, will be furnished with a red bracelet, which Campbell hopes will become the adopted attire of the in-crowd lunching at La Colombe D'Or and drinking until dawn in the Gutter Bar.

Cannes Do is undoubtedly to be applauded. Amid an environment founded in excess and extravagance, surely there is nowhere more appropriate for the guilt-ridden to dip into their pockets to provide a better life for some of the world's poorest children.

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