We spent most of a gorgeous fall Saturday sitting in the Impact Hub near Gallery Place in DC, listening to a series of amazingly creative people engaged with the big issues that affect us all. It was the second annual Media Rise Forum, an opportunity for Kem Sawyer and me to share our work on Congo but, more importantly, to learn about the extraordinary work of the people recruited to speak by Erica Schlaikjer and her Media Rise colleagues.
Asher Jay, the fashion-designer-turned-activist on wildlife trafficking and related issues, shared the stark graphic designs that have forced people to make connections as to the consequences of what they consume, as in this presentation aimed at the Chinese consumers of rhinoceros horns that asks them to imagine the rhinos as cuddly pandas instead.
Vince Perone and Josh Ruben are the “College Humor” guys behind some of YouTube’s most tasteless—and wildly popular—videos. They were at Media Rise to share their unlikely collaboration with Save the Children USA on something totally different, an exercise in using humor to get people to focus on the distinctly unfunny facts of water-related diseases, maternal mortality, and the consequences of armed conflict.
The result? “The most important ‘sexy’ model video ever,” with 3.95 million downloads as of this week and according to Save the Children USA one of its most successful messaging campaigns ever.
Megan Gaiser talked about her experience as one of the first female CEO’s ever in the male-dominated gaming industry—and how the Nancy Drew interactive game she spearheaded went on to sell 9 million units. Washington Post staff writer Robert Samuels talked about his stories on homelessness and related poverty issues—but also about the “Press Pass Mentors” program that he and Post colleagues have created to help inner-city high school kids make it to college. Sean Southey, chief executive of PCI Media Impact, told how his colleagues are using television and radio soap operas to reach tens of millions of people on issues like safe sex, domestic abuse, and the empowerment of women.
Two big takeaways, for me: The importance of creativity and art, when it comes to engaging people in the heart and gut, and the primacy of stories over simple statistics.
Mary Jordan is a documentary filmmaker, for example, who has been working on water and sanitation issues for years. Her current initiative, the “Water Tank Project,” represents a radically different approach—wrapping some of the 17,000 water tanks on the rooftops of New York City with colorful messages about the reality of water-access issues for a billion-plus poor people around the globe.
Jeff Orlowski is director/producer of “Chasing Ice,” the Sundance-award-winning documentary that tells the story of climate change through dazzling time-lapse images of crashing glaciers. The key to its success? Focusing on the adventure of the filmmaking and spectacular natural beauty.
But at Media Rise Orlowski also shared his work on something decidedly less exotic but arguably just as important—a pilot project this summer that took the issues of "Chasing Ice” to churches, schools and other community groups in Columbus, Ohio, forging a social-media campaign that persuaded the district’s incumbent congressional representative, in a reversal of his previous position, to acknowledge that climate change is real.
As Sean Southey told us, in his discussion of PCI Media Impact’s socially aware soap operas, “Stories work! We use stories to make sense of the world. We’re hard-wired for stories.”
For more info on this year’s Media Rise, including “pitch-night winners” and youth programming, I hope you’ll check out www.mediarisenow.org. The website says it all: This is an initiative that “celebrates the power of storytelling, art and design to make the world a better place.” For more info on PCI Media Impact, go to www.mediaimpact.org.