Storytelling for Social Change
2013/05/14
By : Randy Astle - Filmmaker Magazine
Recently, Facebook hosted a panel discussion about social issue-oriented transmedia at their office in midtown Manhattan. The event was co-sponsored by the Tides Foundation, a San Francisco nonprofit that funds philanthropic ventures, and featured Beth Janson, executive director of the Tribeca Film Institute and representing its All Access program, Didi Bethurum of the social action campaign 1010 and the documentary Girl Rising Michelle Byrd of Games for Change, and Libby Leffler, Facebook's Strategic Partner Manager who interfaces with nonprofits, charities, and philanthropic causes.

A lot of the work discussed by the panel comes in the wake of the Half the Sky movement, a book, film, and transmedia project that Filmmaker wrote about last October. The project includes a four-hour documentary, an hour-long redaction of the film, and multiple short films for use by NGOs in developing nations. The most recent component is the Facebook game "Half the Sky Movement: The Game"(pictured above), which launched March 8, International Women's Day. The idea to include games under the Half the Sky umbrella came from authors Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn in order to reach an audience that doesn't read thick nonfiction books or watch PBS documentaries. The Half the Sky team, including the film's director Maro Chermayeff, enlisted Games for Change, a nonprofit that facilitates the creation of games about social issues (in her comments Byrd emphasized that they are not a game design studio), and they in turn landed upon Facebook as the optimal platform on which to reach the widest audience that could become interested in women's health, education, and empowerment. Facebook's numbers, of course, are impressive: 300 million people a month play games on the site. Tapping into even a fraction of that would be huge for any content producer.

As Byrd explained, the Half the Sky game essentially represents a series of partnerships with funders, beginning with the United Nations Foundation. It was able to attract this support, and really fill the remit of achieving immediate results in developing countries-rather than merely raising awareness of women's issues with Facebook users who may or may not take subsequent action -by providing multiple ways for players to actually donate real money to partner organizations like Room to Readwho are already on the ground working in impoverished areas (including in the U.S.).

For light users - those who don't want to spend a long time playing a game - there is a means where they can make a direct donation without any gameplay. For heavy gamers there are multiple ways-dealing with characters' energy, power-ups, and currency-to enhance their gameplay while making real-money donations. Regardless of how the money is donated, it is administered through Tides and distributed to the recipient NGOs and charities. What this really reflects, Byrd said, is a new form of game-based fundraising we've never seen before. It's similar to crowdfunding or charities' more traditional direct appeals, but since it occurs through gameplay it opens intriguing possibilities that IndieGoGo and telethons can't. Ten days after its launch, "Half the Sky Movement: The Game" is doing quite well, particularly with females over 35 (a target demographic), although how advertising will increase its revenue remains to be seen. Perhaps more interesting, many of the Half the Sky users, like the films' viewers, are outside the United States in areas where the charities are doing their work.
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