This post was originally featured on Beyond the Box
Amid the hubbub of the 67th session of the UN General Assembly in New York City, some 250 distinguished guests crowded the towering atrium of the Ford Foundation on Monday evening, September 24th. The occasion: to celebrate the impending Independent Lens broadcast of Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide and mark the official launch of Women and Girls Lead Global, a new three-year, 30-film partnership to put media to work for change in nine countries across Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
Moving into the subterranean auditorium, the assembled were welcomed by Ford Foundation Vice President Darren Walker and Corporation for Public Broadcasting President and CEO Patricia Harrison, both of whom spoke passionately about the combined power of storytelling, philanthropy, and change agents to save lives and create a more just and equitable world. NBC News correspondent Ann Curry took the stage—wearing a dress boldly embossed with the word “LOVE”—to moderate a packed program of rapid-fire panels and film clips, starting with a conversation between U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Melanne Verveer, Ford Foundation President Luis Ubiñas, and Nicholas D. Kristof, co-author with Sheryl WuDunn of the best-selling book Half the Sky.
“As journalists, we cover planes that crash,” said Kristof. “Not planes that take off.” His comments set the tone for an evening focused on the possibility of progress and success in the face of steep odds, highlighting the State Department’s efforts to integrate gender across all aspects of its work and the Ford Foundation’s focus on solutions in addressing poverty and specific issues like child marriage.
USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah spoke one-on-one with Curry, making the case for investing in women and girls not only as a moral prerogative but as a evidence-based approach to fighting poverty and strengthening national security. He was joined by CARE President and CEO Helene Gayle and ITVS President and CEO Sally Fifer, who described the “wave after wave of stories about women and girls” that independent filmmakers, commissioning editors, and ITVS call panelists continued to surface over the last few years—including the four-hour documentary version of Half the Sky. With Women and Girls Lead Global, Fifer announced, ITVS will now put these stories to work on the ground in countries like Bangladesh, Kenya and Peru over the next three years, collaborating with Ford, USAID, and CARE to connect television broadcasts and engagement to the existing work of NGOs.
Having drawn the big picture of the strategic forces at play in using media for change, the evening turned to the images, sounds, and characters of Half the Sky. The crowd went still and silent before film clips of American celebrity activist Gabrielle Union, Somaliland hospital founder Edna Adan, and Amie Kandeh, a champion against sexual violence in Sierra Leone. The three featured women then joined Kristof and Curry on-stage, bringing the crowd to a standing ovation with their impassioned testimonies of great hope and strength in the face of evil, death, and misfortune. The first step, said Union, is “You have to give a damn.” Knowledge is more powerful than advanced equipment, Edan said.
The program concluded with Ford Foundation’s Orlando Bagwell, director of the JustFilms initiative, demonstrating the Half the Sky games and transmedia strategies with Half the Sky filmmaker Maro Chermayeff and Asi Burak of Games for Change. The featured games included a Half the Sky game for Facebook that marries gameplay with real-world donations to NGOs, along with a suite of mobile games designed for audiences in Africa and Asia focused on health and family planning.
The final word went to Bagwell, who returned the focus to the power of media to inspire change and action. “This is just the beginning of the conversation,” said Bagwell, before the assembled leaders of NGOs, foundations, and media outlets returned to the Ford atrium to do just that.