During the week of September 18 to 24, New York City hosted an annual Climate Week, which has been taking place since 2009. This year it happened simultaneously with the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly. This event is devoted to debate the scale of global climate action and how to ensure jobs and prosperity for all segments of the society. It attracts attention of the most influential leaders from United States, cities, businesses and non-governmental organizations from all over the world. Various activities have been taking place in the course of the week. One of the most notable events is the Media for Social Impact Conference, which took place at United Nations Headquarters, on 14 September 2017.

The Media for Social Impact Summit took place in New York
The Media for Social Impact Summit took place in New York

The Media for Social Impact Conference 2017 gathered a diverse group of speakers, artists, celebrities and even astronauts. The speakers were, among others, Dan Thomas, Media for Social Impact 2017 Master of the Ceremony, Liba Rubenstein, Social Impact at 21st Century Fox, Christie Marchese, CEO of Picture Motion, Ahmed Musiol, Executive Producer at Wayfarer Entertainment, Jill Cress, CMO at National Geographic Partners and Ariana Stolarz, Global Chief Strategy Officer at MRM/McCann. They took the podium to discuss how the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals could be achieved by 2030. Indeed, with 169 targets, the SDGs may be seen as an ambitious agenda. However, most speakers noted that some progress had already been made in the world for reaching these goals.

The Conference focused on ways to move forward in implementing SDGs by encouraging various stakeholders, such as NGOs, Corporations and Media Companies to adopt social good campaigns incorporating the SDGs. Many speakers believed that with sustainable development goals we could re-frame the larger context of our future, the image of which we always have to keep in mind. Many expressed optimism that by 2030 there would be notable improvements in health metrics and innovation in technology, among other fields.

However, the progress achieved so far is uneven. There is a dire need to lift people out of poverty. According to statistics from DoSomething.org, over 1.3 billion people live in extreme poverty and subsist on less than $1.25 a day. Furthermore, UNICEF determined that almost 1 billion children worldwide are in poverty and 22,000 children are dying every day due to poverty’s acute negative effects. Providing everyone with sanitary and safe water, clean and affordable energy sources will contribute to attenuating poverty. As Dan Thomas, spokesperson of the UN General Assembly indicated, the resources are available, but we have to be mindful of the planetary limitations that we have while encouraging sustainable consumption. Echoing the main theme of the climate week, many speakers voiced strong concerns about climate change and urged world leaders, states, businesses and private individuals to be actively involved in addressing this major problem.

Perspectives of businesses with regard to SDGs were also discussed. Some participants noted progress that certain businesses have made in contributing to the sustainable development agenda. For example, progress could be seen in relation to industry, innovation, and infrastructure (SDG 9), sustainable cities and communities (SDG 11), as well as responsible consumption and production (SDG 12). Businesses were urged to inspire customers to engage in social good causes with a view to contributing to sustainable consumption. This could be done through call-to-action in social good campaigns and investments in advertisements focused on social good. The close alignment between business and consumer preferences may be more tangible for the youth subcategory of consumers. The youth segment was noted as particularly influential for the sustainable development agenda. The causes that the brands support, many thought, are important for consumption of the brand’s products by youth.

The conference is devoted to debate global climate action and how to ensure jobs and prosperity for all segments of the society.
The conference is devoted to debate global climate action and how to ensure jobs and prosperity for all segments of the society.

In this context, Jill Cress, CMO of National Geographic, stressed the importance of constantly reinventing and reinvigorating brands. The panel “Documentaries Impacting the World” discussed National Geographic as an example of a brand that has been present for many decades and is most followed in social media. Indeed, more than 60 million people worldwide viewed the documentaries created by National Geographic. These films reinvigorate the brand by telling smart and compellingly bold stories that have strong impact on people. Thus, National Geographic has been able to establish a diverse group of devoted viewers.

Brands are seeking to launch social good campaigns of their own to engage with the world more thoughtfully and more strategically. They do so for the purpose of building up not only larger audiences, but also more receptive and influential ones. The participants of the conference encouraged the audience to speak up to SDGs and connect closer with consumers that increasingly demand social justice. Targeted marketing campaigns, surveys, and polls could be several of the many ways of achieving this improved connection between the consumer and the brand.

Several speakers were of the view that some business models could be re-oriented around health-related qualities of products, as health appears to be one of the themes that resonate with certain audiences in relation to sustainable development goals.

In the panel on digital transformation of social impact, it was noted that a social good campaign should be moving “in the right direction” rather than “in some direction.” Such campaigns could be beyond impressions count and should incorporate concrete decision making based on data analytics. In addition, communication is important in not only achieving commercial success, but also in terms of helping people understand the social good causes that the brand is supporting. This is why comprehensive examining of consumer behavior becomes crucial. Accountability and measurability are both significant for companies to have an influence on their clients.

Partnerships in general are crucial for reaching target audiences to more effectively communicate the stories and see a much larger impact. They help a social media campaign reach a much larger audience than it would have reached independently. Creativity in delivering global issues and creating action around such issues was also stressed at the conference. In this respect, Horyou, the social network for social good, could be seen as a good example for a platform to channel creativity within its members.

Using the platform to amplify musicians’ works was also highlighted. Music can inspire a large and diverse audience to take action for social good. Moreover, art plays a vital role in the story and thus has the capacity to change and shift perspectives. For example, well known singers Aria and Miou along with other famous artists, regularly post about their art pieces for social good on the Horyou website.

Immediate and concrete action on the SDGs was called for. Bringing people together and motivating them around the SDGs is a very important step. For instance, presenting the SDGs in unique and captivating manner was considered useful. The example of using comic books for this purpose was highlighted by Sean Southey, co-founder of Comics Uniting Nations who pointed out that “comics play a significant role because we can reach people in a very engaging way.”

The ultimate goal of the modern society is to prepare the world for the next generation. Dan Thomas in his opening speech said: “It’s all about the future.” Many participants of the Conference explored ways and means to inspire the next generation to adopt the causes that we feel strongly about. All agreed that driving next generation to play an active role in supporting social good was crucial at this time. Leadership is important, both in the family, as well as in the community. Certainly the Media for Social Impact Conference was a very interesting event, and it was worth attending.

Written by Elena Tarrassenko

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