As Chief of Content Production at UNHCR, the Refugee Agency for the UN, Christopher Reardon has a very noble and difficult mission – to keep the public opinion aware and actively interested on the refugee crisis. In a world where refugee stories have to compete for public attention with cute pet videos, celebrity news and social media, the strategy of UNHCR is to innovate and tell compelling stories in many different ways. Christopher Reardon gave the following interview to Horyou blog:
1 – Horyou is a platform to support and promote people and projects that are making a positive impact on our world. Tell us about your work and how it is contributing to social good?
We’re trying to build bridges of empathy that connect audiences around the world with people who are fleeing war and persecution. Refugees are some of the most vulnerable people on earth, but the numbers — roughly 60 million people are displaced worldwide, the most since the Second World War — are sometimes hard to comprehend. So we tell stories about individuals, people like you and me but with the misfortune of being caught up in a conflict. We look for survivors whose stories are surprising, memorable and worthy of sharing with friends — like the one featuring a teenage swimmer from Syria who is trying to qualify for the Olympics, or the one about a boy who was buried alive by Boko Haram and survived.
2 – As a content professional working on the humanitarian field, what is your biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge is that we’re competing with so many other things for people’s attention: status updates from friends, news stories that hit closer to home, cat videos — the whole internet, really. As conflicts drag on, and political leaders fail to work out solutions, even people who care about refugees and who want to help can lose hope or become numb to what is happening. We publish stories of resilience and generosity, as well as newsier pieces, to help keep them engaged. (Here’s one about generosity.)
3 – The refugee crisis seemed to raise public commotion in 2015, with Alan Kurdi’s death. How is UNHCR strategy to keep the public aware and engaged by the time passes?
As the photo of Alan Kurdi went viral, there was a tremendous outpouring of support for refugees arriving in Europe. But public sentiment has shifted in recent months. Now we’ve entered a period of closed minds and closed borders. This makes the work of our content teams even more important. We’re looking for stories that will break through the fear and intolerance, stories that will inspire people and their governments to rise to the occasion with sensible policies that fulfill their legal obligations to provide protection.
4 – Can you mention some of the main innovative tools you are working with now?
Our multimedia content teams are constantly in learning mode, looking for new ways of gathering, telling and sharing refugee stories. We use tools like Slack and WhatsApp to stay in touch, we shoot video with GoPros and drones and VR, and we use social media to reach and engage vast audiences. But the best storytelling tools are still our eyes and ears — seeing what refugees are going through and listening to what they have to say.
5 – As an experienced professional within the humanitarian field, do you see changes in how new generations are embracing social topics as the refugees one?
Young people (and increasingly older people too) often learn about humanitarian issues the way they learn about everything else — through social media. They tend to trust content shared by friends more than content that comes to them directly, so the challenge for a team like mine is to create content that’s worth sharing. Millennials are often labeled as self-absorbed, but there’s a lot of evidence to the contrary. They may be more open to communicating with people who hold different views, and come from different parts of the world, than my own generation is. I find that really heartening.
6 – What are your thoughts about the future of social innovation?
All innovation is social, isn’t it? Whether you’re talking about technology, human rights, music or anything, great ideas and great advancements don’t come out of a vacuum. They come from interactions between and among people (in addition to learning, lived experience and time for reflection). What’s great about online communities is that we can connect with more people, in more places, than ever before. We can use them to address social problems that have long eluded us – including, I hope, the global refugee crisis.
We are very thankful for having Christopher Reardon interview in our blog! We are also convinced that innovation is one of the best tools for doing good. Horyou hopes UNHCR keeps telling good stories and touching people’s hearts on the refugee crisis.
Written by Vivian Soares