Ubongo and Open Planet Scor MIP SDG Awards: ‘We Want to Create a Generation of Changemakers’

And the winners are… Pan-African non-profit Ubongo and footage and data visualizations library Open Planet. The two organizations picked up MIP SDG [Sustainable Development Goals] awards at MipTV on Tuesday.

Adopted by all UN member states in 2015, the SDG Awards’ 17 goals are a call to action to boost the economy while tackling climate change, improving healthcare, and ending inequality.

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“Both winners are agents of change,” said Caroline Petit, deputy director of the United Nations Regional Information Center in Brussels. Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications, Melissa Fleming, added via video statement:

“The UN has recognized, time and again, the importance of the media industry and the achievement of the sustainable development goals. Your work is absolutely crucial.”

Mwasi Wilmore, chief executive officer at Ubongo, opened up about its past and future goals. A leading pan-African non-profit, Ubongo is dedicated to advancing SDG goal number 4 – quality education – through multimedia animated content.

“Ubongo was founded with the belief that education can change the outcome of someone’s life,” she said, recalling the somewhat complicated making of their first pilot.

“Eleven years ago, we were in Bagamoyo [in Tanzania] in the middle of the field. We were going to do the live-action part and a small part that would be animated. We had two characters learning even and odd numbers by following a bird feeding her chicks. The girl who was voicing the board was feeling a bit shy. Then one of our co-founders came up with this voice.”

The kids loved it. But they also had some comments.

“They were able to connect with the character, but they didn’t like the live-action as much. At this point, we were a team of five people. It was very, very challenging, but we managed to create an animated episode and took it back to the kids,” she recalled.

“What we learned during that process was that user testing is really important to us. It’s ok to change and to learn: ‘Fail fast and fail forward.’ An important part of our magic is that we create characters the kids can engage with. It has made all the difference in terms of our ability to create messaging.”

It also allowed Ubongo to tackle some “sensitive” topics, including HIV, all the while respecting the specificity of the African media landscape.

“The tools that we have, we are going to maximize. In Africa, TV is still going strong; radio is going strong. Also, we are so diverse. You go to one village and the number of different cultures and subcultures is so high. Every time you create in Africa, you create for representation and inclusion.”

Wilmore talked about a time when her collaborators would travel with USB sticks from village to village, sharing their content. Now, they work with partners who share their vision of “always looking for more.”

“Borrowing from Nelson Mandela, ‘education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.’ We are focused on finding ways to reach a kid regardless of what tools they have. For us, innovation is not just about the biggest shiny thing: it’s about making sure the kid at the last mile, the kid who is underserved, also gets that Ubongo experience.”

According to Wilmore, by 2028, Ubongo would like to reach 100 million children.

“We love dreaming. But we are going to do it. We want to create a generation of changemakers.”

Change is also on the mind of Open Planet, a free library of high-quality footage and data visualizations that was presented with the MIP SDG Innovation Award. The organization was founded by Studio Silverback in partnership with Carnegie Mellon University’s Create Lab.

“Climate emergency is a communication crisis as well. We need more stories to accelerate that change, told by more diverse voices, but there are barriers to that – access to high-quality footage is one of them,” said director of operations Emily Renshaw-Smith, admitting the initiative was set up to remove such obstacles.

The platform already has over 7,000 clips, and a wider public launch of a new version is expected in June.

“We have seen it being used by NGOs, campaigners, educators, schools and we are only at the beginning of what we can do,” she noted, calling Open Planet a “fantastic, impactful project, striving to provide as much factually accurate information as possible.”

“We want to disrupt the discourse around the climate emergency and increase the number of stories being told so that we can make change happen,” she added.

“What we have been facing is the crisis of imagination in the media industry and the arts about what the future might look like if we are successful. That’s what TV has to tackle now.”

“These awards are our way of using this stage to highlight the purpose and ingenuity demonstrated by companies in progressing these goals. Today is not only about recognizing impact but taking inspiration from those achieving it,” summed up MIPTV’s Lucy Smith.

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