On Wednesday, September 30, Net Impact NYC had the pleasure of partnering with NYU Stern Social Enterprise Association to host a panel of activists and filmmakers who are inspiring social change through their work. Debika Shome, Deputy Director of The Harmony Institute moderated, and panelists included Heather Asch, Director of No Strings Productions, Peggy Rajski, Director of Trevor and Founder of The Trevor Project, Cynthia Lowen, Producer of Bully and Co-Founder of The Bully Project, and Kristen Fitzpatrick, Director of Acquisition & Exhibition at Women Make Movies. We explored how a new generation of creators is building movements around films to spark action on pressing social issues. Here’s five key takeaways:
1. Sometimes, it starts with a simple “Aha” moment. Peggy Rajski spoke about hers. Her film, about high suicide rates among LGBT youth, was taking off—and she realized there was no support hotline for young people who were struggling to actually reach out to. That’s where the Trevor Project started. It began with just a handful of individuals sitting around her kitchen table. The organization was built within 3 months just in time before Ellen Degeneres screened the film. 20 years later, the organization has a staff of 60 and its hotline answers hundreds of calls, chats and texts a day.
2. Partnerships and collaborations are really pivotal in bringing it all to life and to the right audience. All of the panelists spoke about how they’ve relied on partnerships, coalitions, and sometimes international networks to get the word out. For example, Cynthia Lowen talked about how she was able to film Bully in schools with children because of a connection she had with someone in the school district.
3. You have to care about data and impact measurement with metrics. It’s needed to substantiate what you’re doing. Debika Shome, Moderator, is Deputy Director at the Harmony Institute, which actually studies and quantifies the impact of media on creating change—amazing stuff. Learn more on their website.
4. However, it’s important not to get caught up in the numbers. Facts kill storytelling. You can do more with emotions. Heather Asch shared some amazing stories of how kids in developing countries perked up when her organization used puppetry to connect with and engage them. In Bully, Cynthia Lowen intentionally focused on stories about real children rather than on facts. It was hard to get buy-in from people on this but in the long-run it makes a more powerful statement to the key audience here – children.
5. Don’t try to do something that someone else is already doing. Look for something that needs to be done. Once you recognize a niche, focus on that. Be careful not to mission-drift.
Interested in attending other #NetImpactNYC events? Visit our upcoming events page for what is coming up next!