Designing Peace for the Seven Billion
By Alvaro Serrano
Issue 12 Summer | Fall 2013<
In October 2011, the global population reached seven billion — more than double the population just 50 years ago. With considerable implications for sustainability, urbanization, access to health services and youth empowerment, a world of seven billion offers a rare chance to renew global commitments to a peaceful, healthy and sustainable planet for all.
With this momentous milestone, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has recognized that in order to transform this challenging situation into an opportunity for positive change, programs that mobilize young people are imperative for success. The young people of today are history’s largest and most interconnected cohort, adapting to new technologies and transforming politics and culture. People under 25 make up 43 percent of the seven billion. In the least developed nations this number reaches a staggering 60 percent. As parents and teachers of the next generation, their choices will determine future population trends. Investing in young people sets a path for accelerated development and genuine opportunities for peace and equality. The UNFPA is leading an innovative global campaign—7 Billion Actions—to build awareness around the opportunities to solve for our world’s challenges and to create an effective, inclusive online platform for participation, engagement, collaboration, actions and solutions to improve the quality of life in every corner of the world.
Facing a Challenge. Designing an Opportunity.
The question facing UNFPA as the global population reached 7 billion was, “how can we capitalize on this milestone to engage and mobilize the world’s young people to work towards a more peaceful existence?” Although youth would not be the only people mobilized around this effort, they would constitute a key audience for all of our efforts. Designing a program – a movement, really – that could inform, inspire and engage this group would require rethinking traditional communication strategies and channels. We recognized that traditional, unidirectional communications, in which messages are disseminated centrally and received passively, do not resonate with young people. They are accustomed to more active, interactive participation and do not appreciate being “messaged to.” Today’s young people have a technology-powered ability to tune out, fast-forward, block and even satirize unwanted communications expounded by the proliferation of advertising and marketing around the globe. This means that we would have to design an engagement program that connected with young people when, where and how they communicate.
We knew that web-based communications and social media would be the core of our youth outreach efforts. But using the right channels was only a first step. What content would engage young people? How could we encourage them to be active participants in a movement for peace, rather than passive observers? Success would be measured not solely on page hits but on actions. Thus was born the name of our initiative: 7 Billion Actions.
What does peace mean to young people?
Peace means different things to different people. For some, it is about working to achieve and ensure a safe, secure and just world outside their doors and far beyond. For others, it can be defined more personally: securing a solid education at the school of their choice; a well-paying and satisfying job; access to opportunities to develop their full potential; a trusted environment to freely express themselves and have their views respected; and to live free of poverty, discrimination and violence. Peace is to live without strife.
The transition of adolescents and youth to adulthood today needs to be understood in a larger context. Increased poverty, social inequalities, low-quality education, gender discrimination, widespread unemployment, weakened health systems and rapid globalization are the realities that young people face today. These challenges pose serious threats to a peaceful world. The situation may look tough, but youth also have an incredible ability to find out what is going on and to contend with the problems: Exposure to vast networks of mass media and the transformative impact of technology have meant that young people are quickly connecting throughout the world. They are sharing more ideas, values and symbols and are hardly passive. Many are organizing and networking themselves in both formal and informal ways. A global youth culture has emerged, and youth are contributing to the construction of global and local cultures.
The employment situation for young people, however, has been worsened by the lingering global economic crisis, and the current conditions pose an urgent challenge with long-term implications for both young people and society as a whole. There is no doubt that a contributing factor to the Arab Spring uprisings is the disturbingly high levels of youth unemployment in the Middle East and North Africa. Yet the focus on youth employment is basically shaped by such important questions as: How do we and our societies create, enable and champion young people’s participation in local and global economies in a meaningful way? How do we foster, nurture and allow each young person in our society to flourish?
Today’s young women and men, albeit economically burdened, are smart and aware, relying on a wide array of resources for their news and networking: print, broadcast, cable and digital media. They demand better schooling, good healthcare and well-paying jobs to support themselves and their future families. In many countries in the north, young people are realizing the benefits of marrying later and having fewer children; that trend is also occurring in many developing nations, slowing the growth of population, creating a middle class and thus spreading a country’s wealth more equitably.
When young people can claim their right to health, education and decent working conditions, they become a powerful force for economic development and positive change. This can be a major catalyst for peace locally, nationally and globally.
History has shown us that healthy, educated and gainfully employed people are far more likely to live peacefully with their neighbors next door, across the border, and around the globe.
Is it possible to design a more peaceful world?
As the United Nations agency responsible for marking the milestone of a world of seven billion people, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is leading an innovative global campaign—7 Billion Actions—to build awareness around the opportunities and challenges of a teeming world. UNFPA has enlisted a wide group of corporations, organizations and individuals to support this initiative, using online, mobile and offline actions to tell the stories of the people behind the big number. Using a broadly consultative process, UNFPA engaged experts, stakeholders and the private sector in designing and spearheading a movement. Based on innovation, collaboration and peer-based social media, UNFPA and its partners designed a plan was to create an effective, inclusive online platform for participation, engagement, collaboration, actions and solutions to improve the quality of life in every corner of the world. People under 25 years of age – 43% of the world’s population – are a prime audience for these efforts.
The 7 Billion Actions Initiative was designed to achieve two key objectives:
● Build global awareness around the opportunities and challenges associated with a world of seven billion people;
● Inspire governments, nongovernmental organizations, private sector, media, academia and individuals to take actions that will have a socially positive impact.
The initiative is based on the concept that successful intercultural dialogue is essential to helping everyone navigate the unprecedented challenges of the 21st century.
In a world of seven billion people, incremental actions will create exponential results.
How has the initiative come to life?
UNFPA began its work on the campaign in January 2011 at the Columbia University School of Journalism, where we set up a new-media “boot camp” to generate ideas. Fifty communicators and new-media experts participated in brainstorming sessions on how to unite people around the campaign. These sessions led to a concrete outline defining ways to encourage people to commit to personal actions that would address such global challenges as climate change, urbanization, rising maternal deaths in poor countries, youth unemployment, lack of influence in government policies, reproductive health and rights, and educating more women and girls. Underlying all of the concepts and ideas generated at Columbia was the conviction that the world can truly be at peace only when these challenges are addressed.
The boot camp laid the foundations for an overarching narrative that framed the development of 7 Billion Actions. Three overarching concepts emerged:
A world of seven billion is a challenge. Already, too many people suffer from poverty, discrimination and violence. Conflicts and weather-related disasters are forcing people to flee their homes. Climate change is exacerbating food and water shortages. As more people are born, solving existing challenges will become increasingly more urgent – and new challenges will arise that demand the best in each of us.
A world of seven Billion is an opportunity to design peace. Never before has the world nurtured so many talented, creative and educated people. Never before has humanity been so interconnected.
We are now part of a global community where actions taken in one country or region can have an immediate impact on other parts of the world. This can lead to rapidly-proliferating violence. It can also result in a proliferation of peace.
We have yet to realize the vast potential among women and girls – half the world’s population – and the energy and talents of some two billion young people.
A world of seven Billion is a call for innovation, collaboration and action. This milestone provides an occasion to recognize and celebrate our common humanity and diversity. It is also a time to demonstrate our responsibility to care for one another and our planet now and not later. Ensuring the well-being of current and future generations will require unprecedented cooperation. Individuals can make a difference by uniting through social networks, popular culture and the values reflected in international agreements.
Engaging youth through new media in the shared pursuit for peace
The current generation of young people is connected globally and shares the dream of a better, more peaceful world. But the pace of change is fast and the obstacles youth face are more global and complex than ever. New ways of thinking and collaborating are needed to address these issues. Youth are working more than ever across cultures, organizations and networks to champion their role in worldwide decisions and moves.
The goal of 7 Billion Actions was to design a program that would harness this global energy around a specific milestone – the population topping seven billion – to create a worldwide movement for a more peaceful, healthy and sustainable world.
The role of innovation matters in achieving peace
Innovation is vital to improving the quality of life for people everywhere. We face enormous problems – as individual companies and institutions but also as nations, societies and the planet. Most, if not all, of these challenges can be highly responsive to innovation. But we must think and act boldly and we need to do more.
Innovation is the primary driver of business, financial and economic growth, and it demands excellent leadership. Innovative leadership fosters understanding, action and peace. We need strong innovative leaders not just in our labs and universities, but at all levels in business, legislative and policy roles and in nonprofit and nongovernmental institutions.
At the end of the day, innovation is a human activity. It benefits people and should be inspired by, and focused on, their needs and aspirations.
Innovation also requires creativity and collaboration. Although innovation is created by people of all ages, youth are particularly open to creating, and accepting transformative, even disruptive change.
Thus, as we designed 7 Billion Actions, we focused on building in a spirit of innovation. This would not look like, feel like, or act like a traditional campaign or public service initiative.
Designing for a Global Audience
The first step in creating a peaceful world is fostering understanding of, and empathy for, the people around us. Technology now enables global connections in unprecedented ways, and 7 Billion Actions was designed to use technology to create connections between the seven billion inhabitants of our planet. Images were chosen to reflect empowered individuals rather than passive victims. Brochures were digitally printed so that different individuals could appear on the cover of each printed piece, celebrating the diversity of the global population. Advertising featured inspiring stories of the power of individuals, including that of Kakenya Ntaiya, the first girl from her Maasai village in Kenya to get a university education. Kakenya returned to her village to establish the Kakenya Center for Excellence, a school for Maasai girls with the potential and dedication to follow in her footsteps. By putting human stories front and center throughout the campaign, we encouraged people around the world to learn from others and inspire change at the personal level. The story of seven billion people is a story of individuals, of families, of communities, of nations – a story of humanity. In every component, we focused on the people behind the number to foster a deeper understanding of our world.
Mobilizing the Design and New Media Communities
7 Billion Actions has engaged governments, NGOs, the private sector, media, academia and individuals to share perspectives, experiences and actions through a multichannel strategy executed in an open-source manner. We designed a campaign to solicit stories, ideas and creative expressions from people around the world using digital and analog tools, leveraging storytelling through music, photography, writing, and live interaction. These stories focus on what people think and, more importantly, what they have done to improve their own lives and the lives of others. We designed the program so that each story in itself is an action – a way for people globally to contribute actively. And we announced the ambitious goal of registering seven billion actions for seven billion people.
Elements of the 7 Billion Actions Platform: An online arena – www.7billionactions.org – serves as the main campaign gateway and the central source of information, updates and resources for those supporting the initiative and new to the campaign. Operating as its own media outlet, the platform features content from partners, the initiative’s own programs and social-media channels. Partners have featured their own stories and activities and linked the platform with their own. On World Humanitarian Day in 2012, the 7 billion Actions platform provided the inspiration in the design and implementation of “I Was Here” campaign [http://www.whd-iwashere.org/], counting the actions of people and institutions committed to doing something good for someone else.
“7 Billion Stories” – was designed as an online portal where people can submit photographs of themselves and share stories about the issues that are important to them, and the actions they have taken to make a difference. This collection of profiles and stories resides on the 7 Billion Actions website, constituting a visual mosaic of thousands of 7 Billion Actionists. Visitors can view as many of these stories as they like, using a sorting tool to find stories on specific issues. A dashboard will track the online and offline actions and stories, provide a map of past and future actions and highlight trends using data analytics.
An interactive web/mobile application (“7 Billion and Me”) allows users to submit personal data (date of birth, place of birth, etc.) to compare their “population profile” to UN population data at global, regional and national levels, and understand their place in the global population. A digital application was created and has been downloaded thousands of times; social-media outreach through Facebook, Twitter and other channels, using the #7billion hashtag, has generated global conversations about the issues central to 7 Billion Actions.
A population dashboard allows visitors to take a closer look at the world population now and beyond by region or country. It enables visitors to look at the proportion of young versus old, and see what paths the future population growth may take.
Print Coverage: A special print section in the September 2011 issue of National Geographic magazine drove awareness and inspired involvement, reaching 40 million readers worldwide. Videos produced by National Geographic, the campaign’s media partner, have been viewed by millions of people and helped to raise awareness of the dynamics of a world of seven billion.
Music: Music is often called the universal language, and for young people in particular, music is a unifying force that transcends language, political and cultural barriers. In designing 7 Billion Actions, we were intent on making music an integral component. We chose “United” as the initiative’s anthem. Participants in Playing for Change, a multimedia movement created to inspire, connect and bring peace to the world through music, traveled around the globe on behalf of 7 Billion Actions. They worked with local musicians, adding them to the “United” track, and creating a music video that serves as a tangible example of something positive we can all do together as a human race.
Film: With the explosive growth of YouTube and other online video-sharing sites, film has become another medium, like music, that engages and mobilizes young people. They are comfortable expressing their opinions and showcasing their actions through film in ways that previous generations are not. Thus, 7 Billion Actions incorporated a film component into its strategy. A film contest organized by UNFPA and the 10.12.48 Foundation solicited and curated short original films on one of the seven topics of the campaign: climate change, urbanization, rising maternal deaths in poor countries, youth unemployment, lack of influence in government policies, reproductive health and rights, and educating more women and girls. Winners were selected from Spain, Brazil and Vietnam.
Photography: Photo exhibitions, organized with National Geographic, have been displayed in European capitals, including Berlin and Copenhagen.
The Global Youth Forum: Sustaining Momentum
An opportunity to extend the immediate relevance of the 7 Billion Actions program was the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Beyond 2014 Global Youth Forum (the Forum). Held in Bali, Indonesia in December 2012, the Forum brought together governments, UN agencies, youth representatives, civil society and the private sector in a formal review of the 1994 ICPD. The goal was to review progress and challenges in delivering the goals of the ICPD. But it had a wider aspiration: to deliver new mechanisms for youth participation that would reach beyond the Bali conference center to mobilize and build the 7 Billion Actions community to take part in defining the official outcome of a UN Conference. As the first event in a series that would help to set the development agenda for the next 20 years, the goal was to generate a sustainable youth advocacy movement that would be part of the global response to 21st Century issues.
Led by young people for young people, the Global Youth Forum was attended by 630 delegates, and involved over 2,500 virtual delegates from 180 countries, who used a deliberative process to develop a set of forward-looking recommendations on:
• Staying healthy;
• Comprehensive education;
• Transitions to decent employment for youth;
• Youth rights, well-being and sexuality; and
• Fully inclusive civic participation.
Recognizing the value of building social networks around key issues, the Forum was broadcast online to registered virtual delegates – who used a dedicated online space to contribute, and social media applications to build dialogue and connections with other delegates who shared their concerns. Partners from civil society with global networks also created simultaneous local events where young people with technological barriers could use the partners’ technology resources to participate.
The Forum was designed to ensure the widest participation of young people, creating a sustained conversation on youth issues before and after the Forum, and contributing to building a platform that enables young people to influence policy at country, regional and global levels.
Virtual delegates registered and signed on to fundamental principles for participation. In the lead up to the Forum, virtual delegates were supported with design materials and preloaded social media functions that enabled them to easily identify themselves as concerned with a specific issue and to log their action as part of the 7 Billion Actions movement. During the Forum itself, the virtual delegate platform provided an easy interface for submitting recommendations on the key themes being addressed. Six hundred recommendations, received by a team of youth volunteers in Bali, were fed directly into the formal deliberative process. The outcome of the event, the ICPD Global Youth Forum Bali Declaration, may be the first formal outcome of a UN intergovernmental process that has used web and social media to provide substantive input.
Communicating a campaign of engagement
The 7 billion Actions initiative involved dozens of players worldwide. In designing the program, we knew that we needed to engage individuals directly as well as through the organizations that are important in their lives. When individuals, governments, businesses, academia, NGOs and the media are inspired to address progress for all of humanity, peace can be achieved. Thus, we designed the program with multiple tiers of messages targeting specific audiences:
For Individuals, 7 Billion Actions is about shared commitment. We are interconnected, so we must recognize and embrace our individual and collective ability to improve the world. It takes individual actions to produce institutional change, but it takes a commitment from each of us to make this possible.
For Government, 7 Billion Actions is about shared leadership. The challenges and opportunities of 7 Billion can be addressed by countries with skilled, healthy workers and a strong commitment to research, technology and efficient ways to move people, goods and information. Government at every level must support organizations and individuals working to improve society. National governments can work together to guide and shape a collective understanding of what is important in regional and international contexts; break down barriers impeding progress; and foster innovation. Sound government leadership can propel peace.
For Business, 7 Billion Actions is about shared values. Businesses can use their influence to create economic returns while ensuring a value for society.
“Shared value” is not just social responsibility or philanthropy but a new way to measure success by adopting sustainable practices and policies that produce benefits over time.
Companies that create a shared value enhance their own competitiveness while advancing the financial and social conditions in the communities in which they operate. Through monetary contributions or in-kind donations, companies can become official sponsoring partners of 7 Billion Actions.
For NGOs, 7 Billion Actions is about shared responsibility. NGOs can play many roles in improving the world, including acting as a bridge among business, government and civil society; connecting policy makers to grassroots players; suggesting practical solutions to problems; calling their peers to account; and being a voice for the weak. NGOs must engage with other institutions and sectors in instituting projects that stretch visions and capacities.
For Media, 7 Billion Actions is about shared perspective. Media plays a critical role in holding institutions accountable to the public and elevating public discourse. The media have a responsibility to provide accurate, timely and relevant information. Solid information and analysis, from a multitude of credible voices, can build collective wisdom. The media can clarify issues and reinforce our understanding of the interconnected and interdependent nature of the world. 7 Billion offers a compelling chance for media to explore the complexities and contradictions of demographic trends and their ability to spur action.
For Academia, 7 Billion Actions is about shared understanding. Education and research are basic to enhancing society.
People’s aptitude and abilities can be cultivated through formal and informal education. Individuals can be encouraged to share their insights and ideas, to participate in discussions and decision-making, and to acknowledge the need for solidarity and social responsibility.
Academia can spark ideas, conversations and actions related to a world of 7 Billion.
The movement continues
In the months and years leading up to October 2011, when the world population was expected to (and indeed did) top seven billion, there was much hand-wringing over the implications for global health, sustainability and peace. 7 Billion Actions was created to transform this milestone into an opportunity for positive action. From the beginning, we viewed young people as the prime catalyst for action. And we recognized that engaging them would require rethinking traditional approaches to communicating. Leveraging the power of web-based communications and social media was just the start. In designing the program, we provided continuous opportunities for two-way communications, through words, music and film, and through a global forum that combines on-site and virtual participation. As its name implies, this was about action and interaction, not the passive intake of information. Peace is not the absence of violence. It is the active commitment to creating a world in which better health, education and sustainability create peace. This was the idea that guided the design of 7 Billion Actions.
Visit UNFPA’s 7 Billions Actions at www.7billionactions.org to join the movement, share your own story, and to inspire others to take action.
An engaging and accessible open source design fosters the collaboration of the citizens across nations to create a world in peace. Individual stories that promote health, education, sustainability, equity and self-esteem show the faces behind numbers. Seven billion people become seven billion actions to improve the world in which we live.
STRATEGIES IN ACTION:
Designa campaign that enhances the participation of the citizens, especially the young population.
Empower the individual stories as actions to follow globally.
Sustain a youth advocacy movement that will be part of the global response to 21st Century issues.
Engage governments, citizens, NGO´s, corporations, media and academia to share visions and experiences through a multichannel strategy.
Alvaro Serrano is pioneer in the world of digital communication, innovation and storytelling. With 30 years of experience that encompasses broadcasting, web, social media and mobile technology, he has traveled to more than 50 countries, documenting the inter-linkages between people, culture and development. Since 2000, Serrano has been providing the vision and direction for moving UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, forward through the complex and rapidly changing field of online communication.
Previously, he worked in New York at the marketing and sales global office of Televisa International. Serrano earned a degree in Management Information Systems from California University and has advanced education from Florida International University and the Business Administration School, in his native city Bogotá, Colombia.
In 2011, as the global population reached the milestone of 7 billion people, Serrano envisioned and led a Global Initiative: 7 Billion People | 7 Billion Actions. Its goal was to create a global movement around the challenges, opportunities and implications of population dynamics on sustainability, urbanization, access to health services and youth empowerment. The campaign was a spirited call-to-action and opportunity to forge renewed global commitment for a healthy and sustainable world.
Patrick Durgin-Bruce (Co-Author) is a branding and graphic design expert who is passionate about using the tools of mass communication to improve health. He is the Co-Founder and Creative Director of Ultravirgo Creative, a branding agency based in New York City. His 20 years of experience in design has produced memorable brands and campaigns for clients including the United Nations, the National Parkinson Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Pfizer Pharmaceuticals. He is a founding member of 7 Billion Actions – providing visual and messaging strategy, and coordinating global communications.