What is the Half the Sky Movement?
The Half the Sky Movement creates awareness about women’s issues and highlights solutions through a stream of transmedia initiatives and social media campaigns. The movement was launched by journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn following the success of their book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwidein 2009, and is supported by celebrity advocates, media partners, NGOs and people who have engaged with various initiatives.
Most notable is the movement’s focus on providing ways for people to get involved and contribute to solutions.
Transmedia programs ensure the movement reaches a diverse range of people and, as Magazine’s Randy Astle points out, encourages participation:
“One of the most intriguing things about transmedia when compared to traditional film, particularly documentary, is that through its multiple entry points and interactive experiences it has the potential to more fully engage viewers in causes. It doesn’t just inspire people to action, in other words; at its best, it gives them the tools and initial opportunities to take action then and there.”
Half the Sky uses content to share the stories of real women, and partners with NGOs and organizations to create educational material and engagement opportunities around these stories. The movement also uses diverse channels, such as exhibitions and social games, to reach new people,
While the book was initially the heart of the movement, the stories featured have been brought to life through a four hour documentary featuring the authors and celebrities America Ferrera, Diane Lane, Eva Mendes, Meg Ryan, Gabrielle Union, and Olivia Wilde. The series was broadcast in full on PBS, with excerpts available on YouTube and a shortened version available for screening events.
These stories are also used as an educational tool. Half the Sky partnered with The Independent Television Service (ITVS) to create five lesson plans that complement the stories and can be used in a classroom setting. Half the Sky also partnered with women’s health organization Engender Health to create a chapter by chapter Reader’s Companion that expands on the issues raised in the documentary.
In late 2011, Half the Sky created an exhibit to bring the stories to life with ‘visual art, immersive sound installations, and interactive experiences.’ In early 2013, Half the Sky launched a Facebook game that invites people to follow the daily struggles and life of a fictional character Radhika and make decisions on her behalf.
Each medium also focuses on driving action. On YouTube, people are encouraged to donate to the cause. On Facebook, people are encouraged to play the game to unlock corporate donations. Blogger Doreen Anderson commented on the call to actions in the book:
“The last page of the book offers “steps you can take in the next 10 minutes” to make a difference–so you are not left feeling, Yeah, but what can I DO? In those 10 minutes, my first step was to connect with KIVA, one of many suggestions on that page, to begin my involvement with this issue.”
Transmedia programs are also used to reach out to the women who are facing the struggles. Half the Sky has launched three mobile games in India and East Africa to educate women about pregnancy, dangers of intestinal worms and family choices.
Half the Sky launched a series of campaigns to reach out to different audiences and build buzz for the documentary premiere, and created a social TV experience to engage fans during the premiere. Half the Sky involved celebrities in both phases of promotion to increase reach.
Half the Sky launched Hashtagart Mosaic to reach out to the Twitter community, inviting them to tweet with #HalftheSky to have their profile photo featured in a virtual mosaic.
Half the Sky launched 30 songs in 30 days to reach out to music fans, giving away a song a day from established and emerging female musicians in the month leading up to the premiere. Musicians were honored to be a part of a good cause, and promoted the campaign on their social networks.
During the premiere, people were invited to join the conversation on social networks (Twitter and GoodReads) and social TV apps (GetGlue and Yap TV) for the chance to win virtual goodies, exclusive content, books and DVDs.
Natan Edelsburg, Vice President of Sawhorse Media, commented:
“They used Getglue to allow viewers to earn a special sticker for watching both nights of the broadcast. They did this by offering two half stickers, something that hadn’t been done before on GetGlue.”
In addition, Kristof, WuDunn, celebrities featured in the documentary and part organizations live tweeted during the broadcast to create buzz. As Mashable’s Zoe Fox points out, the movement makes good use of its social currency:
“New York Times columnist Kristof, the paper’s first blogger and a journalist touted for his early embrace of digital platforms, has more than 1.3 million followers on Twitter. Two actresses featured in the documentary have major followings as well — Gabrielle Union has more than 800,000 and Olivia Wilde has more than 650,000. These influencers’ tweets and use of the #HalftheSky hashtag are part of a social strategy to drive lasting conversation.”
According to Twitter, the launch promotions were quite successful:
“On the day that the first part of the @Half documentary aired on @PBS, #HalftheSky trended In the United States. @PBS kept the momentum going with Promoted Tweets and #HalftheSky trended worldwide on the day that the second half aired.”
Half the Sky uses mobile and social games to drive change at ground level, and to energize people in the developed world.
The mobile games were developed in English, Hindi and Swahili and were made available for free through local mobile app stores. Half the Sky also created videos and a short manual to help NGOs and advocacy groups promote the games in India and East Africa.
According to Kara Tureski, associate director at non-profit FHI 360:
“All three games use two common models to achieve social impact—adventure and simulation. Players are exposed to characters that can serve as role models, and will be rewarded for positive actions, such as killing the worms inside their stomachs or seeking antenatal care. Players also face choices, such as making decisions that lead to a delay in marriage and betterment of the family.”
She quotes Asi Burak, co-president of Games for Change, on why games have potential for driving social change:
“Social games offer a unique way to reach your audience in a way that is not didactic or preachy. By playing a role and making choices, players are participating in a rehearsal for life. They experiment with scenarios and consequences that may be part of their future, and at the very least, this experience triggers reflection, debate, and a new perspective on their present situation.”
The Half the Sky social game launched on March 4, 2013, as “the first Facebook game with direct virtual to real-life translation.” By playing the game, people can unlock donations worth 500,000 from Johnson & Johnson and Pearson. The game was produced by non-profit Games for Change and is backed by foundations and corporate sponsors.
Blogger Brandy Shaul summarizes the gameplay:
“The Half the Sky Movement game follows fictional female characters that might be forced to change their way of thinking or living in order to better their own lives, the lives of their children, and more. Quests offer educational content, and for every quest that’s completed, players are given the opportunity to donate real money to a matching cause (a quest about vaccinations may give players the chance to donate to a real world vaccination center, for instance). Play enough, and you’ll unlock a sponsor gift for free, without actually spending any money.”
Ariel Schwartz, senior editor at Fast Co.Exist, reflects on the addictive nature of games for good:
“In some ways, Half the Sky’s game is similar to WeTopia, another Facebook game that lets people donate to nonprofits through gameplay… After covering WeTopia on Co.Exist, I became very, very addicted–and I’m not a big Facebook game player at all. There’s something gratifying (and yes, addictive) about knowing your insignificant actions on a social network make a real-life difference. That will serve Half the Sky well.”
As with the other transmedia programs, the social game is designed to target new audiences. Indeed, as player Lisa Alcock commented on Facebook:
“My 7 year-old son & I are both playing this game & he was so proud when he got to the point where a book was donated just because he was playing! He’s starting to ask questions about the world & why it’s different in other countries. Thanks for the fun way to raise awareness & start conversations! :)”
Kristof and WuDunn hope to capture 2% of the 300 million social gaming audience and to inspire people to drive real change. If successful, the game could lead to a boost to the gaming for good industry and position social gaming as a philanthropic tool.
In addition to being transmedia savvy, Half the Sky is also very social media savvy, creating innovative campaigns and experimenting with emerging tools and platforms.
To create buzz around the launch of the social game, Half the Sky challenged people to participate in a #halfathon on Twitter:
“Unlike traditional game-a-thons, we are not asking that you play for 24 hours consecutively, but that you recruit as many friends as possible to play in this 24-hour period. The more people play, the more real impact we can make, and all it takes is a 15-minute session to make a difference.”
To boost effectiveness of the campaign, Half the Sky encouraged people to ‘RSVP’ on Thunderclap, a service that broadcasts the same message on behalf of all supporters at the same time.
On International Women’s Day, Half the Sky invited Twitter users to participate in Change Her Story and craft a “collaborative story about empowering women” on Twitter. 103 people crafted the life of Radhika, the main character of the Half the Sky social game.
“Viewers can donate to any Half the Sky Movement charity or their NGO partners via online fundraising site CrowdRise, with the team raising the most to be matched by a $20,000 donation.”
The Half the Sky website acts as a central repository for these initiatives and programs, and also as a social advocacy website with information on how people can get involved.
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