The Disneyworld summit.

The Disneyworld Summit

If you want to popularize any valuable social or health research you have two main choices. You can announce the message yourself, in the hope that because it's good for people news will spread quickly or you can go to the people who are already well known for attracting attention and give them the idea and ask them to help you.

Walt Disney’s animated cartoons are familiar to almost every child who has ever watched TV. Although many of the early productions were designed for cinema, had very little dialogue and as a result often popular across the USA with new immigrants who did not speak English.These early animated cartoons from Bill Hanna’s Tom and Jerry to Disney’s feature classics have been requested and shown on TVs in almost all countries around the world. In a move to help UNICEF many years ago Walt Disney himself had installed the ride in Disneyland called ‘It’s a small world.’ (With that haunting tune that never leaves you for hours afterwards.) We were now poised in 1994 to enter a new era of cooperation with Disney Feature Animation.

Max Howard shared the success of the Jamaican workshop with Roy Disney and he in turn backed the idea of hosting another international meeting in 1994 on the theme ofAnimation for Developmentin Orlando. Roy wrote of his support to James Grant, who then set the wheels in motion to be guided by Bill Hetzer. We were tasked at making this even more of a Summit than the meeting in Prague.

At this time the Division of Communication in UNICEF HQ was heavily committed to publishing reports. We produced several high profile publications each year includingProgress of Nationsandthe State of the World’s Childrenthat acted like report cards for governments on their performances for children around the world. UNICEF has produced many important documents over the years, all designed to have an impact on the situation of children through advocacy for the issues affecting children in various countries. But also many people throughout the organization had been trained and educated to believe that if you did not have a brochure or a publication in production you did not exist. As a result, most communication specialists in UNICEF were journalists or writers. The fact that we were about to have a meeting in Disneyworld to discuss animation was further proof to many in UNICEF HQ that some of us in the field were completely off our heads and perhaps onto some scam. Imagine requesting permission for a field trip to Disneyworld?

This dominant publication culture in UNICEF NYHQ had lots to do with our high level advocacy roll and little to do with how people outside were learning about UNICEF’s work or indeed how pre-literate people in the field could learn about the issues we were promoting.

Slowly but surely a few key people were won over towards the power of the ‘visual’ side of communication. Evaluation methods that are now commonly used in market research to determine viewership potential and impact were introduced to better understand our outreach with animation. Neil McKee was effectively producing UNICEF’s Meena animation in South Asia and demonstrating a clear impact on attitudes and the behaviour of children in the sub-continent – while also using these same Meena films to educate children in Canadian schools about life in South Asia. Meanwhile I was utilizing the leverage of UNICEF’s reputation to gain support from the animation industry’s leaders. Bill Heltzer’s broadcasting team in UNICEF HQNY was also growing in response to the expanding interest in visual media.

Many people who had come to the Prague meeting also came to the Disney, Orlando meeting and some of them displayed wonderful examples of what they had produced in the interim years. Some of the best examples came from Latin America where UNICEF’s Salvador Herencia had worked with Globo TV and Manuel Manrique had cooperated with Sesame Street to produce a Spanish version of the popular children’s TV show. The programmes included not just educational content but also vital local health and social information produced in the usual creative and entertaining Sesame street style.

There were also examples of real efforts by local animators who worked alone to produce culturally relevant and sensitive pieces for the first time in their countries.We knew that it was unlikely that animators would make a living out of producing only films with social messages but if we had trained them they were always willing to take time out of their commercial day to help produce a support piece for UNICEF. This local approach was very close to my heart. I knew by this time however that it mattered lesshowthe information was imparted to a rural audience, as long as they were seen to be understanding it and it was engaging and memorable. Whether it was a locally produced puppet or a Disney styled character, in the end one approach would help support the other as long at the information was reliable, useful and not contradictory.

This second UNICEFAnimation for Development Workshopand Summit took place in Orlando Florida in 1994 and was attended by 150 representatives from 45 different countries. Both a book and a video calledDrawing Insightare available from UNICEF to describe this event in full. Neil McKee and I wrote the keynote address and a foreword was written by Roy Disney.

George McBean 2012