About this site

Imagine a street artist who draws reasonable portraits and who gathers a crowd to watch him sketch… then ship this artist into a refugee camp in Somalia and ask him to draw the people he sees, doing things that will help them save their children’s lives. Crowds gather round and the artist’s skill suddenly becomes as important as medicine.

This is pretty much what happened to me. The United Nations Children’s Fund UNICEF sent me on assignments to refugee camps in Somalia in the 1970's, to develop teaching aids which I called 'Illustrations for Development'and which I continued and adapted into ‘Animation for Development’ in 1986 in Nepal.

For some ten years I worked with local colleagues on these ideas, until someone in UNICEF, New York HQ took notice. Bill Hetzer in the Division of Communication began to support this concept after seeing a film I'd made called "Changing Visions".In 1990 an International meeting was organized in Prague and opened by UNICEF's Executive Director, James Grant, on the theme of ‘Animation for Development.’

This website covers the journey of this idea from East Africa to Prague where major animation studios were invited to meet with development experts. Representatives came from Disney Animation, Hanna Barbera, UNICEF and ASIFA including Bill Hanna himself with other senior figures. They discussed how film animation could be used not just for entertainment or fundraising and education, but to impart vital information to isolated pre-literate communities.

Four years later Roy Disney hosted the second ‘Animation for Development’ summit meeting in Disneyworld Florida, a meeting that brought together the largest gathering of animation producers and TV executives ever assembled to discuss social development through animation andhow they could support it.

For more reading follow; The story begins here;Move to Nepal: Move to the Caribbean;An artist in a bureaucracy;The Disneyworld Summit; Move to New York and beyond;Meanwhile back in Africa;Pondering the now;

You may also explore the collection of illustrations, articles and talks that help to fill some gaps in the story. Or keep up with the latest work at:https://www.facebook.com/IdleGeorge/info


The site is mainly for young artists and creative people who would like to use their skills for humanitarian purposes. The ability to communicate through visual arts has a powerful social and educational role to play. While many understand the role of law, development and trade agreements in changing our world, not all appreciate the scale of change that is driven by the sharing of visual images, becasue it is seen as an informal process. Yet the scale on which visual images are helping to exchange information these days is vastly infuential. These pages highlight a small but important branch of the Art world (more like a twig in the 1970's) that has an influence on how we see and understand our social world. It may also be of interest to development planers and communication statagists to see the added value that artists can bring to their work, when they are properely informed.


About my colleagues.

For over thirty six years I worked alongside some of the most culturally diverse, interesting and motivated people in UNICEF. Many of them have made an enormous contribution to the health and well-being of mothers and children around the world, sometimes on a scale that very few people know of or appreciate. UNICEF employs people from many countries, with different disciplines and expertise depending on the social goals it is trying to achieve. When water was a priority for UNICEF in the 1970'/80’s many water engineers were employed in countries which did not otherwise have the necessary expertise; during the push for Universal Immunisation in the late 1980s, UNICEF hired many people with medical backgrounds.

My story covers a period of time when UNICEF first began to place 'communication'at the heart of its programming efforts, realising that it could not achieve its UN mandate to help all children in need, without improving our methods of articulating the problems and asking others for more help. With these new 'Communication' goals becoming an important priority for the organisation it also had to face the challenge of communicating with large numbers of pre-literate parents and this opened the door for the employment of a visual artist like myself.

In many ways it is the strength of UNICEF that it moves and changes with time, but even today UNICEF still needs to tell its own story effectively.There is an increasing use of celebrities to draw attention to the work done by all the UN humanitarian organizations, but most field staff have far greater insight and more interesting tales to tell. They are the ones charged with the delivery of development. They are not visitors to it, nor are they pleading the propaganda that we often hear from stars.

I hope this contribution encourages others to do the same and spread their own experiences to those who will make a point of learning from it. For I believe my own story pales in comparison to some of the contributions that other staff have had; from the intellectual/management giants I've known within the UNICEF system. People, who despite many obstacles managed to guide funds and fix things for the better with worthwhile causes. People like David Haxton whose contribution towards the eradication of Iodine Deficiency Disorders has significantly reduced the incidence of mentally impaired children around the world. There are thousands more people like Dave out there working today, worthy of a Nobel prize for dealing with bull-shit and getting things done! They are often overlooked because they are not working in the laboratory of a science institution but in the laboratory of politics and human needs. They are working for children, too young to have a political voice or have any knowledge that their lives have been saved by this work.

I have decided to tell my story in an unusual way, because in some ways it is an unusual story. It is set out, in a familiar filling cabinet design, as the theme suggests, in a way that those new to computers can easily browse.

Here first though is a side thought. I remember one time at a meeting in the Caribbean when I was designing a set of animated films on Early Childhood and a top UNICEF official, Richard Jolly heard me refer to myself as an artist. He questioned me asking ‘is that how you see yourself George… as an artist?’ I thought for a moment about the consequences of my answer to such a senior (economist) figure, and I recalled the lack of ‘artists’ in most official job vacancy bulletins and I answered. “Yes Richard… I am an artist and that’s the trade I’m bringing to UNICEF.”

Acknowledgements: Thanks to my wife Sara Cameron McBean and our three wonderful children Fergus, Ainslie and Ramsay who lived through, trekked, witnessed and supported this work. Thanks also to all the young artists and animators I've met and who have encouraged me to create this web-site, and to all my UNICEF colleagues, here in these photos, those who were there… at the time.

Find inside a selection of work. Unless otherwise stated ... all illustrations, graphic designs, artwork, animation, cartoons, documentaries, writing and photographs are my own. (Unless of course they are credited or I'm in the photo or have mistakenly included a picture from a colleague.)

George McBean 2012