Firdaus Kharas: Activism through animation
United Methodist Communications will host the Game Changers Summit, Sept. 3-5, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn. The conference will demonstrate how information and communications technology (ICT) can be used to improve all facets of life. The focus? Helping parts of the world left behind by the technological revolution, to solve problems in education, wellness and community development with cutting-edge communications tools. This article series will spotlight some of the speakers and panelists participating in the Game Changers Summit.
Subjects like AIDS and domestic violence are no laughing matter, but Firdaus Kharas has found a way to use humor to get people to think differently about such serious issues. The director and social innovator has created a series of animated shorts that confront such issues in the hopes of creating what Kharas calls “a cultural shift.”
“We share commonalities as human beings, we share values in common, so it is possible to communicate across borders and cultures using humor,” he says.
Kharas’ shorts addressing health, violence, literacy, malaria and cultural differences have been shown in more than 150 countries and adapted into more than 90 languages. He said the 30-second spots are the easiest way to reach large numbers and are accessible directly by end user, the person whose behavior he’s trying to change.
“I use humor to bring the audience to the serious point that happens at the end, that I want them to understand,” he says. “It’s memorable, something you can watch over and over again and internalize. It’s non-threatening so you’re less resistant to the message.”
In the ICT4D world, Kharas sees new technology as a vital vehicle to spread his message, pointing out that the medium and the message depend on one another.
“I think the people who do information and communications technology infrastructure are important and complementary, but technology itself does not achieve a goal. If you don’t have compelling content, you can have the best infrastructure in the world but no one’s going to use it,” he says.
Kharas sees recent technological advances as the perfect way to help improve lives in developing nations. His next ad campaign will encourage the use of solar lights as an alternative to traditional fuels. In some countries, residents may spend up to 30 percent of their income on kerosene, which can also cause health problems through long-term exposure.
“It’s exciting to look at the future, look at this moment in history, see how we can help people, bring them out of extreme poverty, increase their health, and better the human condition.”