United Nations Foundation Gala

Until a few year’s ago, it seemed that the biggest connection between the United Nations and Hollywood was that moment when Cary Grant pulled a knife out of a UN delegate’s back in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1959 “North by Northwest.” But today, that perception is anything but accurate.

At tonight’s Global Leadership Awards Dinner in Gotham, Variety is among the six honorees being lauded at the annual kudos given by the United Nations Foundation in its support of the United Nations Association of the United States of America. Reps from the Foundation say the teamwork has been socko, even boffo.

“The United Nations values partnerships above all else, and since we’ve been introduced to Variety, it has been a match made in heaven,” says Elizabeth Gore, vice president of the UNF. “Brian Gott made a commitment two years ago and said Variety would put forth its assets in order to raise awareness and bring attention to global issues like children’s health and energy.”

Gore mentions Variety-hosted events on polio and malaria, as well as its Power Of series of events centering on youth, women and comedy, which has raised more than $5 million in charitable contributions over the last six years. “The UN has been integrated with the people honored at those events,” says Gore. “And we were integrated with things like Variety’s Cannes events, among many others.” They’ve been looking across all their properties and have said, How can we benefit these global issues?”

Danielle Lemmon Zapotoczny, who serves as a strategic advisor to the UN’s Creative Community Outreach Initiative in Los Angeles, explains, “UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon wanted to meet the key people in the Hollywood community who could tell stories regarding global issues, and Variety has made the introductions and hosted high-level receptions and woven the UN into its day-to-day business. At least once a week I get a call from Brian Gott regarding some person in the industry whom he had lunch with and who wants to help the UN with these issues.”

Sometimes it isn’t an event but rather editorial content in the pages of Variety. Gore mentions recent articles written by editor in chief Timothy Gray about the UN Foundation’s anti-malaria campaign and work at refugee camps near South Sudan. “It’s hard to have a voice if you are a humanitarian, or you are the person who is afflicted. Tim Gray has given them a voice and it is very special,” says Gore.

Variety publisher Gott says, “Our industry is built on the next great idea, and the UN has 67 years of amazing stories to tell. We help connect them to the people who can help them share those stories.”

In April 2011, Gott was asked to join the UN Foundation’s Global Entrepreneurs Council, along with seven other people, and from various industries. The mission of the council, run by Gore and the UN Foundation’s Diana Walker, is to marshal the UN and the Foundation’s commitment to philanthropy, advocacy and other non-partisan global issues, and elevate to the next level of innovation and impact.

The GEC has launched campaigns to promote the UN Foundation’s many initiatives, met with the White House and members of Congress to lobby for UN and Foundation causes, hosted panels and roundtables around the globe tied to UN efforts, and along the way has helped generate millions of dollars of direct support to critical movements, like the UN Foundation’s Nothing But Nets, their malaria bed-net program.

Thanks to Secretary-General Ban, there has been a marked about-face. “The United Nations always said no when it came to filming at the UN, as well as anything that had to do with the entertainment industry,” says Zapotoczny. “But the secretary-general said that is absolutely no longer the case. We are opening up the UN to the entertainment industry. He wants to engage content creators, and has launched the Creative Community Outreach Initiative to engage storytellers to tell global issues like AIDS, human trafficking and malaria, among others.”

Ban launched the CCOI as the point of entry in the UN for the international entertainment industry. Today, the Initiative, which runs out of the UN’s Department of Public Information, acts as a liaison between the UN and studios, producers, directors, writers and new media professionals seeking access for filming at UN locations, technical and logistical support from UN experts, clearance of UN brand-related and legal issues and film screening opportunities in collaboration with the UN, among other activities. •

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