U.N. wants storytellers willing to take on a challege

Variety among honorees as org seeks to give voice to voiceless

(Kathy Calvin is the CEO of the United Nations Foundation.Variety is among the honorees at tonight’s United Nations Foundation Gala.)

Tonight, the United Nations Foundation and the United Nations Assn. of the USA will honor Variety for its leadership in activating the creative community to help solve global problems. Your community has enormous power to shine a light on problems that are too often allowed to continue because they occur in the shadows of society.

Kathy Calvin is the CEO of the United Nations Foundation.Variety is among the honorees at tonight’s United Nations Foundation Gala. For more on the foundation and honorees, see page 11.

Earlier this month, news outlets across the U.S. featured story after story on issues like maternal mortality in Somaliland, sex trafficking in Cambodia and girls’ education in Vietnam — topics that are in need of attention but don’t frequently get it.

So what helped drive this coverage? A documentary — the four-hour “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide,” which recently aired on PBS. Inspired by the bestselling book by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, the documentary followed Kristof and several celebrity advocates as they met with incredible women who are working on the ground to overcome some of the world’s toughest issues.

Across the world, there are stories of tragedy and triumph waiting to be told: refugees persevering through violence and upheaval; young girls leaving behind everything they know to escape forced marriage; and mothers who walk up to 15 miles to vaccinate their children against diseases like pneumonia and measles — leading killers of children in some parts of the world.

The United Nations is on the front lines of these and other challenges, responding to humanitarian crises and natural disasters, promoting peace and human rights, expanding access to energy, improving child and maternal health, and so much more.

The U.N. bears witness to incredible stories every day, but it needs the help of the creative community to tell them.

Your community has talent and skills not found anywhere else; it also has an exceptional ability to raise awareness of issues and to reach new and bigger audiences. And I know from personal experience that it’s filled with professionals working to make a difference in the world.

That is why U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched the United Nations “Creative Community Outreach Initiative” in 2009 to strengthen collaboration with the creative community. The initiative works with writers, directors, producers and crews to help connect them to technical expertise and logistical support. It provides briefings and information on pressing global challenges. And it engages entertainment professionals with the life-saving work of the U.N.

This initiative is an example of an innovative partnership that leverages what communities do well and takes ideas to scale. The U.N. Foundation supports this effort by connecting members of the creative community with the U.N. and with Foundation campaigns on global health, sustainable energy and women and girls’ empowerment to share powerful stories of need, hope and success. Variety has been an invaluable partner in our work, and we hope others will join us.

While the world’s challenges can seem overwhelming, progress is possible if we take action. No one person can solve every problem, but each of us can make a difference in some capacity — and together, our actions can generate real change.

The creative community can help by doing what it does best — telling stories and convening people who care. You can give a voice to the voiceless, bring problems out of the shadows and spread hope that a better world is possible. There are so many stories waiting to be told — stories of injustice that can move people to action, but also stories of progress that will remind people that we can overcome challenges if we mobilize.

As U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said, “Through creative media, we can bring honor, empathy, and compassion to our stories and, ultimately, to the people who live them.”