Wednesday, 7 December 2016

How one organization reframes celebrity and a social issue

Unicef’s new film featuring David Beckham and his tattoos uniquely highlights child abuse and promotes the organization’s campaign to combat it. Beckham is not only a well-known soccer star, he’s also a Unicef goodwill Ambassador. Although his celebrity status may draw people to the video, the attention he would normally receive is deflected to the message he physically carries about the scars left on children who are victims of violence. In the film Beckham sits silent and still as his tattoos become animated while sounds of cries and sinister music play. Most of the colors in the film are black and grey reinforcing the somber message in this video. Beckham only speaks for a few seconds at the end with a forceful voice. He says, “Violence against children marks them forever. It’s wrong. End it.”

What stands out most about the film isn’t Beckham’s presence or the horrific imagery of animated children hurt, it’s the way these features come together to push the point of Unicef’s campaign, which is to stop violence against children. At the end of the video, there is a call to action, which people can answer by using the hash tag #ENDviolence , by visiting, and by sharing the video.

It’s clear that the video aims to trigger people’s emotions, but it also aims to change people’s thoughts on violence against children. Some of the animated characters in the film show violence between children and verbal abuse, which some people prior to watching the video may overlook. The way Unicef framed the stories of violence against children in this film seems profound. Although the video is short, it may leave a lasting impression on its viewers.

Also worth noting is the way Unicef frames Beckham, he is a vessel for the campaign not the driver of it. While other organizations might have video ads featuring a celebrity talking about issues (Jennifer Aniston’s St. Jude’s commercial), Unicef does not use Beckham as the reason people should care about its campaign. His body, which is usually sexualized and idolized, becomes a canvas and the significance of his tattoos is redefined as vivid examples of what real children go through, not body art or decoration.

In the book Communication Power by Manuel Castell, he asserts, “Alternative projects and values put forward by the social actors aiming to reprogram society must also go through the communication networks to transform consciousness and views in people’s minds in order to challenge the powers that be” (Castells, 2009, p53).

Castell’s quote captures what this film does. The alternative value put forward by this film is to pay attention to the messages people carry not the people carrying them. As a character living in the world full of tabloids and red carpets, Beckham has humbled himself to guide those who know him to issues that are more important like violence against children. Maybe after watching the film people will think twice when they see someone screaming at a child or when they see Beckham on the cover they’ll think about this video and the message it sent. This video is a chance to “reprogram society” and although when people see it they may consciously focus on Beckham and his physical features, subconsciously they may associate him with his stance against child abuse and support the stance too.

To further explain the potential impact this video might have on viewers, one can turn to Castell again. In Communication Power he states, “…When emotional mechanisms are triggered in the brain’s surveillance system, higher-level decision capacities are activated, leading to more attention to information and a more active information search. That is why deliberate frame is typically based on the arousal of emotions” (Castells, 2009, p156). The way that Unicef aims to stir emotions in this video seems strategic and more challenging than the routes other organizations addressing similar issues have gone. Unicef could have featured a child telling a story of violence or with bruises, but even without the use of real children the message film delivers is raw. The fact that the message about violence against children in this film isn’t theatrically done might trigger people’s emotions on a deeper level since they may have been desensitized to images of violence when it is prominent in the movies and ads. Once viewers get roped in to use the hash tag or visit the Unicef website, they’ll learn more about the realities of violence against children.

This film reinforces the importance of framing in regards to storytelling. Even though people are constantly overwhelmed by messages and adverts in their daily lives, it’s refreshing when an organization can reframe a social issue or how the deliver information about that issue.


Castells, M. (2009) Communication Power. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.

Burns, J. (2016). David Beckham tattoos come to life for child abuse campaign. BBC. 5 December. Available from

Thursday, 24 November 2016

What's a positive social change?

Video posted on YouTube by Jamil Mantey Ghani
             There’s been a lot of controversy surrounding Airbnb’s presence in Palestine. The company has listed properties that are in Jewish settlements in Palestine and has described some properties as located in Israel even though they are in Palestine. Tensions between protestors and Airbnb have been rising for a while. Earlier this year, The Stolen Homes Coalition started a petition demanding that Airbnb leave Palestine. Since then, the petition has garnered more than 150,00 signatures. In contrast to the negative image Airbnb holds in some people’s minds, it describes itself as “a trusted community marketplace for people to list, discover, and book unique accommodation around the world.” The language used in this mission statement conveys the idea that Airnbnb is a safe space for strangers to congregate and form a community, thereby dispelling the notion that strangers are dangerous, and instead painting strangers as people who share your passion for travel and will welcome you into their home. Airbnb actively seems to push the view that the business ventures it takes are toward social change.
            This past weekend in Los Angeles, Airbnb hosted an event called Airbnb Open 2016: AFestival of Hosting Event. The website for the festival explains it as “a community-powered festival of travel and hospitality that celebrates a city and its neighborhood.” While Ashton Kutcher, an investor in the company, gave a presentation, an activist from Code Pink marched on stage and held up a sign that said, “AIRBNB out of settlements @codepink” in protest of the company’s presence in Palestine. Kutcher didn’t kick her off stage or ignore her; he addressed her grievance and put a positive spin on Airbnb’s mission. People Magazine reported that Kutcher said, “We can get to know each other intimately and understand our collective narrative is a narrative for everyone, and that we all can belong to in a world together without borders.” Kutcher also said other positive things about the company and the intentions its founder.
             Based on Kutcher’s response to the protestor, one might speculate that the development strategies Airbnb uses to implement social change are “changing attitudes and beliefs” and “corporate social responsibility”. These strategies are discussed in the Oxfam report titled, How Change Happens. When addressing changing attitudes and beliefs, the author asserts, “It focuses on building personal relationships, mutual understanding, and empathy as an approach to change…” (Kraznaric, 2007, p 44). At the moment Kutcher faced confrontation, he didn’t retaliate with aggression, he seized the moment to educate his audience that the goal of the company is to connect people and sell the idea that the company is focused on what can benefit the world, not just the company.
             Whether the employees of Airbnb say it or not, the company obviously wants financial gain or it would be a nonprofit. Furthermore if social change had been a fundamental part of the company’s creation then maybe its founders would have made it a social enterprise. At best, one can describe the social awareness that Airbnb claims to have integrated into its business as corporate social responsibility. In the Oxfam report, when the author talks about Corporate Social Responsibility   he asserts, “This is another reformist approach to change based on operating within the existing capitalist economic system. It may require working with progressive elites, a strategy appearing in social-movement and civil-society theory” (Kraznaric, 2007, p 43). Although the encounter between Ashton Kutcher and the protestor wasn’t planned, if one looks at the encounter from a critical perspective they may see that Ashton Kutcher being the one to deliver a positive message to the protestor and the rest of the audience on behalf of Airbnb works to the company’s advantage and disadvantage. Kutcher’s rebuttal shows that he shares the company’s values and gives insight to people about what those values are. The aforementioned quote from Kutcher hints at a reformist approach to change. It could even be speculated that the underlying point of his words are that people, like the protestor, see a division in the world, when all Airbnb wants to do is bring people together. While some people in the audience may have listened more intently to a young movie star like Kutcher, who could be consider a progressive elite, than the protestor, other people might have been intrigued by the protestor, who is an unknown person risking arrest to stand up to public figure.
            Regardless of Airbnb’s attempts to be socially responsible, it will have to use another strategic approach like “Empowerment” to win over its critics. The most relevant part of the “Empowerment” strategy is probably the “capabilities” aspect of it. In the Oxfam report, the authors says, “This theory moves beyond rational choice and self-interest assumptions of classical economics and embraces sociological ideas such as that people value different things and wish to pursue different goals.” When faced with confrontation, Kutcher redirected the protester’s grievances about one issue, the rights of the Palestinians, to another grievance that more people share, which is essentially world peace. From this perspective, it is harder to address Airbnb’s intentions as wrong or their impact on the world as bad.

            The protestor from Code Pink has her own agenda, which might be equally as noble or even more, but it its harder to analyze her mission as one for the greater good when the conflict is essentially between Israel and Palestine. There are people who support Israel and people who support Palestine as to who has the rights to the land. It could be noted that social change, doesn’t come down to one company, one person, or one non-profit. Social change happens when a majority of society ultimately embraces that change, until this happens, how does the society determine if the direction it is moving in is a positive one?


Kraznaric, R. (2007). How Change Happens. OxFam GB. Available from Blackboard. [Accessed 2016 November 21].

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Examples of theories in advocacy efforts

Photo from Ali Segel's Twitter 

            After reading Pathways for Change: 10 Theories to Inform Advocacy and Policy Change Efforts, I began to try and recognize these theories in the actions of organizations and individuals. Whether people are familiar with the theories mentioned in this article they might already be implementing as they work towards social change. Recently, one woman in America was able to get Merriam-Webster dictionary to change the definition of “femininity” just by tweeting. Though this started as a solo advocacy effort with a narrow focus it still contributed to social change, specifically sexism. This woman’s act and subsequent exemplifies the “Media Influence” Theory because this theory recognizes the power of content distribution and that there are more forms of media than traditional media like newspapers and T.V.
            In Pathways for Change: 10 Theories to Inform Advocacy and Policy Change Efforts the author explains “Media Influence” theory and states, “According to this theory, media and communications work should be coupled with advocacy towards decision makers who will act upon issues that have risen on the public agenda and/or build a base of support to take action on an agenda that has reached a high level of salience” (Stachowiak, 2013, p 18). Since Twitter is a platform that allows people to communicate to the public it counts as part of the media. Given that this woman has a public profile, she was aware that her statement could reach a large audience and would probably get attention. After she tweeted this grievance, several Twitter users tagged Merriam-Webster’s Twitter Account with her tweet. Ultimately this collective action led to a change. Since many people use Merriam-Webster’s dictionary and it is a notable brand, its attempt to redefine words can potentially lead to a cultural change and inevitably a change in society. With the social media platforms and technological advancements that people have access to today it is possible for almost anyone to become a media influencer so it is important that we take advantage of that and voice our opinions.

Photo from Principle Northwest Security

            Gender inequality is a relevant issue with campaigners, presidential candidates, and organizations publicly tackling related issues like equal pay and access to education in the past few years. Given the visibility of the topic of gender inequality in the news, an organization might use “The Policy Windows” theory to address it. A trade union in Sweden called Unionen recently created a hotline to raise awareness about “mansplaining”. Around the world, prominent women like HillaryClinton and Theresa May have been victims of this act where men talk down to them, but the act occurs in other industrial sectors besides politics. The union behind this hotline, which recognizes itself as “the largest white-collar union in the world” (McCann), set up this hotline temporarily for members of the union to call in and talk about instances of mansplaining in their work. According to a spokesperson for the organization, “Our object is to contribute to awareness and start a discussion in which we hope will be the first step in changing the way we treat each other and talk about each other in the workplace” (McCann). Although gender discrimination at work is already being discussed globally, the media coverage of this hotline has shone light on the current conditions of the white-collar work environments in Sweden so essentially the Unionen has not only taken advantage of a “Policy Window, it has created one as well. When talking about “Policy Window Theory”, the author of Pathways for Change: 10 Theories to Inform Advocacy and Policy Change Efforts states, ”Promising Strategies include: impact problem definition (i.e., framing the issue, monitoring indicators that assess the existence and magnitude of issues, intiating special studies of an issue, promoting constituent feedback)”  (Stachowiak, 2013, p 8). With this hotline, Unionen has framed the issue of gender discrimination in the workplace as common and problematic and Unionen has also given their constituent opportunities for feedback on this issue.
             In addition to the Policy Windows Theory, I also see “Grassroots Theory of Change exhibited in this Unionen’s efforts to target sexism as the hotline serves both men and women and is run by a group of “20 men and women, who are gender experts, authors, academics” and other professionals (McCann). The creation and running of this hotline is a collective action that addresses the needs of Unionen’s members. It is stated in pathway to changes that for the “Grassroots Theory”, “Promising strategies include training/ capacity-building, community mobilizing, awareness building, action research, media advocacy, social protest, and whistleblowing” (Stachowiak, 2013, p 20). Community mobilizing and Awareness building are central points in Unionen’s mission.
            The aforementioned theories are strategic methods to create focus a campaign or achieve a goal. They are useful for individuals and organizations advocating for policy or social change and should be used consciously and more frequently.


Stachowiak, S. (2013). Pathways for Change: 10 Theories to Inform Advocacy and Policy Change Efforts. Center for Evaluation Innovation. Available from Blackboard. [Accessed 15 October 2016].

McCann, E. (2016). Sweden has a ‘mansplaining’ hotline. Seattle Times. Available from [Accessed 19 November 2016].