Making an Impact

Posted on: Thursday 01 July 2010 12:07pm

Case studies of innovative projects which aim to “give something back” to kids.

Introduced by: Ben Evans, BBC Children’s Multiplatform


Michael Acton Smith, CEO, Moshi Monsters

Liz Davies, Production Manager, Living Paintings

Liam Midwood, Editor, Living Paintings

Emma Monks, Senior Manager, Moderation & Safety, Habbo Hotel

Josh Selig, Founder and President, Little Airplane Productions

Lucy Willis, Executive Producer, Raw TV

For many, dealing with the ‘why’ of making media for kids is the tricky bit. What role does media play in the bigger picture of kids’ lives, dreams and aspirations? What kind of an impact can it have on them? This session sought to answer these questions by sharing five examples of innovative media projects that went above and beyond, in their own ways, to support children.

First up was Emma Monks, from Habbo Hotel — a thriving online virtual world for teenagers that in its tenth year of operation is attracting 16.5 million unique visitors a month. Teens sign up, create an avatar and then furnish and decorate their own digital room. According to Emma, it allows them to express their own individuality. Habbo has recently started working with charities – they partnered with FRANK Child to provide a virtual place for non-profit advisors to hang out with kids and field questions from them about drug abuse. With War Child, Habbo helped teenagers in 16 different countries organise virtual rallies for peace. Finally, with NSPCC, they recruited teens to design their own posters which spread the word about child abuse. The major lesson from all of this was the importance of organisations connecting *with* teens, rather than broadcasting to them.

Next up was Liz Davies, from Living Paintings — a charity which creates raised image and audio-described books for blind or visually impaired children and teens and distributes them through a free lending library. The impact this can have was brilliantly highlighted by 15 year old Liam Midwood. Liam is a bright, blind teenager from Bradford who entertained and enchanted the delegates by telling them how much Living Paintings books mean to him and the impact they have had on his life.

Then we met Lucy Willis from Battlefront — a Channel 4 initiative designed to enable teenagers to run their own campaigns. Working cross platform (from a website community to a television show to real world events), Battlefront featured the stories of 20 young teenagers who were out to make their own impact. Battlefront gave them the tools they needed, including expert mentors who advised them on how to make their campaigns effective. The audience heard incredible stories of teenagers who campaigned against gun violence and for organ donation (one girl got 3.5k people to sign up in just a day).

Michael Smith, of Mind Candy Studio shared the story of Moshi Monsters — an immensely popular, fantastic online world for kids that’s like a mash up of those old Tamagotchi virtual pets and Facebook. Kids start by ‘adopting’ a pet and then care for it, though it all takes place in a vast online, social world — with games, galleries and stories. Even the virtual pets can get their own virtual pets! Michael said he considered Moshi Monster as a sort of sandbox for kids — a place where they’re in charge and the world responds to them, while still offering opportunities for ‘stealth’ education that’s entertaining and meaningful for kids. He shared a story during the Q&A of a child who surprised them by creating a virtual airline in the Moshi Monsters forum, with other kids applying for jobs with the airline and being interviewed by the child — expanding the world in a way they didn’t expect. With a new child signing up for the service every minute, clearly Moshi Monsters is working — and is a prime example of how the future is not about pushing out to kids on sofas, but letting them be in charge.

Last but not least, we heard from Josh Selig from Little Airplane Productions. He discussed their new non-profit effort to teach preschool children methods of conflict resolution. The show — The Olive Branch — has short 1-minute episodes without dialogue, and features two entertaining characters who live in a tree and must discover ways to solve the conflicts that crop up between them. The three episodes he shared were a great success with the audience, and Josh said they’re working with the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation and UNICEF to help the project make a difference in many different settings across the world. He also explained that with it came a very new structure: any distributor worldwide can buy a 1-year, non-exclusive licence for the show for only 1 unit of their local currency — with anything above and beyond as a donation to fund future episode development. So far it’s been a wonderful, satisfying experience for them and Josh says they’re eager to see how the model progresses.

In conclusion, the session represented five different, varying examples of how media impacts kids. Sometimes media revolutionises their accessibility to life and culture, other times media intentionally introduces them ways for improving their world and yet other times media creates a social space which empowers children and puts them in charge.

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