Dorst MediaWorks is a Washington, D.C. based video production company which helps international organizations create documentary-style films. We have been working with top-notch international organizations since 2002, including the World Bank, USAID and many more nonprofits that we believe are here to change the world. We have worked in over 50 countries, creating award-winning, human-centered videos wherever we go, always respecting the local culture and people.
Clutch is a B2B ratings and review firm also located in DC which collects client reviews and connects businesses so they can be more successful together. We recently partnered with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to create a video for a country documentary series. The Deputy Chief of the IMF, one of our partners in this project, left Dorst MediaWorks a review outlining our excellent services. The Deputy Chief explained our involvement in the project, how we developed a game plan for the video, and how we delivered results. They are quoted as saying, “they produced a beautiful video that was very visually appealing–we’ve posted it with pride on our website and social media channels.” Moreover, our profile features a comprehensive project summary with the IMF, here are a few more quotes:
“Steve [Producer/Director] gets it. Not only is he a talented video producer, but he also understands the subject matter.”
“Dorst MediaWorks did a phenomenal job of creating a video that effectively told the organization’s narrative, including its complexities.”
Dorst MediaWorks has been featured on two other sites that provide B2B services. The Manifest gathers business news and tips and has listed us as one of the top video production companies. The other site, Visual Objects, posts portfolios of visual and creative design firms and has listed our portfolio items open to anyone curious about our completed projects!
We are so proud of the entire Dorst MediaWorks’ production team and their ability to capture emotional stories and change the world one video at a time!
We encourage anyone considering our services to come by our websiteto learn more about our message and our videos.
So, you work for a government agency or a contractor. Do you ever feel intimidated by the challenge of creating videos that show results from your successful programs? There’s no need to be. They are another important way to get the word out to your target audience.
Why documentary style? First, these videos are perceived as more credible. They aren’t primarily promotional, nor are they scripted. They use the voices of project beneficiaries who talk about their impressions and experiences. These testimonials, as a result, are more enduring. Whether your target audience watches these stories this month or next year, they find them informative and memorable. Ultimately, this makes for a cost-effective communications investment that builds your brand over time.
Second, documentary-style videos are a great tool for organizations that are trying to be accountable and transparent to their stakeholders. If USAID is running a project in Lebanon or USDA is funding a program in Afghanistan, should they interview an executive in a Washington, D.C. office or actually show the project where it is being administered? Ultimately, federal agencies are accountable to citizens, and videos are a great way to share information in an accessible way.
You don’t need an Act of Congress to create a quality documentary-style video. Just a professional crew from Dorst MediaWorks. Here are 21 great videos produced by Dorst MediaWorks for USAID, USDA, and MCC during the past few years. You should have no trouble getting inspired to make a documentary-style video part of your marketing strategy.
1. Washington DC USAID Video Production: Haiti Private Sector Development
This is the story of USAID’s efforts to spur Haiti’s private sector. We see through the eyes of one factory employee, Hermine, who is one step closer to her dream of owning her a home and providing a solid education for her son.
2. Afghanistan: Empowering Women Farmers
After the war, Afghan farmers — particularly women farmers — were getting virtually no support from the government. This is the story of how the Afghan Ministry of Agriculture improves how it does business, which helps farmers, spurs the economy, and contributes to stability. This is a USDA program named CBCMP (Capacity Building and Change Management) that is uniquely effective.
3. Washington DC Government Video Production: “Annie’s Story,” Millennium Challenge Corporation Malawi
This is the story of Annie’s tragic loss and her new passion. It’s also the story of how the Millennium Challenge Corporation helped Malawian women in river communities develop new economic opportunities that protect the rivers that power 90% of the country’s electricity.
4. Washington DC USAID Video Production: Lebanon & Rabih’s Fishing Business
This is the story of Rabih, who struggles to make a living as a fisherman before buying a new boat and building his business. And the microfinance institution Al Majmoua, which is extending loans to rural entrepreneurs in Lebanon for the first time
5. Washington DC USAID Video Production: Ghana & the Global Shea Alliance
USAID and the Global Shea Alliance help 16 million women from 21 African countries to collect, harvest and sell shea products around the world. By linking these communities to the global market, USAID helps families engage in international trade and earn a reliable source of income — helping their countries on their journey to self-reliance. This video highlights the work Rita Dampson does with shea collectors and processors in rural Ghana.
6. Washington DC USAID Video Production: Ethiopia & Sara’s Handicraft Passion
This is the story of Sara, a fashion designer from Ethiopia. Not long ago, she had 7 employees and only served the local market. Today she has more than 400 employees and her designs appear in major retailers such as J. Crew.
7. Washington DC Government Video Production: “Mary’s Story,” Millennium Challenge Corporation Malawi
This is the story of Mary’s new business and her improved quality of life. It’s also the story of how the Millennium Challenge Corporation helped Malawian women in river communities develop new economic opportunities that also protect the rivers that power 90% of the country’s electricity.
8. Sustainable Development Video Production: Afghanistan, From Ledgers to Biometrics
This is the story of a transformation. After the war, the Afghanistan Ministry of Agriculture is in disarray. Staff stand in line for an hour to sign in for work (if they come at all) and accounts maintain paper records. Through a USDA program named CBCMP (Capacity Building and Change Management) the Ministry sees a lot of improvements.
9. Washington DC USAID Video Production: Lebanon & Hala’s Flower Shop
This is the story of Hala, who had a passion for flower arranging and used to dream of starting her own business. And the microfinance institution Vitas, which is extending loans to women entrepreneurs in Lebanon for the first time.
10. Washington DC USAID Video Production: Birth of Ethiopia’s NovaStar Garments
This is the story of Mohammed, who moves back to Ethiopia after 18 years in the U.S. to open a textile factory. The problem is, he doesn’t have much experience, or any buyers. It’s also the story of USAID, whose initial support gives Mohammed just the market exposure he needs to rapidly expand his business.
11. Washington DC Government Video Production: “Judith & Alice’s Story,” MCC in Malawi
This is the story of Judith and Alice’s new business and their improved quality of life. It’s also the story of how the Millennium Challenge Corporation helped Malawian women in river communities develop new economic opportunities that also protect the rivers that power 90% of the country’s electricity.
12. Washington DC Sustainable Development Video Production: Afghanistan, Taking Stock of a Modern Ministry
With more than 9,000 staff and tens of millions of dollars of new donor investments, the Afghan Ministry of Agriculture needed a way to track its assets. This is the story of a USDA program named CBCMP (Capacity Building and Change Management) that helped them do it. Since 1964, IESC has worked in 130 countries and helped to create or save over 1.5 million jobs.
13. Washington DC Government Video Production: “Powering Malawi” Millennium Challenge Corporation Malawi
This is the story of Malawi’s power sector reforms and how it is spurring economic growth and poverty reduction by by improving the availability, reliability and quality of the power supply.
14. Washington DC Sustainable Development Video Production, Afghanistan, By Afghans, for Afghans (POV Mohamad Jaqob Hotak)
This is the story of Dr. Jaqob, who is the director of human resources at the 9,000 member Ministry of Agriculture in Afghanistan. After working for 10 years with various international donors and NGOs, he shares why a USDA program named CBCMP (Capacity Building and Change Management) is uniquely effective. Since 1964, IESC has worked in 130 countries and helped to create or save over 1.5 million jobs.
15. Washington DC Sustainable Development Video Production, Afghanistan, By Afghans, for Afghans (POV Herschel Weeks)
This is the story of Herschel Weeks, an American aid worker who has led projects in challenging places around the world for the past 25 years. As Chief of Party for a USDA program named CBCMP (Capacity Building and Change Management) Herschel shares why he thinks this is the most successful project he’s ever worked on.
16. Washington DC Sustainable Development Video Production: Afghanistan, By Afghans, for Afghans (POV Noor Seddiq)
This is the story of Noor Seddiq, an Afghan national who after 25 years living in the U.S. has returned to help rebuild the country. As Deputy Chief of Party for a USDA program named CBCMP (Capacity Building and Change Management) Noor is a bridge between the U.S., program staff (99% of whom are Afghan), and the Ministry of Agriculture and its farmers.
17. Washington DC Sustainable Development Video Production: Afghanistan, “CBCMP, A Huge Difference”
This is the story of how the Afghan Ministry of Agriculture improves how it does business, which helps farmers, spurs the economy, and contributes to stability. This is a USDA program named CBCMP (Capacity Building and Change Management) that is uniquely effective.
18. Washington DC Government Video Production: “Emily’s Story,” Millennium Challenge Corporation Malawi
This is the story of Emily’s new business, beekeeping, and her improved quality of life. It’s also the story of how the Millennium Challenge Corporation helped Malawian women in river communities develop new economic opportunities that also protect the rivers that power 90% of the country’s electricity.
19. Washington DC USAID Video Production: Promoting Trade in Ethiopia
This is the story of Mohammed, Sarah, and Abebe, three Ethiopian businesspeople who built successful companies exporting to the United States. It’s also the story of USAID, whose advice and exposure was exactly what these business owners needed.
20. Washington DC USAID Video Production: Lebanon, Samir’s Cattle Business
This is the story of Samir, who almost gives up cattle farming before finally building a thriving business. And the microfinance institution Emkan, which is extending loans to fishermen and farmers in Lebanon for the first time.
21. Washington DC USAID Video Production: Ethiopia, Tikur Abay Targets America
This is the story of Abebe, who owns a shoe company in Ethiopia. Working with USAID, can he break into the massive U.S. market?
Dorst MediaWorks, Inc is centrally located in Washington DC, a few minutes from the DC Convention Center and the Mt. Vernon Square metro station, conveniently located on the green and yellow lines. We’re a short walk or Uber ride from dozens of US Government buildings.
When the International Monetary Fund hired Dorst MediaWorks to tell the story of its engagement with the Government in Colombia during the past decade, I was unsure how to tell it.
Sure, there was a lot of potential. Many Americans know bits and pieces beyond the drug trade: FARC guerillas had terrorized the country for a half-century, the economy was up and down, and the President just won the Nobel Peace Prize. That’s something to start with.
But so much of the IMF’s work is so inside baseball. And it’s only interesting to economists and policy wonks.
The good news, however, was that I got access to a diversity of smart, informed people who have been on the frontlines in Colombia: among them the Minister of Finance, Minister of Post-Conflict, Director of the Central Bank’s Board of Directors, the CEOs of Promigas and Telefonica, as well as a selection of professors and journalists.
Documentary films for an international organization
For this project, I ended up producing, directing, shooting, writing, and editing four videos, delivered in Spanish. I picked up a unit producer and interview while in country.
Some documentary videos stretch you in new ways. This one certainly did. I had never conducted a production all the way through in Spanish. That was a challenge.
And I had never done a series of videos that were so much about internal economic decisions. I chose to focus on the impacts that these decisions had – on Colombia’s stability and its ability to move forward with the peace process. I also wanted to chronicle the extent to which major public officials had relied on the IMF for sound advice during a difficult time.
The first video tells the story of Colombia’s peace plan that was cut short by an historically large oil shock and economic crisis.
Minister of Finance Cardenas turned out to be a great interview, and I used bites from him throughout the story in all four videos. He called the conflict with the FARC a kind of “handbrake on the economy” because for years, the country had to invest more in its defense and security than it wanted to, to the exclusion of infrastructure and rural development.
The Minister of Post-Conflict, Rafael Pardo spoke almost cryptically of “two years of secret talks and four years of open talks” just to get to a point where meetings were possible. I couldn’t help but thinking that a multi-episodic Netflix series about the behind-the-scene in the peace process would be awesome!
Juan Pablo Zarate, the Co-Director of the Board of Directors of the Central Bank, described the huge oil shock that hit the Colombian economy in 2014, but how the flexible exchange rate helped soften the blow. And other important figures spoke about the decisions they made to help keep the country from getting mired in a crisis, and how the IMF helped out along the way.
A Tax Reform Succeeds
The second video in the series goes into more depth about how a controversial tax reform also helped reduce the effects of the crisis, and keep Colombians out of poverty.
Ricardo Avila, the Editor-in-Chief of the large daily newspaper, Portafolio, explained how 23% of the central government’s revenue “depended on oil, and that almost disappeared completely.” This was a huge number and it blew my mind. How do you fill a 23% hole in any budget?
Ana Fernanda Maiguashca, a member of the Central Bank’s Board of Directors, said the reform was “tremendously important for the long-term sustainability of the Colombian economy.”
Peace is Good for Business
As a result of the quick reactions, the government was able to escape the worst of the economic crisis and move forward with the peace process.
The third video in the series opens with footage from the Nobel Prize Committee awarding Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos the 2016 Peace Prize.
At this point of the narrative, I turn to more voices from the private sector. Antonio Celia, the CEO of Promigas, turned out to be a jovial, whip-smart leader of the largest natural gas company in the country. He spoke at length about the pain and suffering inflicted by the FARC, which I’ll never forget. But he also spoke about the importance of extending opportunity, perhaps for the first time, to poor rural areas: “Peace is good for business, and business is good for peace.”
Business Goes to Quibdó
To show the impacts of the new opening, I chose to film in Quibdó, a small town in Choco, which had gotten itself ensnared in the conflict and isolated from most investment.
I got the perspective of Alfgonso Gomez, the CEO of Telefonica-Movistar, who estliabhsed a call center in the area.
I also interviewed a manager named Raquel, who described the scope of the operation: “I feel personal satisfaction in seeing how we help people, how we contribute to their lives.”
Most exemplary of the newfound opportunity in this isolated town was the perspective of worker Jennifer Quejada: “I had never I had never been able to give my son a birthday party before, so the first gift that I gave him was a birthday celebration with all his friends and lots of presents. Working here has been a wonderful experience.”
Because we’re all hard-wired for story, focus on people and their passions first, not on your own programs.
It’s been more than 4 years since I first wrote about Kinote, a coffee farmer in Meru, Kenya who was working hard to build a larger house for his family.
For a DC-based client, I was in rural Kenya to tell Kinote’s story. The larger context was the agricultural extension agent (and his NGO) who was helping the farmers improve yields and sell direct-to-market.
Despite the many differences between us, Kinote’s quest to grow his business and provide for his family was something I identified with.
His story came rushing back to me as I added new clips to my company’s updated reel, “Videos for Good.” [Dorst MediaWorks Reel 2018].”
That’s because Kinote’s two young daughters are the first two people you see in the video, wiping sleep out of their eyes crawling out of bed.
Kinote’s not alone. Every person in the reel brings back a torrent of memories for me, usually their hopes and dreams.
How do you tell these stories? I mean, corporate governance and capacity building are super abstract.
It’s the people and their passions.
I don’t recall the details of the programmatic interventions on any of these project, but I definitely remember the hopes and dreams of the people I chose to film.
LeCow is a Brazilian teenager from a sprawling favela who’s dream is to become a musician (13 seconds.)
Sara wants to grow her clothing company and export from Ethiopia to America (34 seconds. Spolier: She succeeds, and I see her products at The Gap at a Maryland suburban mall 12 months later!)
Rabih’s chief ambition is to grow his fishing business in Lebanon (At 38 seconds.)
The beautiful thing about the documentary video process is that you give voice to people. Done properly, it’s founded on listening. You look people in the eyes. You follow and observe them. In their own voices, whether that’s Meru, Arabic, or Tagalog, they share what matters to them.
Why do I remember LeCow, Sara, and Rabih like we met yesterday?
Early on, I found myself writing scripts that featured the organizations that hired me, rather than their beneficiaries.
My big “aha moment” came during a strategy session with a big multilateral client that does a lot of work throughout Latin America.
They were understandably focused on programmatic nuts and bolts: logistics, buzzwords, metrics. They were in their own world.
I just wanted to learn about the people they serve.
Fortunately, the Director of Communications had just spent a week in the field and she had a lot of great stories.
The people we want to focus on, we all agreed, are no different than you or me. They have jobs and families. They have a past and a future.
Finally, the makings of a script outline! What if we just show their before and after, I proposed, and be honest about how your organization is helping them achieve their dreams?
Kinote is doing his best to increase coffee production so he can build a three-room house, tripling the size of his current house.
Rabih (00:38), the fisherman: “My dream is to expand my business, and buy a larger boat.”
Maxima (00:41) who I met in the slums of Manila: “I intend to keep working to provide a better future for my grandchildren.”
Kinote, Rabih, and Maxima are agents of their own change. Today, their families and communities are better. Our project helped them along the way.
That’s the story.
Organizations that do good: a conduit of authentic communications
So much of successful communications by organizations that do good is simply getting out of the way.
Are you the SCR arm of a Fortune 500 company working in your own community? Let the people you help tell their own story in their own voices (and minimize the product placement on your branded t-shirts in the video!).
Are you a large issue-oriented nonprofit, focused on water or nutrition or women’s reproductive rights? Your best stories feature the people benefiting from your activities.
Are you a foundation funding 501(c)3s? Is there a way that people can help illustrate the larger issues you care about?
The Dorst MediaWorks reel “Videos for Good” speaks to these creative choices, with animated text: “What is your greatest dream … goal … hope … desire.”
Hala in rural Lebanon: “I started alone in this (flower) business. But today I have four shops and four employees.”
Anthony, in Kenya: “Visiting them (the farmers) you’ll see bigger smiles, because there’s hope now.”
Again, animated text: “My health … civil society … conflict … economy … education is better.”
“My governance … agriculture … rule of law … job …is better.”
It doesn’t matter whether you’re doing nonprofit marketing, a fundraising video, or nonprofit media of any kind.
Focus the lens on the people you serve. Help them tell their own stories in their own voices. In so doing, you’re connecting your audiences with hopes and dreams that resonate.
“My life is better.”
Let the people you serve tell the story
Their passions are the secret sauce in impactful storytelling.
When they achieve their hopes and dreams, with a little nudge from your organization, this illustrates results.
I’m honored to have received a Joint Service Achievement Medal” for “Outstanding “Achievement” for my recent documentary film, JOBS for G.I.s.
The honor was a complete surprise. Given by former Air Force officer, Aneika Solomon, who is one of the five transitioning service members we follow in the film, the award reads: “Director Stephen Dorst distinguished himself by outstanding craftsmanship as Director and Producer, Z-Channel Films, Washington D.C. by creating the documentary film, G.I. JOBS. While in collaboration with DirecTV and working alongside Producer and Director Doug Gritzmacher, Director Dorst’s keen perspective was instrumental in capturing and melding the stories of five veterans from the services of the Army, Air Force, Navy and the Marines.”
Aneika, like the other four people we follow, was brave to share her story with us. I hope this films helps all of us to pay more attention to this transition out of the service, which is such a critical juncture in the lives of millions of people. Too often, I think, people figure they do their part by clapping for the military at a baseball game or supporting Congressional increases in defense budget spending. But that doesn’t cut it.
We have to do a better job of making the transition work for more people. We need to target resources better for education, workforce training, and other support. If you own a company, you can help out by keeping an open mind and trying to interview former military for every position, not just the ones they’re stereotyped in. If you know somebody that served overseas, try to learn more about Iraq and Afghanistan so you can better appreciate what they went through.
At the policy level, we should all encourage the DOD to share more information with veteran service organizations (VSOs) at the city level. Too often, these VSOs want to help, but don’t find out about veterans in need until they’re already jobless, homeless, or worse.
When you empower veterans, you strengthen communities.
Doug and I are on the lookout for our next documentary topic. If you know of a great, inspiring story, let us know. If you are an Executive Producer-type, interested in funding great stories, reach out. We are always looking to expand our team.
This is a behind-the-scenes post for a pro bono video I recently made. It was a total blast! All the boarders I met were really cool. And it was for a good cause. Check it out:
One of my good friends is Colin Brown. His son, Kaelen, is a junior in high school. Kaelen’s the lead singer and guitarist for the band Red Light Distraction and is an avid longboarder. When Kaelen told me he and friends Jake Muskovitz and Cole Trudo were organizing a longboard jam to raise money for charity, I was impressed and said I’d make a video for them.
I drew in Mark Devito, Executive Creative Director of local boutique agency Gigawatt Group, to produce. Mark hires me to direct commercials for some outdoor, active lifestyle, and sports accounts he has, so I knew he’d be stoked. Then we asked Rob Bellon to work second camera.
While unpacking my gear, I heard a few people mentioning “Red Bull guy.” Then a minute later, I heard it again. Soon, I realized they were talking about me! I’d mentioned to Kaelen that I was headed to Hong Kong on a shoot for the Red Bull channel — and suddenly, I’m “the Red Bull guy!” (read my post from Hong Kong. Sorry to disappoint, but I’m just an indie freelance filmmaker!)
I brought my C100 outfitted with an external ProRez Atomos Samurai Blade to capture some establishing shots. Rob had his GH4, and I asked him to float around the finish line where everybody was hanging out and capture reaction shots and cool details. I ended up using a lot of Rob’s footage!
That was my first time using the glidecam. If you want to watch another video I just made in San Diego using the glidecam for 100% of the footage, check this out:
For me the biggest question was, how would my new GoPro Hero4s perform? I’d just bought three of them for a shoot I had in Portland, Oregon, but I’d yet to take advantage of the 120 frames per second in 1080p.
As for the event, I was impressed with the organization and community. The Czech Embassy and neighbors didn’t seem to mind all the commotion. The 100+ longboarders were polite and shared the road when the odd driver or cyclist headed through.
Kaelen, Jake, and Cole ran a tight ship. They had tons of raffle prizes donated by all the big companies—Riptide, Loaded, Bustin, Muirskate, Rayne, and other companies listed at the end of the video. A bunch of the longboarders I talked with said it was the best-run jam they’d ever been to.
And the athleticism and technique were impressive—especially at the finish line, where these guys bombed down going 30 or 40 mph, then threw down into various heel side and toe side slides!
Check out this next clip: I actually jumped to avoid a slider (My bad, I got too close to the action!) But the glidecam kept the footage pretty smooth!
How did the GoPros perform? I set all three of them to capture footage at 120fps 1080p, and gave them to different guys to see what we could capture. I actually mounted a flat adhesive mount flush on a board by screwing it into the housing. But that was too shaky. I also affixed the Jaws mount on the front lip of a board, but that was too shaky as well.
The positions that worked the best were the chesty mount, the tried-and-true helmet mount, the wrist mount, and my low-tech favorite . . . just having guys hold it in their hands (or with a pole) and point it at themselves.
One of the most talented boarders, J.D. Casada, captured the best footage, which worked really well at 120 fps. He’s the one featured for more than 30 seconds, from the 41-second mark.
When I arrived in Yaoundé, Cameroon on September 15, 1994 for a scholarship year, His Excellency Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela had been President for four months. As South Africa’s first black President, Mandela finally possessed a political power on a national stage to match his outsized moral authority.
I was grappling with how to fit in a completely different culture. My French was pretty good, but there was a lot of Cameroonian slang. I’d jump in a taxi, tell the taximan “Poste Centrale,” pay my 100 CFA (18 cents), and then amble through downtown Yaoundé. I was the only white person for thousands and thousands and thousands of people. Everywhere I walked, children stared. Adults took note.
It was a shock.
Meanwhile, everybody wanted to talk about Mandela. Cameroonians had followed his story as much or more than we Americans. After 27 years in prison, would he choose vengeance and spite? Or would he work for hope, reconciliation, and nation-building?
After a month of trying to find my feet, I felt really at home in Cameroon. I started dreaming in French. I had new friends at the University, and was taking lessons on a traditional instrument, the “mvet,” from a local master, Noah Ondongo Generaud. I was forging what would become a life-long friendship with my housemate, Jean Paul Fosso.
As minorities go, I was privileged. My US passport gave me a freedom few people around me had. My bank account distinguished me from the masses. Even the color of my skin got me invitations to parties, and seats up front, near Ambassadors and the elite.
But there was a flip side. It’s strange not to be in the majority—to be a token, different, stared at for something so superficial as the color of your skin. The psycho-social effects of being a minority left a residue.
Today when I think of Mandela, I think of my year in Cameroon. The two are linked for me. I think of how Mandela influenced a continent even as he set an example for the world.
I think of life in Cameroon, my friends, and their lives there. Their enduring challenges are like those people face in the townships of South Africa.
I think of injustice and how people confront it: how people battle for progress on issues they care deeply about . . . climate change, gun safety, and gender equality.
I think my friend Vincent Pan, who today is in his 11th day of fasting for Immigration Reform. I think of Americans like him, who work in the spirit of Mandela. I think of how much I admire them.
I think of my democracy, which is slowly failing. Can Mandela’s example inspire Congress to pass laws that will give as many people as possible a leg up?
I think of my work as a filmmaker and how I might contribute better. I set out as a documentary filmmaker not only to try and entertain people, but also to change the world for the better. Looking back, Mandela took office 20 years ago. Looking forward, I’ll be 60 years old in 20 years . . . what can I do in that timeframe to make a difference?
Most of all, I think of Mandela himself—and the echoes of MLK and Gandhi. Had he chosen vengeance, we all would have understood. But he redefined justice. He elevated a people, and inspired the world. And me.
Two years ago this month, I got a call from Neil Breslin, an old friend who’s been based in Africa for the past 10 years. “Hey Steve, can you do me a favor?”
Me: “Sure.” Neil: I need you to make me a short video that shows what typical, educated Americans know about Angola. I’m going to show it to some of my clients. Give me a good range of people.”
Sure, why not! So the next morning, I drove to the White House.
At the Starbucks at 17th & Pennsylvania, I bought $75 worth of $5 gift cards (I learned this long ago from a producer for a PR firm who hired me to make some man-on-the-street videos). Then I stood outside the Starbucks with my camera and microphone and accosted coffee-seekers: “I’ll give you a $5 Starbucks gift card if you give me 1 minute of your time . . . to answer a few questions about Africa for a news bit for YouTube.”
Lots of people ignored me like the plague. In fact, the first 10 tries, I couldn’t even finish my sentence before the person raced away.
But free coffee is a powerful motivator! And the interviews began. Dare I say—some people even looked like they were having fun!
What does it mean if the 5th richest country in Africa is invisible to educated Americans a block from the White House?
Within 30 minutes, I did 15 interviews and gave away all the gift cards. That afternoon, I included everybody in the final edit (plus a few friends, who gave moral support). Nobody got left on the editing room floor.
The results were illuminating! Nobody knew Angola’s capital. Nobody could name any person alive or dead, from Angola. Nobody knew Angolans speak Portuguese. Only a few located it in the “south” or “southwest.”
The woman of Nigerian descent (0:56) knew more than most, but still had precious little knowledge. One woman was so at a loss, she treated the whole thing as a joke (1:12). The guy at the end summed it up well (4:12): “Is Angola a real place? I don’t think it’s in Africa.”
Is Angola a real country? Do people even care? What does it mean if the 5th richest country in Africa is invisible to educated Americans a block from the White House?
No offense to the kind people of Ouagadougou or Bujumbura, but it’s not as if Angola is some tiny, landlocked country like Burkina Faso or Burundi. There’s a few reasons it might be considered in our national interest to bone up on our Angola facts: It’s America’s 3rd most important trading partner in Africa. It’s the 15th biggest oil exporter in the world after all.
When Angolans saw the video, it seemed to strike a chord. As you can imagine, the YouTube comments lit up. So Neil hit the streets of Luanda (the capital) to make a reply video: to see if typical Angolans knew much about America:
Revealing, isn’t it! Even Angolan teenagers seem to have better cross-cultural knowledge than working professionals in the shadow of the White House.
Now, soft power is a big assist for U.S. national interests and public diplomacy, but what if they learn about us, but we don’t ever learn about them? Does it really matter? So what if our Trivial Pursuit games last all night because we can’t get that last blue pie piece?
Now, $1.8 billion per year is not chump change—but when you consider it’s going to the 82 poorest countries in the world, it’s not that much. J.P. Morgan Stanley recently got fined $13 billion. Americans spent $7 billion on Halloween this year. The U.S. Pet Industry is estimated at $55 billion per year.
The only problem, perhaps, is that we live in a democracy. If IDA funding is rooted in the will of the American people, then we’re in trouble. That’s because we Americans are not likely to fund stuff we don’t care about. And we only care about what we know.
Is Angola [or the other 80 poorest countries] a real place?
I went to my 20th college reunion last weekend at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee. It was insanely entertaining catching up with people, most of whom I hadn’t seen in two decades. Writing “two decades” just made my fingers tremor. How am I old enough to be 20 years removed from anything—much less, you know, a college graduation?
Anyway. Wandering through the hallways of Townsend with James and Courtney was particularly nostalgic. But beyond the material memories (that paintings, those couches, the still un-tuned piano) I was attentive to an existential difference—back then, I lived a blessed non-linearity, characterized by marathon debates and the expanded sense of possibilities that youth conveys.
In this very common room, I defended the existence of God in a late-night debate against a guy named Graham (he was pretty damn smart; he won). That table over there was where I studied for my favorite class, “Hunger, Plenty, and Justice.”
We knew we could change the world.
Back in DC yesterday, I found an email from Kiva telling me I had $148 in available credit. I haven’t done much on Kiva for a while and it got me thinking again about changing the world.
In the spirit of college-worthy debate, I challenge you, faithful reader, to name a single development innovation that, if spread worldwide, could do more than distributed solar to raise the living standards of the poorest of the poor.
I joined Kiva in March 2007. Since then, I’ve deposited $672. I’ve made 121 loans to the working poor in 53 countries. When they pay back, I re-loan the money, so I’ve lent about $3,100 now.
A few years ago, I became disillusioned because I saw a lot of people lending for stupid reasons—so somebody could open a bar or the like. Nothing innovative. Nothing the local market wasn’t already supporting.
On the “Solar Explosion” team page I wrote: “1.5 billion people still lack electricity. Only a global solar explosion can change that and end poverty.”
And in the spot where you write “About us,” I put: “We know if you really want to fight poverty, you start with distributed renewable power – harnessing the sun in your own backyard! Micro-solar technology already exists that can transform people’s lives. The problem is that banks are only financing the old model: centralized power stations and expensive transmission grids. We lend to inspire awareness, so microfinance does more and more solar financing projects. Our goal is a solar explosion! Join us today!”
In summary: small-scale solar technology exists, but the financing doesn’t. It’s gonna take tailored models in different countries so poor people can do solar power in their own backyards and pay it off over time.
“Solar Explosion” started slow, but today, there are 51 members who’ve made 572 loans to the tune of $14,525. Still not much, but a start.
In the spirit of college-worthy debate, I challenge you, faithful reader, to name a single development innovation that, if spread worldwide, could do more than distributed solar to raise the living standards of the poorest of the poor.
With electricity, children study more, get smarter, and perhaps get better jobs; family members are more productive, perhaps doing small businesses from home. And everybody is connected to the outside world, by simply plugging in a TV or charging a cell phone.
At the end of the day, there are tons of people who know way more than I do about distributed solar, about solar financing, and what the bottlenecks are. And perhaps Kiva’s not the best way to jumpstart this.
But it’s one way.
If you join Kiva, join “Solar Explosion.” Lend to green projects, especially solar.
I wanted to share a great follow-up to my Bloomberg article last week. Policy Innovations, a publication of the Carnegie Council, ran a Q&A with me entitled Repairing the Shattered Sky. Editor Evan O’Neil asked some tough questions. I call climate negotiations “medieval trade fairs” and US politicians “cowards.” I hope you have a chance to read it!
It was good fun, particularly thinking about the film and the issues it raises through Carnegie’s lens: ethics. China came up a lot. The moral and practical responsibility of Americans to act on climate change came up as well. Hope you can read it!
Pretty excited today. An article I wrote got picked up by Bloomberg. It’s in Bloomberg’s Sustainability blog, “The Grid.” It’s about my experience interviewing Jim Rogers — the CEO of America’s largest coal utility — for Shattered Sky. About the lessons of the ozone issue, through the eyes of America’s most powerful coal executive.
Today is also the second day of the Shattered Sky Kickstarter campaign. It’s been an incredible response, with $9,200 given, by 54 backers in the first day. It’s not easy launching a project to raise $35,000, but it sures allays some fears when you raise 25% in the first 24 hours. If I reach my Kickstarter goal, Shattered Sky’s distribution will be great: festivals, promotion around the PBS TV distribution, and Facebook contests and other initiatives to accompany grassroots events. Here’s my first Kickstarter update.
I’m also encouraged by the progress on the petition, which I’m conducting with Shattered Sky’s advocacy partner, Care2. More than 4,400 people have now signed it, demanding that candidates Obama and Romney pay more attention to climate and energy issues in their election runs.
I launched a petition today calling on our Presidential candidates to talk early and often about their plans for a fair national energy policy and solutions for climate change. This year is a critical presidential election and an important time in history. Will we see big money and bad politics? Or can we inspire progress on climate and energy? My movie, Shattered Sky, which is premiering on PBS in September, tells the story of how America led the world to a solution on the ozone crisis. Let’s remind our candidates about that success story. Solving big environmental issues is not a partisan issue.
Care2 is Shattered Sky‘s advocacy partner, working together to restore a can-do attitude on energy and climate solutions. Care2 has almost 20 million members, and is the nation’s largest online community empowering people to lead a healthy and green lifestyle while taking action on important causes.
So, take a minute and sign the petition . . . Obama & Romney: What’s Your Plan to Solve Energy & Climate Change?
It was a great way to celebrate Independence Day: a screening of Shattered Sky at the U.S. State Department on Tuesday. It was an honor, given the history of the institution and the role its employees played during the ozone crisis.
George C. Marshall auditorium welcomed us: the “Marshall” in “Marshall Plan.” Dan Evans and I fielded a bevy of smart and challenging questions following the show: about climate policy, the interplay between regulation and technology, the importance of citizen action.
In 1985, 20 countries signed the Vienna Convention to set up a framework for negotiating international regulations of ozone-depleting substances like CFCs. Chief U.S. Negotiator Richard Benedick (who is in our film) must have walked these State Department halls and had lively debates with his team. How would they set the tone for global cooperation on a future global treaty?
Less than two years later, following the discovery of the ozone hole, Benedick and the EPA’s Lee Thomas led the American presence at the important signing of the Montreal Protocol, where 24 countries formally committed to phasing out 50 percent of CFCs. Subsequently, the Montreal Protocol got updated seven times, and more than 190 countries eventually signed it. And they all phased out 100% of CFCs.
For me, that’s the main lesson on climate. You don’t have to get it 100% right at first. Gather up the main players, take an important first step. Then update the plan together. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. We’re coming up on the 25th anniversary this September. Hopefully, more of us will take notice that in 1987, America led the world to a global solution on the ozone crisis.
Will we will all take inspiration to take smart action on climate? Only time will tell.
Less than three months to go until the nationwide public TV premiere of Shattered Sky.
I’m excited about the chance to make a difference. I’m hoping enough people get wind of the film and get inspired that our country led the world during the ozone crisis. Then we can all look at the challenges posed by climate change through a new lens — why not work together? Why not set aside short-term differences? Why not unite to lead the world on renewable energy? How can this NOT be a good strategy for jobs and the economy — the rest of the world licensing our clean-tech inventions for the next century?
If Ronald Reagan’s cabinet thought that strong action on the global ozone treaty was a good thing, why can’t our politicians today find a way to work together on the issues that affect our economy and environment?
Maybe we as citizens aren’t doing enough to work together.
I aim to change that. And passing 500,000 fans on Facebook this past week reminded me that there are a lot of people out there who share this vision. Working toward the September public TV release and campaign launch, I know we can really make a difference together!
Most importantly, our Shattered Sky team is growing, and setting a solid foundation for a campaign to make a huge impact on the issues come September – the 25th anniversary of the Montreal Protocol, the international ozone treaty.
The New York Times article quoted me well: “Shattered Sky is not about the science. It’s about what a responsible leader does when there’s a good chance the science is right. It’s important to remember that the first draft of the ozone treaty wasn’t perfect. It was a first step. It showed the world that America was committed to lead — and that made all the difference.”
The festival was super. Expertly run, our screening was super packed. We had Sunshine Mendez moderating, with Rolling Stone editor Jeff Goodell joining Dan Evans and me on stage for the panel afterwards.
We had a private reception at the nearby Hotel Rouge following the panel, with about 100 people. National Wildlife Federation CEO Larry Schweiger talked about the educational partnership with Shattered Sky.
I’m personally really excited about this, and will write more as it continues to take shape. The outreach will focus primarily on high school and college. It will be national. It will be a combined science and civics curriculum. And it will focus on the positive message that America led the world to a solution on the ozone crisis during the Reagan Administration—and we can do it again on energy and climate.
If you’re on Facebook, you can see the photos of the film, the vibe, and the party.
It’s been a crazy month, but has exceeded all my expectations. Thanks to everybody for all you’re doing to get our campaign going. You know who you are!
When I first met Dr. Rowland in 2007, he was already 33 years removed from the defining discovery of his career — that chlorofluorocarbons contribute to ozone depletion.
I remember how nervous I was before our interview at UC Irvine. Here was one of the most renowned atmospheric chemists in history. What if he and his doctoral student Mario Molina (co-Nobel Laureate) had never made the discovery? What if the ozone hole had kept growing? Would skin cancer be a much more serious threat today? Would crops and fisheries be suffering? What about our health and environment today if Rowland and Molina simply hadn’t done the work?
I recall how tall he was and how my hand disappeared in his as we greeted each other. Something from his bio jumped to my mind, and I mentioned it: that he’d been named the MVP in the AAU Chicago city basketball championship game in 1949. Dr. Rowland smiled and relayed some stories. Our interview got off to a good start.
The enclosed photo is a screen shot from a 2009 interview for Shattered Sky, my new documentary that compares the ozone crisis with climate change. I literally couldn’t have made the film without Dr. Rowland, who gave Dan Evans and me full access to his archives, going back four decades.
Dr. Rowland was the rare scientist in the 1970s who spoke forcefully for political action. He set a strong example that a scientist’s role didn’t end at the laboratory door, which paved the way for other strong scientists to speak out, including some in our film.
As Shattered Sky premieres later this month (and we announce an exciting nationwide educational partnership), a new generation will learn not only about Dr. Rowland’s discovery, but also about America’s success in solving the ozone crisis. My hope is that the story inspires us all to take action on climate change, because it’s the smart and right thing to do now for our energy, economy, and environment.
Been super busy, in a good way, in post-production for Shattered Sky. New feature indie doc from my co-director Dan Evans and me. Compares ozone issue to the current climate/energy crisis. Amazing similarities between the two: invisible compound was found to be wreaking devastating effects on the environment; all countries were at risk; changing course meant massive global economic implications; finding a solution was incredibly tough . . . except in the case of the ozone issue, the US took responsibility, owned up to the issue, led the world to a solution. It wasn’t perfect, but it worked. Can we do the same today on climate and energy?
Google’s Energy team put out a strategy in October called “Google 2030,” which makes a strong case for smart investments in clean energy. Like most everything Google does, it is smart, thorough, and transparent — they’ve improved it quite a bit with public comments in the past six months (why can’t the federal government work this way?). It targets some aggressive but realistic goals, which not only help address climate change, but reduce pollution and get us well on our way to using renewable energy at scale. Some highlights: it aims to reduce fossil fuel-based electricity generation by 88%; reduce vehicle oil consumption by 44%; reduce dependence on imported oil (currently 10 million barrels per day) by 37%; reduce electricity-sector CO2 emissions by 95%; reduce personal vehicle sector CO2 emissions by 44%; reduce US CO2 emissions overall by 49% (41% from today’s CO2 emission level).
Does everyone have an agenda? Sure. Google’s is to have cheaper, sustainable energy in the long run so their massive server farms don’t become a PR nightmare in CA during the next generation. Oh, and it might help their bottom line. And Google knows that utilities are essentially monopolies, so we need government intervention in making the move toward cleaner alternatives. Is the US federal government up to the task?