Half the Sky: Documentary Focuses on Women Around the World

PBS will premiere the two-part documentary Half the Sky on October 1. The film builds on the bestselling book written by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn by traveling around the world to share the struggles and challenges faced by women. One of the featured segments involve’s PSI’s work on reproductive health in Liberia (below).

WuDunn and Executive Producer Mikaela Beardsley take to the USAID Impact blog to discuss the series, the role of USAID and the power of storytelling. Read about the project below and watch the trailer at the top to learn more.

Storytelling is a powerful tool.  It can raise awareness, build compassion, encourage thinking, and motivate action.  That was the vision behind Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity, the book I wrote with my husband, Nicholas Kristof. Our goal was to bring these incredibly personal and powerful stories of women around the world to a mainstream audience.   When Half the Sky was published, Nick and I were floored by the response. The stories resonated with far more people than we imagined.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) knows that powerful narratives can set the stage for positive action.  From the general public to aid experts in the field, the stories and struggles in the developing play a big role in compelling the general public and aid experts to find solutions to global challenges. Telling these stories is not only an expression of our American values but demonstrates how working together to solve these challenges benefits all of us.

And yet telling a powerful story can be challenging.  Different audiences absorb information differently.  Some need an emotional connection, others respond to hard data and statistics so identifying your audience and finding the right platform is critical.  From films, books, and newspapers to exhibits, mobile gaming, and social media, storytellers are venturing into new and exciting platforms, and adapting the material to resonate with diverse audiences.

That’s why Nick and I didn’t want to limit these incredibly personal and powerful narratives to just print.  We wanted these stories to spread even farther. That’s how Half the Sky turned into multimedia initiative focused on presenting stories through multiple platforms.  Because of this, I’m proud to say that Half the Sky will not only be a documentary on PBS in early October and a Facebook game in November but, with USAID and our NGO partners, we also produced 18 short educational videos and 3 mobile games.

The short educational videos, produced by Show of Force, were filmed in India, Kenya, Somaliland, and Liberia and cover a wide range issues like family planning, health, girl’s education, sex trafficking, women’s economic empowerment, and domestic violence. Focused on community-level change, these videos allow experts and activists to raise awareness and encourage action on critical issues.  Check them out and let us know what you think!

A key audience for Half the Sky project was individuals, families, and communities in the developing world.  We wanted to teach children in the developing world about the benefits of deworming pills – a cost-effective medication that treats fatigue and helps keep kids in school. While many of the people we wanted to reach don’t have access to television, theaters, or the Internet, most have access to a mobile phone so we decided to reach out to them through mobile games, to engage kids with a familiar form of entertainment while simultaneously teaching them healthy practices.  Developed through C-Change, USAID, Show of Force, and Games for Change, these games will launch this October for use in East Africa and India.

Great storytelling relies on powerful characters and feasible solutions, but more importantly demands an understanding of the medium, audience, and objectives. The question, perhaps, is not only how to inspire action through one story, but also how to adapt a story across platforms to engage the greatest number of people.