Peace works

GTO Group teamed up with UNESCO to create a digital platform that combats violent extremism through social activism

Agency program: PeaceWorX
Agency: GTO Group
Goal: Peace building
Impact: Backed by 88 UNESCO member countries
The Greater Than One Group’s nonprofit subsidiary Greater Good has long partnered with global and local charities to do good work. Its latest project with UNESCO is focused on making the world a better place. 

Called PeaceWorX, the project is an interactive educational platform designed to help stem the tide of violent extremism among youth by enabling and encouraging young people to take on peace building as a priority, both locally and globally, through educational activities, community involvement, and social activism.

The seeds for the project were planted in 2015 when GTO Group CEO Elizabeth Apelles met then-ambassador to UNESCO Crystal Nix-Hines through a mutual friend. “She had a vision about preventing violent extremism, and GTO had the capability as an agency to create a digital platform to do something about it,” said Apelles.

Recognizing that young people are particularly vulnerable to the messages of violent extremism, the GTO Group team explored how education could help young people develop a deeper understanding of themselves while encouraging them to consider perspectives that differ from their own. The greater understanding could help them become more resilient to the push and pull of extremist messages in their communities. “When youth are surrounded by violence it impacts their health, wellness, and well-being,” Apelles explained.

GTO Group’s research for the project was eye opening. “What surprised me was how much influence parents have with regards to growing up around violence and extremist views,” Apelles explained. “At a roundtable we hosted in India, we found that some children are taught early on not to interact with those that are different than them.”

To provide education and a safe environment in which young people can absorb it, the Greater Good team created a digital platform with an educational lesson component on preventing violent extremism designed for educators to use with their students. The platform also includes information about inspiring young people living in conflicted communities around the world who have taken on peace building roles in their communities.

“PeaceWorX provides a safe environment for young people to open up about their experiences and opinions on difficult subjects such as identity, empathy, and violent extremism with the support of educators or mentors in their communities,” said Apelles. 

Phase I of the digital platform was launched in June 2017 in time for an educational summit in India at the Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development. 

“The impact was immediate and large, with 88 member countries of UNESCO backing the original project,” noted Apelles. “That ensured global reach and visibility.”

Post-launch, GTO translated the PeaceWorX platform into French, Spanish, and Arabic and created a Facebook page. The team is now working on Phase II of the project, with launch expected in late summer 2018. “The idea is to create one global digital canvas to connect those anywhere in the world who are or want to be peace builders to others who share their vision,” explained Apelles.

GTO staff in New York, San Francisco, and Europe participate in the project. Added Apelles, “One of GTO’s core values is giving back to others, so participating in this project fulfills that vision.”

Coat clicks

For the first 10,000 downloads of its viral song, Klick Health donated $1 to Operation Warm to buy new coats for children in need
Agency program: You Make Winter Warm
Agency: Klick Health
Goal: Support Operation Warm
Impact: 2.7 million views on YouTube
Klick Health used its wildly popular holiday video last winter to raise funds for hundreds of coats for children in need. The firm announced its support of Operation Warm to mark the release of its first holiday single “You Make Winter Warm” composed by Andrew Huang, an acclaimed YouTube music and video producer with over 1.3 million subscribers.

The company donated a dollar for each of the first 10,000 downloads of the song to the nonprofit organization. Since 1998, Operation Warm has inspired hope and empowered communities by manufacturing and distributing high quality, new winter coats to over 2 million children in need throughout North America. The nonprofit works with organizations at a community level, assisting local advocates to help children receive coats in their own backyard. Operation Warm’s vision is that every child wearing a new winter coat is warm, feels valued, and is empowered to get to school and gain an education. A highly efficient organization, 95% of funding raised by Operation Warm went directly to its coat programs. 

“We’re proud to support Operation Warm and help protect children from the winter cold,” said Klick CEO Leerom Segal. “We’re also thrilled to be continuing our long legacy of producing memorable holiday videos that show what Klick is all about. ‘You Make Winter Warm’ is extra special because it marks our second collaboration with the incredibly talented Andrew Huang and the debut of our first original song.” The song was available through Spotify, iTunes, and Google Play.

Filmed in Klick’s Toronto and New York offices, the video stars hundreds of staffers and gives viewers a glimpse into the company’s award-winning corporate culture. It is the company’s latest installment of annual holiday videos, which have been featured on CBS News, CNN, Comedy Central, Entertainment Tonight, and a long list of other media outlets around the world.

The videos go viral every year and have become an institution at the agency. Last year’s video had 2.7 million views on YouTube alone.

“The number of people applying to Klick skyrocketed after we released our first video in 2010, and at interviews everyone mentions it. People say the agency looks like a fun place to work. It really resonates with millennials,” noted Glenn Zujew, Klick EVP. “Since then, we started making them bigger and better every year. It worked not only to attract, but also to retain talent. The company really rallies behind the video each year, and it has become a way for Klicksters to share their work with friends.” Clients also love it and begin asking staff members about the upcoming videos as early as fall. 

Harnessing the popularity of the video to team up with a charity during the holiday season gives a philanthropic dimension to the company’s cultural hallmark. In previous years, Klick has partnered with charities such as WE Charity, formerly known as Free the Children, a worldwide development charity and youth empowerment movement, to raise funds through the video.

Hope notes

McCann Torre Lazur collected notes of hope at schools, churches, and other places to let disconnected youth know they are not alone
Agency program: The Orange Project
Agency: McCann Torre Lazur
Goal: Suicide prevention and awareness
Impact: Broke the Guinness World Record for the largest album of handwritten notes, more than 34,000
What if you could write a note that could save a life? McCann Torre Lazur, a McCann Health company, believes words of encouragement can provide the connectedness needed to prevent suicide and created The Orange Project. The youth-driven and focused global campaign aims to reduce the stigma of suicide and raise awareness for prevention by collecting notes of encouragement and hope handwritten on orange sticky notes.

Founded by Jennifer Dee, VP, director of integrated production at McCann Torre Lazur, who lost her boyfriend to suicide, the project began through a partnership with the Ideas Foundation, a U.K.-based organization dedicated to inspiring creativity in adolescents, and launched on World Suicide Prevention Day 2016.

A global epidemic, suicide is the second-leading cause of death in adolescents around the world, yet the stigma surrounding it can thwart discussion. “People are afraid to say they’re struggling — believing no one understands. Some victims’ families and friends are afraid to admit loved ones have committed suicide. We wanted to face this challenge head on,” explained Dee.

Organizers of The Orange Project set out to collect handwritten notes of hope to let disconnected adolescents know they are not alone and that suicide is not an answer. 

The team at McCann contacted principals, teachers, and school psychologists to get them on board and sent instructional videos, kits of blank notes, and return packaging to collect notes. 

They held live note-collecting events at schools, scout troops, churches, summer camps, after school programs, and colleges and tapped into events such as the Pride Parade in NYC and multiple Out of the Darkness walks sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to spread the word and collect more notes. The team also joined forces with global and national organizations such as the Ideas Foundation and Remembering T.J.

The notes of hope and encouragement are posted on the project’s website and social pages. “We found an outpouring of shared sentiment about an incredibly painful topic that touches more people than you would know,” noted Dee. 

“The stories that were shared with our team confirmed our work was necessary and poignant. Everyone has a story or knows someone who has one about a dark time. Giving people the opportunity to share these stories as a means of helping others was more rewarding than we could have imagined.”

The team broke the Guinness World Record for the largest album of handwritten notes — more than 34,000 — and gained worldwide recognition for the project. “Reaching out to schools was an amazing outlet for spreading our message, and is an avenue we could have targeted even harder earlier on in our campaign,” said Dee.

“Reaching out to those who have become disconnected from others by offering them support, friendship, and kindness can be lifesaving,” she continued. “One note at a time, we’re showing that it’s OK to talk about mental health and that opening the dialogue can help teens know they are not alone.”

Family health

MicroMass and With Change in Mind taught wellness skills to communities in East Africa and facilitated sustainable behavior change
Agency program: Humanitarian trip to Africa
Agency: MicroMass Communications
Goal: Family planning training
Impact: Educated more than 150 women and 50 men on reproductive health
An informal discussion between With Change in Mind founder Erin Hempen and MicroMass president Alyson Connor led to a life-changing trip for residents of a village in Malawi, Africa, as well as for the two MicroMass employees who participated. Founded by Hempen in 2011, With Change in Mind is a nonprofit organization that arranges short-term humanitarian trips designed to teach wellness skills to communities in need while providing an immersive experience for volunteers to ensure they understand the culture they are assisting. 

“With Change in Mind has a deep commitment to building skills and the capacity to promote wellness and ensure sustainability within communities,” said Margot Mahannah, senior behaviorist, MicroMass Communications. “We knew we had a unique opportunity to make a difference and promote behavior change outside the pharma environment.”

The agency signed on in 2017 to work with a rural fishing village on Lake Malawi that requested family planning training for men and women of the village as a part of a larger partnership and collaboration with the nonprofit.

It made sense for behaviorists to go on the trip, so Connor and Mahannah represented MicroMass. Mahannah’s knowledge of East Africa, specifically Malawi, made her an obvious choice for participation. 

MicroMass staff created a family planning curriculum including anatomy, reproduction, and family planning methods. Studies show women who space their children are healthier, their families have better health outcomes, and there are more resources available to these women and their families.

Connor and Mahannah trained more than 150 women and 50 men on anatomy on reproductive health and family planning methods. Training focused on correcting inaccurate perceptions about illness and helped community members understand available planning methods.

“We also facilitated a skill building exercise to bring the impact of tracking women’s cycles to life, and served as a trusted resource for women and men to ask questions. The training was very informal, but extremely well received and attendance exceeded expectations,” explained Mahannah.

She believes the project is an extension of what MicroMass does as an agency — helping facilitate sustainable behavior change. 

“Whether it’s a patient who doesn’t understand the benefit of using their maintenance inhaler or a person who doesn’t understand the benefit of understanding their menstrual cycle, behavior change is universal,” Mahannah noted. “Building trust and rapport with any community is paramount, and information alone is not enough to change behavior.”

Connor and Mahannah were surprised by the impact the trip had on the agency. 

“Everyone was excited and couldn’t wait to watch videos, look at pictures, and learn more about the Malawi community and culture,” said Mahannah.

 “Although only two of us took the trip, the project was a team effort and we’re all proud that MicroMass was able to make a difference in this community. It was uplifting for the entire team.”

The agency plans to continue its work with the With Change in Mind organization.