United Nations Development Programme: Virtual Reality for Philanthropic Causes
VeeR recently interviewed Mr. Cedric Monteiro, the Regional Communications Specialist for the United Nations Development Programme, Asia Pacific, on the whys and hows of UNDP's latest virtual reality projects, Ground Beneath Her and V aRe Panda, as well as the greater picture of UNDP's journey in helping countries achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
When did UNDP start getting involved with VR productions? Could you explain how the VR production schedule for UNDP is coordinated with UNVR and the UN SDG Action Campaign?
We had been thinking about doing a VR film for a while, especially after seeing the VR film Clouds Over Sidra, which was produced by the SDG Action Campaign. We discussed our plans with the campaign’s production team. Our objective was to produce a VR film looking at how people were recovering from the earthquake, one year later, how the quake had affected their lives, and the challenges they faced. We had to coordinate with the UNDP Nepal Country Office on the best time to film, and we all worked together on the post-production schedule.
What is the most important, unifying message UNDP hopes to convey through its VR projects?
In the case of Ground Beneath Her, the message we hope to convey is that recovery and rehabilitation of communities, people’s lives, and jobs following a devastating natural disaster is a long-term process, not simply a matter of months, it is a matter of years.
Our goal in Nepal is to empower people and improve their lives and that can only happen if we all contribute to recovery and rehabilitation, especially in developing countries. A natural disaster is big news for a week perhaps two and then the media moves on, but often little has changed in the lives of people affected. UNDP works to ensure recovery in the long-term.
In general, VR puts UNDP’s core beneficiaries, the people themselves at the heart of the story. It provides an unfiltered view of their life. Unlike traditional documentaries where a viewer is just a spectator, with VR, the viewer also becomes an actor and is immersed in the story. This makes VR a fascinating, almost realistic experience. VR can be used for a whole range of human development stories not just disaster or disaster preparedness. We believe it is a tool to help promote the Global Goals, in our effort to ‘leave no one behind.’
Specifically, how were “Ground Beneath Her“ and “V aRe Panda” received? How have they helped with the social causes UNDP advocates for?
Both films have been very well received. Ground Beneath Her has been shown at film festivals in Paris and Seattle, at conferences in New Delhi and Brussels, and at key events across the world. It has spurred support for projects in Nepal and it has helped keep the focus on recovery efforts in the country.
The Panda VR film produced in China by UNDP’s country office has been a huge success. Pandas are symbolic, as they represent the plight of wildlife across the world that is diminishing due to climate change and loss of habitat. Addressing the loss of biodiversity is one of the Global Goals. Healthy ecosystems and biodiversity are not only important for wildlife but also for human wellbeing. Our hope is that the pandas will help inspire people to support the Global Goals, and raise awareness of UNDP’s efforts to promote sustainable development.
What has been the greatest challenge before, during or after production, and how did your team overcome it?
I think the challenge with any film is delivering a great story. Since VR films are generally not too long, around 6 to 8 minutes, there is much information that must be packed in, and it must be both engaging and inspiring. For Ground Beneath Her, our aim was to try to put in as little script as possible so people could have the best immersive experience. There was much debate about what would provide for the best experience, in the end we managed to keep the voice over very brief.
What is your biggest takeaway from UNDP’s VR projects so far?
The outsize impact. You can see that people are moved by the experience in different ways. We have transported them into unfamiliar terrain and put them in the shoes of the subject.
What visions does your organization have for the future of VR?
In the Asia-Pacific region, we have produced three VR films and there are plans for more. We see VR as a terrific tool to provide people with a novel experience, to give them an intimate look at the work we do, by putting them in places they would normally not get to.We aim to use these films to promote our work, and to help in mobilizing funding and support for some of development’s toughest challenges.