Firdaus Kharas: Activism through animation

Firdaus Kharas produces animation designed to educate, entertain, and change societal and individual behavior via a process he calls Culture Shift. Kharas will speak at the 2015 Game Changers Summit hosted by United Methodist Communications, Sept. 17 - 19, in Nashville, Tennessee. This year’s focus will be harnessing the power of information and communications technology (ICT) for global good. The aim is to demonstrate how ICT can be used to improve all facets of life throughout the developing world. Join us for this exciting event. This profile was first published on June 12, 2014.

Subjects like AIDS and domestic violence are no laughing matter, but Firdaus Kharas has found a way to use humor to get people to think differently about such serious issues. The director and social innovator has created a series of animated shorts that confront such issues in the hopes of creating what Kharas calls “a cultural shift.”

“We share commonalities as human beings, we share values in common, so it is possible to communicate across borders and cultures using humor,” he says.

Kharas’ shorts addressing health, violence, literacy, malaria and cultural differences have been shown in more than 150 countries and adapted into more than 90 languages. He said the 30-second spots are the easiest way to reach large numbers and are accessible directly by end user, the person whose behavior he’s trying to change.

“I use humor to bring the audience to the serious point that happens at the end, that I want them to understand,” he says. “It’s memorable, something you can watch over and over again and internalize. It’s non-threatening so you’re less resistant to the message.”

In the ICT4D world, Kharas sees new technology as a vital vehicle to spread his message, pointing out that the medium and the message depend on one another.

“I think the people who do information and communications technology infrastructure are important and complementary, but technology itself does not achieve a goal. If you don’t have compelling content, you can have the best infrastructure in the world but no one’s going to use it,” he says.   

Kharas sees recent technological advances as the perfect way to help improve lives in developing nations. His next ad campaign will encourage the use of solar lights as an alternative to traditional fuels. In some countries, residents may spend up to 30 percent of their income on kerosene, which can also cause health problems through long-term exposure.

“It’s exciting to look at the future, look at this moment in history, see how we can help people, bring them out of extreme poverty, increase their health, and better the human condition.”

*Editor's Note: Since this story was published, the animated video, “Ebola: A Poem For The Living,” created by Kharas’ company, Chocolate Moose Media and mobile-health-education innovator iHeed in collaboration with United Methodist Communications, has reached nearly 60,000 individuals in two northern districts of Sierra Leone. The video, created to dispel myths about the deadly disease, is available in 17 languages.

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