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Linking media and advocacy: UN promotes sustainable development via storytelling

Jeffrey A. Brez discusses the United Nation's sustainable development goals at the Tokyo United Nations Information Centre in Shibuya Ward on April 19, 2018. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- How can the United Nations spread messages about its sustainable development goals to audiences all over the world? This is one question that the U.N.'s Jeffrey A. Brez seeks to answer through innovative media collaborations.

    The chief of NGO Relations, Advocacy and Special Events at the United Nation's Department of Public Information Outreach Division's search for new avenues to promote U.N. messages is taking him to Okinawa Prefecture for the 10th Okinawa International Movie Festival, held from April 19 to 22. There, Brez is serving on the judges' panel for the "JIMOT CM REPUBLIC" commercial contest put on by the United Nations Information Centre (UNIC) Japan and entertainment company Yoshimoto Kogyo Co. The event -- one part of the U.N.'s involvement in the film festival -- aims to highlight local efforts to meet and promote the U.N.'s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through storytelling.

    The collaboration between UNIC Japan and Yoshimoto Kogyo began last year, leading Brez to make an appearance at the 2017 Kyoto International Film Festival. There, comedians from Yoshimoto performed sketches riffing off the SDGs. To expand the reach of the collaboration, videos of the routines were translated in New York and used in an awareness campaign that imagined humorous Valentine's Day messages from the SDGs to the world.

    "At the closing reception (for the Kyoto film festival), I invited everyone to call me," Brez said with a laugh during an interview with The Mainichi. "Let me walk you around, let me let you be inspired by the United Nations. Let's tell a story together. In Okinawa, I'm going to make that same invitation."

    The SDGs were adopted in September 2015, with targets to be achieved by 2030. The 17 goals span issues from ending poverty and protecting the environment, to creating a peaceful and just international society. Not only were the goals and their targets adopted by the governments of the U.N.'s 192 member nations, but also by private companies, civil groups and citizens.

    The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (Photo courtesy of the United Nations)

    The goals faced criticism for their number and complexity. However, Brez pointed out that "there was a lot of input that went into saying what should be the focus (and) what kind of language should we use. Civil society, or NGOs in particular, had a lot to say about making sure the levels of ambition stayed very high." He added, "I think that's one of the reasons why there is so much excitement about and around these SDGs when people learn about them. They are universal and they appeal to people around the world, no matter what country you are in. There is something that every country needs to pay attention to in the SDGs."

    Before beginning his career at the United Nations, Brez, who is fluent in Japanese, came to Japan in the 1980s, spending a year studying at Doshisha University in Kyoto and later returning to work in the television industry for 10 years. During the height of the conflict in Kosovo, he decided to use his media know-how to promote humanitarian issues in Albania, which was bearing the brunt of the refugee crisis caused by the war.

    After working for an NGO coordinating relief efforts for refugees in Albania, Brez went on to work for the United Nations' Office for the Coordination of Information (OCHA) and International Children's Fund (UNICEF) in Cote d'Ivoire, as well as spells at the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the World Bank Group. He assumed his current U.N. post in 2013, and is now working to teach as many people as possible about SDGs through entertainment, laughter and extensive collaborations with various media.

    "We want more people to reach out to us and say, 'I'm inspired by this U.N. issue,' 'I'm inspired by this sustainable development goal,' 'I'm inspired by the situation of refugees all over the world,'" he said. "(We want people to say) 'I want to do something,' 'I want to tell a story about it. How can I work with the United Nations?'"

    As for Brez's dream collaboration, "I would love to see a Japanese drama made at the U.N.," he revealed, making a "love call" to the Japanese television industry to come film in New York. "Japanese dramas are known around the world, they are super high quality and it would just be a fun way to get the United Nations and the key issues, maybe about the SDGs, into the story (and) raise awareness through storytelling."

    "There are these two hashtags; there is #CoolJapan and there is also #CoolUN," Brez said. "So let's do the most beautiful mash-up."

    (By Alina Kordesch, Staff Writer)

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