Across all my blog posts, I try to dig deeper #InsideValue and discover what we need to dismiss and what we need to bring to the future. #Empathy seems to be a value we all embrace and understand and it is definitely behind the logic of The locked power–Individuals at the core of sustainability! This may sound common sense, but the question behind it is: How can we use communications and education to encourage empathy and promote sustainability?
The answer to this question seems very complex and involves a huge network of organizations and individuals who could contribute towards this goal. Last summer, I had the opportunity to experience for the first time a tool that could really be part of the answer if it is properly widespread. Standing at a UN booth in Bonn, I travelled to the Zaatari Refugee Camp and met Sidra, a 12-year-old girl who showed me how her life was after her family had to leave Syria. Through the lens of a Virtual Reality (VR) device, I found myself in the Middle East in a completely different environment.
Although the technology was not 100% perfect, the experience was very vivid and somehow it embedded me into a reality that was truly far away from my life in Germany. Empathy emerged so naturally as I ‘was there’ listening to her, fully part of that environment. I could see the sky, the ground, hear the background noise while Sidra was talking to me.
After this ‘brief trip’ to Jordan, I had the chance to have a very interesting discussion with a staff member from the recently created UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Action Campaign, a special UN initiative that acts as an ‘entry point’ and a ‘convening platform’ to engage with citizens around the SDGs. They had just moved to Bonn and were very enthusiastic about living in a city considered a sustainability hub.
VR can help create a new kind of #Empathy
This person explained that they see a great potential in VR and that their hope is that it becomes mainstream. I certainly see that this opens a myriad of new opportunities to achieve sustainability and I strongly believe that VR can help redesign the value of #Empathy in a much more realistic and on-the-ground experience.
So far, these VR experiences are limited to five stories, mostly linked to humanitarian issues. I understand the intention is to produce a more diverse portfolio of experiences that applies to diverse realities and sustainability issues.
The reason why I decided to focus this blog on values is that we live in a world full of contradictory and incompatible messages. I grew up, as did the rest of my generation, in a world limited by my country’s boundaries, TV was my ‘window’ to the world, and the Internet just came when I was in high school, so I can say I had a childhood in which what was happening around the world looked very far away from my reality. In a way, I was only exposed to the reality that my family, teachers and media executives allowed me to access.
Now, it is clear that people born 20 years ago—the real technology natives—have different mindsets and a totally different notion of boundaries. For them, mostly all questions have answers and mostly all problems have solutions. They have much more access to information and this has had a huge impact on their way of thinking. Therefore, if the new generations to come have access to VR in their daily lives, there is a huge opportunity window for communications towards positive change through a new kind of empathy, if properly utilized and implemented.
How could VR help promote sustainability?
The SDGs are a great global effort to tackle the most pressing issues the world is facing, and certainly, if VR experiences are available for the 17 Goals and targets, there is a myriad of new realities that can be available for individuals. For example, the work towards ‘Goal #12 Responsible Consumption and Production’ could help break the gap between consumers and citizens by opening up connections that we have never thought of. For example, the ‘magic feeling’ of looking at a new blouse in a clothing store (like it came directly from a machine) could change through a VR experience with a factory worker in Bangladesh.
Opportunities are endless for organizations and businesses to raise awareness and promote sustainability by creating a new way in which #Empathy comes naturally and the understanding of what it means to be in someone else’s shoes is not a hard mental and emotional ‘forced’ exercise.
It is still unclear what would be the risks and side effects of VR for society, but this will mostly depend on the way it is used and replicated by power and influence groups. My hope, of course, is that all efforts pay off and that the work towards sustainability gets much closer to citizens in the years to come … And that in a couple of years, VR experiences are positively widespread and used by a diversity of actors ranging over schools, cities, organizations and companies.
If you want to learn more about the UN SDGs Action Campaign, visit: https://sdgactioncampaign.org/