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UNICEF adopts virtual reality for fundraising campaign

Storytelling platform lets Canadians see how they're helping save lives

Unicef VR Unit 3 quarter PRINT v3UNICEF has launched a virtual reality project to help Canadians understand the struggles faced daily by at-risk children around the world.

The launch of UNICEF360°, a series of films designed to provide an immersive perspective on the lives of vulnerable children and their families, comes on the heels of the kickoff to the humanitarian organization’s annual Survival Gifts program. The program allows Canadians to buy lifesaving products for children in refugee camps and other vulnerable settings.

The virtual reality film can be seen using a simple cardboard virtual reality viewer supplied by UNICEF, a smartphone, and an app available at The smartphone fits inside the cardboard box and viewers can choose the perspective they wish by turning their heads in any direction.

“We just thought it was an incredible way to make the experience children are having around the world really real,” says Sharon Avery, UNICEF Canada’s chief development officer. With the cardboard, “anyone can access the film and see it in a cost-effective way.”

UNICEF is selling the virtual reality viewer for $12, but is giving them free to Canadians who buy certain Survival Gifts, starting at $120 for a girl’s education, and up.

The first of several planned virtual reality films is the United Nations-commissioned “Clouds Over Sidra” — a four-minute film that provides a glimpse into the lives of children displaced by the Syrian civil war. It features a walk in the shoes of Sidra, a 12-year-old Syrian girl living in the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan.

“We’re thinking it’s the new form of storytelling,” Avery says of the virtual reality film. “I actually think anyone in the charitable sector could tell their story in a very unique way using the viewer.”

The goal of the campaign “is to allow our donors to see what we see,” she says. “The most powerful way to make someone want to become a donor is to make him feel something. I think taking them to the field is the best way to do that.

“It gives Canadian donors a chance to see their lifesaving and life-changing Survival Gifts at work in the field.”

Nexus screenshotA crew is going to Uganda soon to shoot the next series of virtual reality documentaries about issues children face with water, school and safety.

UNICEF has been selling Survival Gifts for more than 10 years. Last year, Canadians bought 39,217 Survival Gifts worth $1.78 million that helped children in 135 countries.

The most popular Survival Gift among Canadians is Plumpy’Nut, peanut-based, therapeutic food packs that boost a malnourished child’s chance of survival. Last year, Canadians purchased more than 153,000 packets of Plumpy’Nut which sell for $12 each.

Also popular are bed nets that protect children from mosquito bites that can potentially cause malaria. Each $10 gift provides two bed nets that protect four children and last year, Canadians bought 8,952. Other popular gifts are emergency blankets, water purification tablets, school essentials and vaccines.

The gifts are available at, but UNICEF still distributes more than a million catalogues in Canada. “People still love catalogues.”

As of Wednesday, UNICEF has sold 926 virtual reality viewers and distributed about 650 at various events, but the catalogues have just been sent out.

UNICEF is also doing events across the country where people can use the viewer and experience the virtual reality film. “It’s incredible to watch people’s reactions,” Avery says.

The media plan is mostly digital with a focus on Facebook and digital banners.

Idea Studio led strategy, content and design for the campaign. Cairns O’Neil handled media and Tiriam Immersive Media developed the app and website.





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