The Impact Reality Summit Was A Watershed Moment For Social Impact XR

92

The Seattle event, produced by Vulcan Productions and Kaleidoscope, united a community of XR artists and fundraising sources for a summit dedicated to supporting social impact-focused XR projects.

Though the relationship between XR and social impact is an oft-referenced one, it is surprising that so few gatherings beyond Games For Change’s XR For Change Summit have emerged to highlight this type of work, its creators, and the important conversations emerging around them.

On Jan. 9-10 in Seattle, WA, the Impact Reality Summit picked up the mantle, bringing together a community of creators, philanthropists, investors, and journalists for two days of high-level discussions, immersive experiences, and a pitch showcase that gave a glimpse of the important new impact work to come in 2020.

The Impact Reality Summit came together as a collaboration between XR funding platform Kaleidoscope and Vulcan Productions, which was founded in 1997 by the late Microsoft cofounder Paul G. Allen and his sister Jody Allen, with the goal of driving awareness around environmental and social issues.

Three years ago, General Manager of Vulcan Productions Ruth Johnston experienced virtual reality for the first time at the Venice Film Festival, and immediately knew it was a medium she needed to explore more fully.

“[It’s] a new media vertical that is evolving—it’s technology, content, and impact, the core of Vulcan,” Johnston said in an interview with the author. “We felt that there was a responsibility to be a part of it.”

But as the years progressed, Vulcan Productions discovered bottlenecks throttling the potential reach of the social impact XR content. The first is that many of those who should be experiencing this work just weren’t—and maybe more than any other media format, the power of immersive content is hard to capture in words.

“From an impact standpoint, you actually have to experience XR—it has such a powerful effect,” Johnston said. “We’ve seen it.”

Vulcan Productions Creative Director of Emerging Media Matthew Milios explains that they had also begun to notice a downtick in the presence of impact projects at industry events.

“The motivation for creating the Impact Reality Summit really came out of the last couple of years going to festivals and seeing a decline in these types of projects being represented, and yet understanding their importance,” Milios said in an interview with the author.

In this, they saw a chance to treat obstacles as an opportunity.

“About a year ago, I actually just said, ‘We need to immerse people in this, so they can understand why we’re in it,’” Johnston said. “And that’s how this started.”

Kaleidoscope made for the perfect partner; it’s an organization that has built a thriving community around connecting immersive artists to necessary funding. And while every Kaleidoscope initiative is designed to empower the creation of XR projects, Kaleidoscope CEO René Pinnell explained he had another, more specific goal with the Impact Reality Summit.

“The other goal was to help unite and grow the community of artists and industry who are passionate about the XR for good movement,” Pinnell said. “At Kaleidoscope, we believe artists play a pivotal role in shifting global culture toward a more sustainable and equitable future. If we’re going to survive the impending ecological collapse, we need to radically reimagine our global culture. And artists have the power to do that. But they need support and they need money. And that was the goal of the Impact Reality Summit and the ongoing mission of both Kaleidoscope and Vulcan Productions.”

Reframing Goals for Impact XR

Vulcan puts its money where its mouth is, producing standout immersive experiences including: Drop in the Ocean, Ghost Fleet VR, Guardians of the Kingdom, and X-Ray Fashion. For Milios, each has become a success—ranging from festival debuts at Sundance and Tribeca to driving change and awareness among necessary decision-makers.

“At Vulcan, we’ve had nothing but success so far with our VR, AR, and MR projects, in convincing the right people on the topics that we need to convince them on,” Milios said. “You’re not going to get the big audiences, you’re not going to get the millions of people—but targeting your audience and understanding who you need to reach with these [is key].”

It’s a matter of understanding the unique storytelling properties of each medium, and aligning those with your intended audience. In the case of social impact XR, the lingering novelty of the medium can be used to drive awareness, attitudinal change, and fundraising. This was notably demonstrated in the $3.8B raise sparked by the Clouds Over Sidra screening at a private donor meeting prior to the Third International Humanitarian Appeal for Syria—nearly double what had been projected.

“It’s so much easier to get somebody to do a novel 15-minute experience that’s unlike anything they’ve ever done before versus something like sitting in front of a 90-minute film,” Milios said. “All of it has its purpose—all of the storytelling that we’re doing is great storytelling, it all serves a need—but right now, at this moment in time, there is a novelty to this, and people are really interested in it and they want to experience it. Getting those decision-makers and policy-makers to do these kinds of experiences is tremendously important right now.”

Impact Reality Summit Pitch Showcase And Winners

Part of the Impact Reality Summit involved a pitch competition, in which creators presented projects still in-development that fit within one of Vulcan’s categories: Climate Change, Community and Social Justice, and Sustainability, for one of four prizes amounting to $50,000 in funding.

Projects in contention included:

  • BATTLEGROUNDS (Nancy Baker Cahill)
  • Breathe (Diego Galafassi)
  • Climate Changers (Richard Nockles)
  • Critical Distance (Adam May, Amy Zimmerman)
  • Fight Back (Celine Tricart, Marie Blondiaux)
  • Kusunda (Gayatri Parameswaran, Felix Gaedtke)
  • The Other Side (Anagh Banerjee, Ninaad Kulkarni)
  • Overwhelm (Ollie Rankin)
  • Rainforest (Winslow Porter, Milica Zec)
  • Sex Buyers (Sonia Delhaye)
  • Storyfile (Heather Smith, Stephen Smith)

After a pitch showcase on Jan. 10, attendees voted on projects within the three pillars of Climate Change, Sustainability, and Community & Social Justice.

Best in Climate Change ($10,000)

Breathe (pitched and accepted by Jess Engel)

Best in Sustainability ($10,000)

Death Becomes Life (pitched and accepted by Barnaby Steel)

Best in Community & Social Justice ($10,000)

Fight Back (pitched and accepted by Gloria Bradbury)

Grand Prix ($20,000)

Kusunda (pitched and accepted by Gayatri Parameswaran)

Impact Reality Summit Exhibition and Forum

The summit also featured a showcase of superlative completed projects around these pillars, including: 4 Feet: Blind Date, Bonfire, Daughters of Chibok, Drop In The Ocean, Elephant Keeper, The Key, Ghost Fleet VR, Guardians Of The Kingdom, The Key, My Africa, Storyfile, Traveling While Black, Tree, and X-Ray Fashion.

In addition, a series of panels, autopsies, and presentations brought vital industry discussions to the fore, including topics like “The Ethics of Time Travel,” “Planning for Impact,” and “Animating the Future.”

Professionals from Google, HTC, Microsoft, National Geographic, Oculus, and Unity brought insight from large tech corporations, while successful creators like Alton Glass, Gayatri Parameswaran, Roger Ross Williams, and Milica Zec shared insights on how to create effective social impact work.

The summit concluded with a fireside chat presented by Philippe Cousteau Jr. (grandson of Jacques Cousteau), Ashlan Cousteau, Jamie Cross (Conservation International), and Adam May (Vision 3).

Into the 2020s

When asked what he hoped to see follow the summit, Milios said that he hopes it’s an inflection point that extends beyond any single gathering and helps build a broader community around social impact XR.

“We want to see the conversation continue,” Milios said. “We’ve been able to bring together here creators, investors, impact organizations, governments, zoos, aquariums, in kind of an unprecedented way—we’re really focused on just this type of storytelling. We don’t want this to be a single annual event even—we want it to be something that we continue a conversation together and pool resources and information on an ongoing basis.”

VR and AR may be new, exciting storytelling vehicles, but as they pertain to driving social impact, Milios takes a long view.

“It’s the same as any other medium; it’s getting the right story in the right people’s hands in the right time,” Milios said. “And right now, it’s the right time for this type of storytelling.”

And according to Pinnell, the data gathered from the Impact Reality Summit backs that up.

“One of the things we hoped to achieve with the summit was to convince folks at large impact organizations like the Ford Foundation or Conservation International that investing in XR projects was an effective way to create real-world change,” Pinnell said. “To that end we programmed a number of case studies like the lecture Winslow Porter and Milica Zec gave about the tremendous success they’ve had with Tree, as well as talks from artists like Roger Ross Williams, who discussed the power to change minds with projects like Traveling While Black. And I’m thrilled to share that 91% of the attending impact organizations reported that the summit convinced them that XR projects have the power to create real-world change and are going to be an important area for them to invest in moving forward.”

And the percentages of direct follow-through among attending professionals reflect meaningful commitments to supporting this type of work.

“84% of the industry leaders attending the summit reported that they discovered a project they plan to fund, distribute or otherwise support,” Pinnell said. “And 78% of the artists attending reported making connections which they believe will result in funding, distribution or other material support.”

All of which ties into a broader trend that Pinnell has been tracking through his work at Kaleidoscope.

“These numbers play into an overall trend Kaleidoscope has seen over the last six months of the industry picking up speed,” Pinnell said. “Kaleidoscope’s revenue has doubled every month since August of last year. And the number of projects we’ve seen funded has followed a similar curve. And interestingly enough, the projects we see doing the best are actually impact projects.”

As to how Kaleidoscope has taken the mission of this summit to heart, Pinnell said that the funding platform has partnered with the NGO, Cotap, to purchase carbon credits to offset all travel emissions generated by attendees of the Impact Reality Summit. One benefit of his community is that many events are held virtually, but he will continue to offset the carbon cost of any events that demand real-world interaction.

“Kaleidoscope is now a carbon neutral company,” Pinnell said. “The majority of our events moving forward will be held online or in virtual reality to reduce carbon emissions and any events we hold in the real world will be offset by purchasing carbon credits. In addition, our small carbon emissions from our servers are also offset now making Kaleidoscope a totally carbon neutral organization.”

For more information, visit the official websites for Kaleidoscope and Vulcan Productions.

Disclosure: the author is Curator of the XR For Change Summit.

Source