"I like to think about the work that we do as the tortoise in the race for the hope of mankind." – Richard Curtis, Award-winning Screenwriter, Director & Producer

According to Melissa Fleming of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, there are 65 million people today who have been forcibly displaced from their homes due to violence, conflict or persecution, with 24 more joining them each minute. That is roughly one out of every 113 people on the planet.

Those are appalling statistics that are hard to fathom, but as Fleming eloquently put it, "statistics are human beings with the tears dried off." Behind each one, there is a heart wrenching story.

Fleming told the story of Egyptian soon-to-be newlyweds Doaa and Basem, who set out with hundreds of others on a small fishing boat set to cross the Mediterranean. After being forcibly capsized by a small boat of 10 men seeking vengeance for the passengers' refusal to switch boats, Doaa and Bassem watched as virtually everyone around them succumbed to the water over the ensuing days.

Doaa, who survived on a small life ring, was asked by exhausted parents to look after their small children as they gave up hope. Only 19 years old, she consoled two small children, Malek and Masa, until their miraculous rescue by a merchant ship.

Arthur W. Page famously said that public relations is "the art of telling a good story well." Fleming's story, more powerful than any set of harrowing statistics, presented the very human cost of the refugee crisis. "You cannot, rich countries, continue believing it is not your responsibility," said Fleming. "It is everyone's responsibility. That's the message."

Where Communicators Come In

While best known for romantic comedies like Love, ActuallyNotting Hill, and Bridget Jones' DiaryRichard Curtis has dedicated himself to eradicating poverty. Applying his cinematic skills, Richard has been among the creative forces behind the awareness campaigns that fuel these efforts.

Take the #GlobalGoals initiative, through which the UN set out humanitarian goals for the ensuing 15 years. There have since been huge advances in providing access to clean drinking water, sending 43 million more kids to school, and cutting the spread of HIV by nearly half. But there's no sense stopping halfway.


Curtis implored companies to use their financial resources, and, most importantly, for communicators to apply their creative talents as storytellers, to join these causes. "You have it in your hands to make these things happen," he said. "If these issues are going to be marketed and communicated well, we'll succeed. If you do it, success will follow."

Wrapping up the day were U. S. Steel CEO Mario Longhi, CCO Kelley Gannon, and General Counsel Suzanne Folsom who spoke about the vital role that communication plays in planning ahead, working with key stakeholders and managing change at critical times.

According to its executives, until a few years ago, U. S. Steel was known as the "no-comment company." However, once they started dealing with the issue of fair trade, they realized the need to change strategy because trust and transparency were essential to earn stakeholder support. Mario Longhi says that "fair trade cases are complex and time-consuming. People needed to see the value of what is being addressed and we had to make a compelling case. And we were only able to do this with facts-based conversations."

The company has now become the face and voice of fair trade thanks to the open and honest conversations they've established with employees, customers, suppliers, elected officials and unions.