“Why did an entertainment company such as Yoshimoto decide to become involved in promoting Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?” asked U.N. Information Centre Director Kaoru Nemoto when she recently reunited with Akihiko Okamoto, COO of renowned Japanese entertainment company Yoshimoto Kogyo Co. (Yoshimoto).

In August, Nemoto and Okamoto attended the 67th U.N. DPI/NGO Conference held at the U.N. headquarters in New York together to share their SDGs promotional projects, which was warmly received by the global audience. With 106 years of history, Yoshimoto manages around 6,000 performers, including comedians and actors. The following is a summary of their dialogue.

Nemoto: First of all, what inspired you to collaborate on SDGs when I approached your company two years ago?

Okamoto: In 2011, we started a regional revitalization initiative, the Living in Your Town Project, in all 47 prefectures, where our comedians living in rural areas worked together with their communities to promote and resolve local issues. SDGs seemed to smoothly fit with this project. Initially, I didn’t think we could be involved in so many initiatives with so many partners. Since we knew nothing about SDGs, you gave a lecture to our employees and performers at our SDGs kick-off seminar.

Nemoto: Your employees and performers incorporated SDGs into their work and helped spread the idea among the general public. How does this fall into your business model?

Okamoto: After learning about SDGs, rather than starting something completely new, our staff was able to find a connection between 17 goals of the SDGs and what they were currently working on, such as local projects at the prefectural level. They also realized there is still a lot more to be done on a daily basis.

Nemoto: Aside from such collaboration, Yoshimoto’s partnership agreement to promote SDGs with the town of Shimokawa in Hokkaido, which received the Prime Minister’s Award of the Japan SDGs Award, is a perfect example of bringing people together.

Okamoto: We exchanged business cards at the Japan SDGs Award Conferment Ceremony where Yoshimoto was also awarded the Partnership Award, and Shimokawa approached us with a business idea to work together. Since Yoshimoto announced the collaboration with SDGs, many local governments and companies have approached us with an interest to collaborate. Others have asked us to help in delivering their messages.

Nemoto: At the U.N. DPI/NGO Conference in New York, Yoshimoto presented SDGs’ promotional initiatives at the Open Forum Solutions for SDGs Advocacy and Action, where over 700 attendees filled the room.

Okamoto: That was an amazing conference. Yoshimoto shared a video of our initiatives covering the Okinawa International Movie Festival under the theme of “Laugh and Peace,” which is a great example of incorporating SDGs. Our comedians walked on the red carpet on Naha’s main street holding placards bearing the 17 SDGs. A “stamp rally,” in which children collected ink stamps of their favorite comedians allowed them to learn about SDGs. We used the power of entertainment to pursue SDGs. I saw someone in the audience in tears, deeply moved by our video.

Nemoto: The presentation received huge applause. In U.N. conferences, we tend to use technical terms that can be hard to understand for the general public — this is where the entertainment industry, represented by entities such as Yoshimoto, can act as an interpreter, to clearly deliver the SDGs’ message and connect with people.

Okamoto: The audience really liked our “Those Who Started to Think About SDGs” promotional video clips that were produced to increase awareness of 17 goals and featured Yoshimoto’s comedians. They thought the clips were hilarious. We should send them to the Cannes Lions awards next year.

Nemoto: After the presentation, many people rushed to congratulate you and exchange business cards; the response was phenomenal. Based on this positive feedback, how do you plan to expand your initiatives moving forward?

Okamoto: We would like to take our current SDGs activities to Asia since we already have comedians living in Asian countries. Also, as our next step, we should select and focus on certain goals from the 17 SDGs to clearly communicate each one of them.

Nemoto: U.N. Information Centres in other Asian countries may well be interested in collaboration. In regards to focusing on certain goals, for example, comedian Naoki Tanaka of the comedy duo Cocorico is the goodwill ambassador of the Sustainable Seafood Campaign related to Goal 14. So some goals are starting to stand out.

Okamoto: From that perspective, festivals that Yoshimoto participates in, such as the Okinawa International Movie Festival and the Kyoto International Film and Art Festival, can be used as a platform. Perhaps we can specialize or focus on areas according to each comedian’s personality and unique traits. Our comedians can deliver SDGs’ messages through laughter, which is an effective communication tool to increase awareness of SDGs.

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