Seeded with more than $8 million in commitments from the three foundations, the International Resource for Impact and Storytelling (IRIS) aims to raise and deploy up to $30 million in support of communities worldwide—including in Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia—that are reclaiming narratives by advancing climate solutions, promoting democracy, amplifying women's achievements and leadership, and investigating the root causes of inequality. To that end, the ten-year initiative will coordinate donor resources to build international networks in the independent moving image ecosystem that foster deeper collaborations between civic leaders and content creators—funding aligned organizations, research, and creative content appearing across traditional and digital platforms.
IRIS also will provide a learning space for the philanthropic sector to deepen understanding of how cultural narratives that undermine fairness, tolerance, and inclusion remain entrenched and will identify frameworks for countering those narratives. Cara Mertes, most recently project director for the Ford Foundation's Moving Image Exploration, former director of the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program and Fund, and former executive producer of the PBS documentary series POV, will serve as the founding director of IRIS.
"Cultural change is needed to achieve long-term advances in justice and equity, making the role of transformational storytellers all the more important," said Mertes. "They present truths and lessons from the past that catalyze hope, make sense of the present, and help us imagine and build more equitable futures. Serving as the founding director of IRIS, I will work to foster a deeper integration of independent content creators with movement leadership and establish a much needed learning space for philanthropy and field stakeholders focused on twenty-first-century narrative and storytelling approaches."
"IRIS is a response to an era shaped by polarizing narratives, deepening inequality, technological disruptions, and rising authoritarianism," said Compton Foundation executive director Ellen Friedman. "In the face of these complex global challenges, we recognize the power of storytelling as a critical element in organizing for cultural and political change. New cultural organizing approaches are needed to complement philanthropy's more traditional funding in research, advocacy for policy change, rights-focused legal strategies, and organizing."
"Social justice funders launch international initiative to strengthen impact of moving image storytelling." Ford, Skoll, and Compton foundations press release 07/28/2021.