It’s a Wrap! Why Active Voice is Shifting from Campaigns to Big Picture Strategy

As we approach our 15th anniversary, Active Voice is moving in a new direction. Throughout 2015, we’ll be wrapping up our film-based engagement campaigns so we can refocus on what we do best: deepening the connections between story, strategy, and sustained impact.

We’re excited about moving forward on this new adventure. Under the banner of Active Voice Lab, the more streamlined and networked company – led by Ellen Schneider – will intensify research and innovation around the use of story for social change. For example, How Do We Know (if We’re Making a Difference)? – currently in beta – will enable media makers, grantmakers and other change makers to think more creatively and collaboratively about measuring impact. Active Voice Lab will also offer high level consulting to funders, the film community, and others.

Simultaneously, Shaady Salehi – who will step down from her post as Active Voice’s executive director later this year – will oversee the successful completion of four final film campaigns, in collaboration with our expert staff: In Defense of Food, Facing Fear, That Which I Love Destroys Me (with Participant Media), and Onward (funded by MacArthur Foundation). After nearly 11 years with Active Voice, and two and a half years as executive director, Shaady is excited about capping off Active Voice’s diverse portfolio with these final projects, which tackle a range of complex issues in creative ways.

We’ve chosen this new focus carefully. When Ellen founded Active Voice in 2001 (after a three-year pilot initiative), the field of “film and social impact” was quite new. We were among a handful of loosely knit practitioners and strategists who were tapping into the emotional power of film to support movements for social change. Active Voice became increasingly strategic as we introduced powerful documentaries and other films to eager civic leaders and advocates across the country. We’re proud of this leadership, as our film-based campaigns contribute to a ripple effect of positive changes related to immigration, criminal justice, healthcare, and more.

Today, the field is blooming, as more and more entrepreneurs—impact producers, distribution experts, campaign strategists, and media makers—build upon our promising practices while contributing a range of new skills and expertise. As the field evolves, we’re strengthening our leadership by applying what we’ve learned over almost two decades to tackle some big picture opportunities.  That’s why, as of Spring 2015, and supported by consultants with complementary skills in public policy, the social sciences, and technology, Active Voice Lab will:

  • Focus on “what’s next” for creative media strategies.
  • Explore how different kinds of stories have different strengths and how to align them where they’ll have maximum impact.
  • Deepen our development of frameworks – such as and Horticulture – that encourage collaboration within the ecosystem of media makers, funders, issue experts, advocates, evaluators, and more.
  • Partner more directly with foundations and academic institutions.
  • Actively engage with and learn from others in the field – without having to compete for limited campaign resources.


Revenue for Active Voice Lab will come from grants, consultations, and “experiments” funded by media enthusiasts who want to test strategies before going to scale. Our alliances with the MacArthur Foundation, Ford Foundation, The Whitman Institute, Participant Media, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and other leaders have already enabled us to take risks and share promising practices with the field and we’re excited about working with them in new ways in the future.

We know you’ll have questions and ideas, so don’t hesitate to drop us a line. We’re both looking forward to working with you in 2015 and beyond.


Shaady and Ellen