Max Howard and UNICEF

unicef logocartoons for childrens rights

Cartoons for Children's Rights is a UNICEF broadcast initiative that aims to inform people around the world about child rights. So far, the effort has forged partnerships with nearly 70 animation studios in 32 countries that have developed 30-second non-verbal public service announcements (PSAs). Max Howard has been an important figure in the creation of many of these works, and oversaw UNICEF’s Worldwide Animation Conference held in Orlando Florida in 1994.

In 1989, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child. This landmark treaty, now ratified by all but two countries on earth, spells out the rights of all children … to health, to education, to an adequate standard of living, to leisure and play, to protection from exploitation, to express their own opinions … and many more. All children have these rights.

The first tape of Cartoons for Children's Rights, containing 29 spots, was distributed in 1998. These cartoons have been shown by more than 2,000 broadcasters in 160 countries to an estimated viewing audience of more than one billion people!

A letter from George McBean

I met Max in 1992 in Prague (you remember the slides) at the very first International workshop on ‘Animation for Development’  It was attended by some of the leading figures in the animation industry including Bill Hanna (of Hanna Barbera fame) and Max was the representative from Disney Animation Florida. At this workshop I presented the experience of training animators from Nepal... and what was, a ten year interest in visual literacy (which no one in UNICEF had taken any interest in till then) Max was one of the first to approach me with the offer to help develop these ideas... and since we were living in Barbados the idea of training Caribbean artists came up. Bill Hanna meantime offered his studios in Manila to help take the Nepal boys further and so ‘Meena’ UNICEF’s regional animation series was born.

Max invited me to the Disney World studios to give the same basic presentation as I had done in Prague.  It was there I met Zoe and Frank and Lisa. Max assembled the whole studio of animators and I showed the UNICEF work I was doing with visuals for non literate mothers. (The essence of this presentation was that 90% of children in developing countries die of PREVENTABLE illness. So it’s not a medical problem it is a Communication problem. I told the Disney artists that their skill in presenting information in a visually entertaining/understandable way... was as important to the developing world as the skills of a doctor.)  The response from Disney animators was awesome. They wrote to me individually wanting to help. Max mustered more support and got funding from Roy Disney to send a group of top animators including the then head of training Frank to Jamaica. I organized for 14 artists from the Islands and mainland Africa to come for the training.  Disney then took further initiatives in animation and training across Latin America, helping UNICEF.

This training of artists from developing countries was now taking place in several places around the world... but it was made easier by us being able to say Disney were helping. Max was key in advocating for us. He helped to organize the second Animation for Development workshop held in Disney World in 1994. Max was given a special UNICEF Award for his work.

Max left Disney to become head of animation with Warner Brothers... he continued to keep in touch with me and offered further training opportunities to UNICEF identified artists.  Unfortunately one artist that we sent to WB for training from the Sudan decided to seek political asylum in the US. ( I don’t even know if Max  knows this, it had nothing to do with him really... but that screwed up the whole UNICEF artist’s training project. There is nothing more damaging in the UNICEF financial system than an unfulfilled Travel Authorization! Someone was given a ticket to go somewhere... and they didn’t come back!! How dare they! Never again.)

Meanwhile I moved to HQ and took on the main role as coordinator of all the UNICEF animation projects. 100 non verbal PSA spots were done along with dozens of co-productions. Max did one for us from Warner Brothers. UNICEF Awards were given at animation festivals for the first time... and we created an International Children’s Day of Broadcast which is still going to this day.