Amnesty International: Doing Good with VR

Amnesty International leverages VR to promote fundraising for Syrian refugees.



Amnesty International is a high-profile, international NGO that is focused on supporting human rights.[i] While it may not be the first organization to come to mind when considering companies leveraging VR and AR in their business models, Amnesty International is actually moving quickly to find ways to use the emerging capabilities, specifically with VR. Amnesty International in this case would be categorized as a company applying VR to a specific use case within the industry landscape framework.


Value Creation


While it may not be the first company to come to mind, Amnesty International is actually a good fit with VR. Amnesty International launched the #360syria project in 2015 as part of an effort to support fundraising efforts to support human rights in Syria and those victimized by the on-going conflict there. They brought together specially created photography, aural experiences, and 3D generation techniques to create a 360-degree photo based “Fear from the Sky” website,[ii] and a VR experience that was used in on-street fundraising efforts. The efforts won a 2016 “Digital Innovation of the Year” award for charities and gained international recognition.[iii]

Image from Web-based content. Source: AdWeek

Amnesty International’s aim with this project was to make the experiences of those in war-torn areas of Syria real to people many miles away in safety. Amnesty International hoped that by making these experiences more vivid, they could make the cause much more real and important to people; not only could this drive short-term fundraising efforts, but it might also have positive impacts in the long-run due to engagement and social pressure.[iv] In keeping with the cost-conscious nature of the effort, they leveraged recycled smartphones with VR adapters, and worked closely with partners to supply the technology to bring the experience to life.[v]


One of the commercial promises of VR is to make entertainment much more immersive and vivid than current technology is capable of. Amnesty International is seeking to gain experience leveraging the same promise in the charitable giving space.


Value Capture


Amnesty International’s value capture method here is clear. They are hoping that the device will drive increased charitable giving. Just like a gamer might pay more for a VR gaming experience over a traditional one, Amnesty hopes that givers will give more because they are more deeply affected by an empathetic VR experience than by a more traditional giving campaign.


So far, the campaign seems to have been effective. Amnesty reported that giving rose 16% over the baseline during their use of the VR headsets in on-street giving drives.[vi] This isn’t necessarily causative, but the correlation does how promise. However, there is a caveat that bears mentioning. While the cost of the creation campaign isn’t public, there is the question of whether it is creating more value for donation than was consumed in the media’s creation.[vii] For Amnesty International to be most effective, it needs to get the greatest possible leverage out of its budget. Essentially, is 16% “enough” of a boost to really prove the efficacy of the concept?


Where to go from here?


Amnesty International faces a somewhat different set of questions in how they adapt the use of the technology going forward because they are not a traditional business, they are a charity. One question a business would face would be how much of the value chain do they want to continue to play in. A second would be, given that this application is really analogous to a “product,” do they want to, or even can they, attempt to leverage it into a platform?


For Amnesty International, turning this into a profit generating mechanism would be somewhat distasteful, but the corollary to the above questions would be how effective can they make it, and do they need to own the capabilities internally or should they outsource them? One option for Amnesty International could be to work with technology and charity partners to create a charity VR content platform that can be used to help create more effective charitable giving campaigns. An open platform here that could drive value would be a worthy goal.


Internally, Amnesty International should be considering how they can most effectively leverage the technology going forward. One goal should be to do many tests with different types of media generation and delivery to more effectively boost fundraising with VR experiences. Another priority should be to validate the payoff of such investments, while a last consideration should be which parts of technology, content creation, and campaign coordination they choose to own or partner with.





[v] Ibid.




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Student comments on Amnesty International: Doing Good with VR

  1. Great post, Will!

    I wonder how much the efforts of using VR by Amnesty Int and other NGOs / charitable organization are hindered by technology’s relatively low awareness levels among the general population. I can see the value of bringing a more immersive and vivid experience to drive donations, but as you mentioned in the post, would be curious to know the associated costs at this point in time.

    Would it make sense for Amnesty to spend the money elsewhere and pause VR initiatives until costs of campaigns are lower and VR reach significantly higher?

  2. Thank you for the great post! I never paid much attention to the marketing or fund raising methods of charity organizations and this post widened my interest. As you and Katarina mentioned, I wonder the efficacy of the use of VR for fundraising. To me, it would not make much difference between VR and 2D image about how I feel from seeing the image. I rather think Amnesty International should prioritize how they can increase their exposure to potential donors. Hence as you mentioned in the post, I agree that Amnesty International may target to form partnership with as many media or VR suppliers (they can use this partnership as an initiative of their CSR) as possible and use the VR contents as cheap indirect marketing tool.

  3. This is really interesting, Will! I’ve never thought about VR in this context before. Two questions for you. First, do you think there’s potential for this type of technology to be adopted more broadly for building ’empathy’ with other causes? Maybe, it could even encourage donating to local communities in-need or environmental efforts. Second, is there a risk that we grow numb to the effects of the content over time? When the World Vision ads first came out on TV, I’m sure it had a pretty significant effect on donating. However, over time we’ve just grown accustomed to it…

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