Can Pop Culture Drive Social Change? These Foundations Think So.

Can Pop Culture Drive Social Change? These Foundations Think So.

Back in 2014, the National Bureau of Economic Research published a study arguing that the MTV show 16 and Pregnant ultimately led to a 5.7 percent reduction in teen births in the 18 months after its premier on TV.

According to researchers Melissa Kearney and Phillip Levine, this figure accounted for about one-third of the overall decline in teen births in the United States during that period.

Admittedly some critics had beef with the study’s methodology, but we don’t go down that rabbit hole. Instead, we’d like to use the proposed cause-and-effect to underscore the enormous and far-reaching influence of pop culture in modern society.

Now let’s take this a step further. Imagine you’re a family planning organization or nonprofit encouraging young girls to put off pregnancy. It would be certainly helpful to know about 16 and Pregnant and the extent to which it may very well help to lower the rate of teen births, right? Probably.

And so we’d like to take this opportunity to pass along the launch of AndACTIOn, a new project that gives nonprofits insider intel about when their issues are going to appear in upcoming movies or TV shows, info they can use to get their causes in front of a larger audience.

The initiative has some deep-pocketed backers, including Rockefeller, Robert Wood Johnson, and Atlantic, suggesting that these heavy hitters understand the untapped power of tapping pop culture to tap social change.

For a perfect example of pop culture in action, look no further than the recent phenomenon that is Hamilton. As recently noted a certain Rockefeller Foundation (sound familiar?) announced the expansion of the foundation’s commitment to fund a $6 million educational partnership, which will allow public school children in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., to attend the musical as part of their American History studies.

Beyond providing a brilliant and exportable arts education template, the Rockefeller partnership also illustrates the more inspiring and tasteful elements of what we call “pop culture.”

All of which points to andACTION’s core value proposition: their ability to act as a pop culture filter to identify certain corners within the pop culture universe that dovetail with an organization’s mission, issues, and values. For those of us at IP whose forays into the pop culture space involve watching reruns of Three’s Company (true story!) this is no small feat.

So while you consider the extent to which your organization can hitch its wagon to the omnipresent juggernaut that is pop culture, feel free to check out these reports by Unbound Philanthropy and the Nathan Cummings Foundation, which examine how pop culture can drive meaningful social change.

Now if you’ll excuse us, we have a date with Married with Children.


Originally published in Inside Philanthropy: Mike Scutari, "Can Pop Culture Drive Social Change? These Foundations Think So," Inside Philanthropy (July 22, 2016),