Lilly Singh is best known for her work on YouTube, where her channel has over 13 million subscribers, and for a starring role in the HBO film Fahrenheit 451, which debuted on May 19. Her latest role, though, doesn’t involve a wig or makeup or a stunt double. She is the first UNICEF goodwill ambassador to come from the digital space, and she is taking her job very seriously.
“It’s just such a super cool privilege,” says Singh. “[UNICEF] told me I can create my own path and I have free range to do positive impact in a way that works with the internet.”
To that end, today, she is launching a YouTube ad campaign to help spread the word about CHILDLINE 1098, India’s only child helpline to help address abuse or violence against children in India. “India is thriving in a lot of sectors and this is one of their struggles, but, hey, there is a way to solve it, if you’re creative,” says Singh. “I think we have to be creative in our problem-solving to world issues.”
The campaign came about as a response to a problem Singh witnessed during her field visit with UNICEF to Madhya Pradesh in India. “I was going around to all these villages and meeting all these kids,” says Singh, and she soon realized that many of the ones in most need of help didn’t even know about the helpline. It wasn’t for lack of connections to the rest of the world. “I noticed that regardless of their financial situation almost everyone had a cell phone and almost everyone watched YouTube. Apparently cell phones and cell service are a lot cheaper there, and are basic necessities,” she says.
While Singh, who was born and raised in Canada and now lives in the U.S., can “manage” in Hindi, she is definitely fluent in internet (“It’s my first language,” she says) and quickly came up with a solution. “If every kid has a cell phone and every kid watches YouTube, why don’t we try and relay some important information to protect them on YouTube?” says Singh, who argues that it can be easier for kids to talk to strangers on the phone than to a family member.
She worked with a team at YouTube to create a pre-roll ad that will run before videos in India, starting today, that lets kids know they can call the helpline any time of day or night, seven days a week. “One cool thing is that depending on the user’s language preferences there will be subtitles in the major languages in India,” she explains. The closed captioning will be available in Urdu, Tamil, and Hindi.
When kids call the confidential number, according to Singh, someone will direct them to whatever resources they need. The help line, based in Mumbai with regional offices around the country, was established under the government’s Ministry of Women and Child Development in 1998. “I heard a lot of anecdotes of them actually sending a force to go and stop a child marriage, because someone called the hotline,” she says.
Singh hopes that the ad campaign can help the government help more kids, and even save lives. “We’re just trying to make the information as accessible to as many people as we can to try and increase the number of calls to that hotline, and in turn increase the number of kids that are protected. I’m trying to make a really real impact and [bring] really, really measurable change in terms of ending violence in India.”
“From a general global citizen perspective,” she says, “I want people to see the PSA and know that from a very top level solutions can be made.”