Story of THE WHY Foundation
THE WHY Foundation was founded in 2004 as Steps International with a mission to make investigative documentaries available to everyone everywhere. Established by Mette Hoffmann Meyer, the former head of documentaries at the Danish national broadcaster DR, and Nick Fraser, Founder of BBC's documentary department, Storyville.
The original concept was to produce, distribute, discuss and most importantly act on subjects of universal human importance. The first campaign centered on deliberative discussion, consensus decision making, and societal input. That docuseries was titled WHY DEMOCRACY? The campaign included 10 full documentaries which explored the rich texture of democracy worldwide, with all it's triumphs and set-backs. The series was launched in October 2007 and was accompanied by a global awareness campaign. In all, the films were broadcast in 181 countries via 48 public broadcasters.
One film from the series, Taxi to the Dark Side directed by Alex Gibney, won the 2007 Academy Award for Documentary Film setting a standard for future campaigns.
From Steps International to THE WHY Foundation
In 2012, the second global campaign would tackle another matter of pressing, universal concern. WHY POVERTY? sought to explore the world's most acute problem. The docuseries included 8 full documentaries and covered topics ranging from deep economic disparity in some of the richest countries to destitute poverty in the global south. The series also covered inspiring stories of people from poor communities rising to the challenge of bringing economic security to their societies. The series won a 2012 Peabody award for "For providing parallax insights into poverty as it is manifested throughout the world."
Steps would officially change its name to THE WHY Foundation in 2014 signifying its unique approach to informative and inquisitive documentary films.
Expansion of the distibution model and more docuseries
In 2015 THE WHY would launch a new means of spreading documentary films. WORLD STORIES, which would eventually come to be known as WHY STORIES, was a curation of 20 films from around the world which were then shared via THE WHY's partnership with BBC World. Each film was edited to 45 minutes to ensure watchability and so that it could be easily packaged for public broadcasters in hard to reach places.
In 2016, THE WHY launched its next campaign with WHY WOMEN?, centered on women's rights. It included three full documentaries and a greater focus on short films with ten short documentaries narrated by Dame Helen Mirren.
WHY SLAVERY? and WHY PLASTIC?
In 2018 THE WHY launched WHY SLAVERY? which at the time was the largest global media event centered on the pervasive practice of modern slavery. The campaign included 6 full documentaries and explored the theme of slavery by documenting the Kafala system on the Arabian Peninsula, the use of North Korean laborers in other countries, and the ways in which the modern criminal justice system takes advantage of the convicted.
WHY SLAVERY? was followed by WHY PLASTIC? which marked a new edition to THE WHY's previous lineup of topics and themes. The campaign included 3 films and 7 shorts which explore the recycling, effects on human health, and the industry of plastic production.
WHY FREEDOM? and the future
In late 2022 the early stages of the next award winning documentary series were beginning to take shape with the naming of WHY FREEDOM? The campaign will center on the often messy and contradictory definitions of freedom and how that word is often used to actually suppress certain groups' or individuals' liberty. The project is spearheaded by former SVT producer Jonatan Jerichow who has produced multiple shows and documentaries including Goodbye Theresienstad and The Dead Soldier.
WHY FREEDOM? aims to include 6 full documentaries from filmmakers across the globe with a release in 2025.