With worklife interactions now dominated by zzzZoom, too many videoconferences seem intentionally designed to strip us of emotion and candour, derailing the deep collaboration COVID-19 times call for.

We can, and must, do better. One option: the “cartoonathon!” – a modality of interaction that engages participants in co-creating tools for risk communication. 

Working with Mankoff and team at, we are designing and delivering these innovative events in both face-to-face and fully virtual modalities, for organizations as diverse as the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the World Bank, Northeastern University, and the BMW Foundation.

Here’s how our cartoonathons flow:

1. Warm-up: cartoon annotation

We begin with an unconventional activity: after a brief welcome, participants are invited to review about a dozen thought-provoking cartoons, curated to inspire rich discussions that feed into annotations about the event’s theme (see this blog, or my TEDx Talk).

The photo above shows H.E. Ms. Naheed Sarabi, Deputy Minister of Finance of the Government of Afghanistan, during the cartoonathon held at an event on crises and risk financing convened by the World Bank Disaster Risk Financing and Insurance Program. In the background, the Try Honking Again cartoon displays the annotation added by a participant: “Let’s create another project/program like the one we created years ago and which also failed”. Such level of candour in the presence of a senior government official illustrates a key fact: Humour engenders trust – and change happens at the speed of trust.

2. Substance – with a humourist’s lens

Next, participants experience ‘serious’ presentations. Via live stream, two to six cartoon artists attentively listen in, presentations and breakout group reactions, all while sketching original drawings and captions in real time. They don’t aim to synthesize the presentations: instead, their cartoons challenge what was said and its implications. More than aiming to provoke laughter, the creations seek to inspire critical reflection & meaningful dialogue (though of course humour is welcome). 
For example, an Afghan government official requested support to “bring the government to the field, where disasters happen.” Participants nodded in acceptance. Yet one of the cartoon artists detected –and depicted– some underlying assumptions… Here is the draft – one of about twenty shared just moments later.

At first glance participants were confused (‘Huh?’), then smiled or even burst out in laughter (‘HaHa’), then came to an abrupt, useful realization (‘A-ha!’).
The prolific humourists delivered a set of mirrors depicting the gap between what is and what could be.

3. Reflections triggered by the co-creation process
In the final phase of a cartoonathon, participants critically examine the draft cartoons and suggest ways to make them clearer, better, and/or more useful. The final version below integrates participant suggestions for more Afghan-like mountains and failed crops around the bureaucrat’s desk to represent a field in times of crisis.
Having gone through this unconventional, bonding activity, participants discuss how the newly-created cartoons relate to their own experiences, triggering insights and proposals for next steps.

Kendra Allenby/CartoonCollections, created during a ‘cartoonathon’ on crises & risk financing

Cartoonathon topics so far have ranged from “Responsible leadership in COVID-19 times” to “Grief” to “Becoming virtually amazing”.

From ‘failure of the imagination’ to humour-infused flow
Humour isn’t merely entertainment. It’s smart, strategic communication. And frankly, we need to get smarter, fast.

Otherwise, COVID-19 and other shocks and stressors will lead to the laughably predictable mistakes that FP2P has been highlighting for over a decade. Cartoons, and the collective process of cartoon creation and reflection, can harness the power of humour, taking us from darkness to spark illumination and transformative action. Martin Luther King said “we need creative laughter amid difficulties and tension.”

It turns out, fun is FUNctional.

Cartoon Gallery

Cartoon Gallery

Find cartoons in our gallery and be inspired to include a Cartoonathon in your humanitarian work.

cartoon gallery

What you should know about Cartoonathons...