Hyundai releases documentary on grassroots innovators solving global problems

Who: Hyundai and the United Nations Development Program, with Sid Lee as a “creative ally” (more on that below).

What: For Tomorrow, a feature-length documentary about “grassroots innovators” from around the world who are working to solve sustainability challenges.

When & Where: The documentary was released at a special screening in New York on Sept. 15, and is now streaming for free worldwide on YouTube and Amazon. There is some paid promotion on Amazon, but Hyundai also got some boy band called “BTS” (Korea’s version of B4-4, as we understand it) to promote the documentary in a teaser posted to YouTube earlier this month.

Why: The film is part of the larger two-year old “for Tomorrow” platform that Sid Lee built for Hyundai, which, like most automakers these days, is eager to emphasize “sustainable mobility” as part of its brand as concerns grow about the environment and the impact of fossil fuels.

“Hyundai’s motto is progress for humanity,” said Jean-François Légaré, editorial creative director at Sid Lee. “It’s within their DNA to accelerate change and to use technology and connection to improve the world that we all live in.”

That brand purpose dovetailed with the UNDP’s “accelerator labs,” which were launched to encourage grassroots innovations for sustainable development. Sid Lee saw the overlap and facilitated a partnership between the two to launch the “for Tomorrow” platform, the goal of which is to encourage “community-based innovation” to tackle some of the most pressing environmental and social crises that are part of the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

“For brands, a sense of social citizenship and responsibility is critical. Hyundai is committed to increasing and deepening collaboration that contributes to sustainability,” said Jaehoon Chang, president and CEO of Hyundai Motor Company, in a release introducing the new film. “That is why we entered into this historic partnership three years ago, the first-ever between a United Nations agency and a corporation.”

Aside from facilitating the partnership with UNDP, Sid Lee built the digital platform, and its various promotions. Jessica Alba was a spokesperson at launch, and last year there was a virtual conference and a shorter film published, and now it’s the full-length documentary.

How—The Platform: At, people from around the world can upload their solutions to sustainability problems so they can be shared with the world. “One of the problems that these people are facing is that they work in isolation most of the time,” said Légaré.

“By going on this platform, they can connect with one another. They can get onto the radar of the United Nations Development Program and Hyundai,” he said. “Providing this platform and shining a light on these grassroots innovators is helping validate the model that grassroots innovation can really help put the planet on a more sustainable path.”

How—The Film: The 72-minute documentary, which is narrated by actor Daisy Ridley, profiles five people around the world who have been working on their own to solve some of the serious problems plaguing their community and the world. In Vietnam, Trinh Thi Hong developed a way to turn waste into cleaning products, and turned that into a business that created job opportunities for locals. And in Sierra Leone, self-taught engineer Emmanuel Alie Mansaray built a solar-powered car from scrap metal.

Sid Lee oversaw all elements of the film from an editorial and planning perspective, and worked with The Nation of Artists as the production partner to shoot the film last year, with acclaimed filmmaker An Tran directing.

“All of this was done during the pandemic, virtually with remote teams literally showing their computer to our director and saying ‘Do you like this shot? Would you like more light?,” said Légaré.

Is there Hyundai product placement? “Very, very little,” he said. “You never see a Hyundai car—it’s not about that. It’s really about Hyundai believing in the potential of these grassroots innovators and wanting to do something for them… It’s quite literally passing the mic on to these people so that they have a platform to showcase what they’re doing.”

The BTS effect: BTS has been brand ambassadors for the automaker since 2018. “[Hyundai] were like, ‘Guys, I think we can get BTS on this,’ and we got so excited… I have a copywriter who basically couldn’t believe that she was going to write something for these guys,” said Légaré. The agency wrote and produced the nearly three-minute teaser video, which went live Sept. 2. There was no need for paid media to push that video, said Légaré. “You don’t need to put media around it. It’s just like this immense locomotive that’s powering the film.”

And we quote:  “It was important for us to not only show resilience, but also the vibrant spirit from these communities and how this fuels ingenuity,” said director An Tran in a release.  “This was also a chance to reframe how we think about innovation and remind everyone that this power is within us all…. Intelligence and innovation aren’t only found in laboratories and corporations – it’s happening in nature, kitchens, farms and school yards.”

David Brown