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Bringing Change The Storytelling Way

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Stories and storytelling play a key role in the evolution of human society. Stories are manifestations and transmitters of our culture, value and heritage through the generations. Not only does storytelling shape the way society receives information, it also serves as a powerful tool to change mindsets and influence communities, thought leaders and policy makers. Effective storytelling connects human emotion to a cause and plays a significant role in promoting dialogue, strengthening the voice of civil society and catalysing social transformation.

Storytelling is being used as an impacting tool to create the social change we want to see. In this article, we would see how this mode of effective communication can help the process of mindset transformation.

Storytelling and modern society

In the contemporary scenario, films have emerged as the greatest mode of storytelling, at the same time serving as a powerful tool in inspiring greater social change. Short videos of 1-3 minutes duration on sites like YouTube, ScoopWhoop, etc., have maximum consumption and the potential to go viral, especially among the youth.

Technological advancement, especially internet and easy availability of smartphones, has democratised multimedia content creation and dissemination. Media content is no longer produced just by a specific group, but has become a tool for larger social communication, used by communities who are now both its producers as well as consumers.

Storytelling for non-profits

Non-profits play a pivotal role in addressing social issues, but their efforts require a multiplier effect, to achieve scale and impact. Here, media can serve as a powerful amplifier and synergised with storytelling, it can become critical to actualize social transformation.

Connecting with stakeholders

Storytelling is vital to a non-profit’s ability to connect a variety of stakeholders with its cause and advance its mission.

Movements powered by storytelling are transforming the world. A good example is Girl Rising, a global campaign for girls’ education and empowerment which uses the power of storytelling to sensitise people and inspire action. In 2016, Girl Rising produced We Will Rise: Michelle Obama’s Mission to Educate Girls Around the World, a film about girls overcoming incredible challenges to receive education, featuring Meryl Streep, Freida Pinto, and Isha Sesay. This inspiring film has resulted in the equivalent of more than five million dollars in new private sector commitments to help address the barriers that prevent adolescent girls from attaining education.

A good story is characterised by the “participation” that happens around itAccording to Waggener Edstrom, a Communications and PR firm, 56% of individuals that support non-profits on the social Web confirm that compelling storytelling is what motivates them to take action on behalf of non-profits.

A brilliant example of mobilising volunteers for a social cause using digital storytelling is Kuljeet Chaudhary, an IT professional from Noida. Kuljeet found his passion for rescue and rehabilitation of animals in distress after making a short film on the cause. He widely circulated the film over Facebook and WhatsApp and within 9 months, over 1600 volunteers joined him to work actively on animal welfare. Together, they have significantly reduced the animal rescue time in the NCR region.

The digital era has ushered in many opportunities for non-profits to enhance their reach and impact through Storytelling. Organisations like Charity: Water, a non-profit that provides clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations creates compelling visual marketing content aiming at inspiring people to join their cause. The organisation uses media to express heartfelt, character-driven stories, highlighting water scarcity and showcasing the impact of their projects. These stories accompanied by still photographs and videos are critical to their social advocacy and online fundraising success.

Understanding social impact is what makes donors feel like they are making a tangible difference in the world and are a part of something much bigger than themselves. According to a study by Prof. Jennifer Aaker, a professor of marketing at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, the use of statistics on a social cause enables a non-profit to raise an average of $1.14; however, the use of a story helps non-profits double their donation and raise an average of $2.38.

 Innovations in Storytelling:

 In recent time, there has been a rise in innovative methods of storytelling for social impact. Animated cartoons, creative illustrations, games and comics are being constantly used as a medium to communicate a message of social change. World Comics India, a collective of cartoonists, media persons and activists, is taking comic books beyond the confines of the comedy genre with their comic based campaigns such as the Girl Child Campaign, which addresses the issue of female infanticide in western Rajasthan. Other comics such as Menstrupedia are designed towards spreading information on lesser known topics like menstruation.

Newer storytelling methods strive to generate a stronger communion between the public and the social cause. The first film in the United Nations Millennium Campaign series, Clouds over Sidra is a virtual reality film which provides thought leaders from around the world the opportunity to virtually immerse themselves in the heartbreaking world of a Syrian refugee child named Sidra. It is an innovative approach to storytelling aiming to bring voices of vulnerable communities straight to decision makers, thereby igniting dialogue and creating deeper empathy.

Another new storytelling medium which has tremendous scope is ‘Games for Change’ which sensitises users through an interactive experience. A recent example is the M.I.S.S.I.N.G campaign app which has an augmented reality animation which sensitises people on the issue of trafficking and prostitution of young girls by allowing the player to experience the human toll of trafficking. The end screen offers the player multiple engagement options such as a list of current petitions, which one can sign, and help to make the laws stronger and also a list of nearby non-profits, which one can contact and help to prevent human trafficking.

Social Storytelling for Social Impact

In India, independent storytelling through films has been spurred by individual conviction but, it is important to build a culture of storytelling for non-profits. A shift in mindset and investment in this capacity are critical to a vibrant storytelling culture. The following tips could be useful for non-profits to tap into the power of storytelling:

Storytelling must be strategic: Social storytelling should have clear goals and objectives which can then be utilised to craft effective content to reach the right people and mobilise them for the cause.

A great story vs. a good storyCreate compelling and motivating content which strikes a chord and creates emotional resonance.

Right content should be used for the right technology: With rising number of media platforms in existence, recognising the most effective one to engage the right audiences becomes absolutely imperative.

Co-creating stories with the audience: A relatable and inspiring story such as an honest testimony of a non-profit’s impact on a volunteer’s life can elicit an action that will lead to the success of the organisation’s mission and encourage others to get involved.

Low investment but high return: Creating content is no longer an expensive proposition. For instance, it is possible to make a zero budget film using your smartphone and free editing software. This multimedia content can be showcased free of cost on social media and other platforms for funding, volunteer mobilisation, advocacy etc.

Leverage storytelling for crowd funding: Audiovisual storytelling is the most effective tool for generating funds on crowd funding platforms.

Maximise your network of supporters: Enlist volunteers, donors, and advisers to create content for your organisation. Supporters, family and friends can be approached to use their social media platforms to spread awareness about your work or to set up crowd funding pages.

A story resonates with the audience, inspires and bonds in a way that other forms of marketing cannot. Stories serve to develop inclusive societies by promoting empathy and building relationships. It is exciting to see that non-profits in India are increasingly begining to understand and utilise the power of storytelling. An enabling and supportive ecosystem towards social storytelling can further amplify the impact of non-profits and create multipliers for India’s social transformation. Social storytelling cannot only enable supportive ecosystem for social change but further amplify the process by multiplying the magnitude of positive mindset.

 

PreranaPrerana Langa is the CEO of Yes Foundation, social development arm of Yes Bank. She developed YES! i am the CHANGE, a mindset transformation project, innovatively using the medium of films to ignite the spirit of driving positive social change amongst the youth enabling them to become agents of social change.

 

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The CSR Journal Team