Storytelling for Social Impact. Fact or fiction?

Storytelling for Social Impact. Fact or fiction?

Published in The Couch Potato – A weekly column of casual kopi chat over ideas on design, tech, education and all things under the sun. To help the average Potato become a smarter spud.

Black Panther wasn’t just another superhero movie.

Reasons We All Loved Chadwick Boseman As Black Panther | IWMBuzz

It’s the first big-budget superhero movie with a strong black ensemble – black hero, director and a majority black cast.

More importantly, it’s a cultural phenomenon; about the history of black culture’s journey, and it points toward a future of where it could possibly be.

Black Panther acknowledges and celebrates everything from traditional African society to African-American political debates, from the power and beauty of black women to the preservation of identity, all within the fictional African nation of Wakanda.

Black Panther showed the world that storytelling can be an effective medium to inspire and drive social change.

How can Storytelling be used for social change?

Stories are a powerful way to engage an audience and deliver impact. Building the right characters creates an unique connection with the audience. These characters then become your spokesperson that encourages the community to hearing something new or even engaging with a controversial topic.

Broadly speaking, we can think about the functions of storytelling as being to Learn, Organize, Educate, and Advocate.

These four functions are not mutually exclusive and often overlap. When used correctly, can effect change in public attitudes, behavior, culture, and policy.

1. Curated stories with a specific audience

Stories have to be curated for the community. Basically, if it’s written for everyone; it’s meant for no one.

Audiences are spoilt for choices with the wide variety of mediums of content. Personally, I scroll through social media at a speed of 5 posts per scroll. I ain’t stopping for anything unless it’s entertaining.

Scroll Scroll by Philben Cuer on Dribbble

So, if we want to effectively engage people on issues, we must be able to create stories that connect to what the target community cares about. 

Take for example the comic book on dementia – Amazing Ash & Superhero Ah Ma – published by Difference Engine. As an independent comics published based in Singapore, Difference Engine publishes diverse, well-written, and beautifully illustrated comics of all genres with inspiration by stories in Asia.

This comic series came about because of the rising incidence of dementia in Singapore and many other developed nations with rapidly aging populations.

The intention was to expose the community that younger to the concept of ageing and its difficulties. In turn, this awareness can help remove existing stigma associated with age-related degenerative conditions.

Entertaining content? Checked.

Targeted content? Checked.

2. Building the right story arc

This starts with finding a hot topic or a controversial topic.

A great story that has the power to hold our target community’s attention. As human beings, we are automatically drawn to stories because we see ourselves reflected in them. Research has also shown us that a story that effectively transports us into the world of its characters, has the ability to change our beliefs and willingness to act.

It is not the job of a good message to say what is popular. It is the job of a good message to make popular what we need said.

–Anat Shenker-Osorio in her talk “The Audacity of Audacity”

From community-led voter registration initiative to school curriculums that encourages educators to teach African culture, politics, and history. Black Panther will always be remembered for what it has done for black culture.

Black Panther also encouraged individuals and communities to start dialogues and personal reflections about black identity in America and abroad through a social movement – #WhatBlackPantherMeansToMe.

Stories help us create our identities as we tell stories of how we think, what we feel, and how we justify our decisions. Through such rich experiences, we come to understand the unique perspective of not just ourselves but of the community around us and in the world.

3. Pairing stories with data

The right stories connect us as individuals; the supporting data makes it believable.

The “aha” moment when the right story meets meaningful data

When you include meaningful data to a good yarn, your story is more likely to pull readers in and make them want to know more. Data is meaningless unless it can be presented in a narrative that makes it emotionally and biochemically “tasty” to our brains.

Take for example the story that Kontinentalist wrote about the Rohingya Refugees. In collaboration with The United Nation Refugee Agency, the team was tasked to write about why the Rohingya risk their lives to make the dangerous voyage across the Andaman sea.

With the right narrative combined with visually appealing data and audio, Kontinentalist effectively provided quick and concise context for readers, engaging and capturing their attention.

The future of storytelling for social change

Even as technology invents new ways to create content, the core of storytelling will never change.

Humans will still rely on stories to make sense of the world. With the right stories and techniques, we can be a force for change.

Stories will always matter, now and in the future.

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