Storytelling seems to be a crucial part of how social entrepreneurs operate, develop and communicate, so I’ve been meaning to write up this session from the Skoll World Forum for a while (that I posted about before), but haven’t been best to decide how to do so; looking at my notes is just a bunch of quotes…but then I thought, maybe that will provide some sort of narrative. Here goes, with all due apologies for paraphrasing and bad note-taking. The people speaking, hereon shortened to initials, were:
- Ken Brecher, Executive Director, Sundance Institute
- Cara Mertes, Director, Documentary Film, Sundance Institute
- Walter Mosley, Author, The Thingitself Inc.
- James Orbinski, Ph.D., of Medecins Sans Frontieres / Rwanda
- Annie Sundberg, Filmmaker and Writer, Break Thru Films
- Bill Strickland, President and Chief Executive Officer, Manchester Bidwell Corporation
KB: "storytelling is a way of thinking about things, about the meaning of things, not the value of things; storytelling is a seach engine; it is a form of disguise and dialogue; stories are a way of finding what the questions are, not giving answers"
BS: "use storytelling to communicate and opportunity…and a possibility"
WM: "if somebody knows something is true, they will take an action….; all stories told are fictionalised (edited, changed) but truth is not the same as ‘facts’ "
AS: "always interested in the story behind the work, the personal story….again, not about a ‘factual’ truth, but one with emotional resonance; always thinking: ‘what journey do you want to take people on?’
BS: "It’s the passion behind the words that gets it sold"
CM: how to "move from telling a story to becoming a story"
JO: (quoting Hannah Arendt): "the first political act is to speak, so stories matter"
WM: "the problem of making heroes in stories so large…that people don’t associate with them"
BS: "you don’t have to be anointed to do this work….but have an awareness and an obligation to act upon it"
JO: "there is a real problem: the risk of heroisation"; views "responsibility as the ability to respond", not in terms of obligation
WM:….and "the story is how you understand that responsibility"
AS:….and getting responses: "continually wanting to invite someone in…and giving them space to do so"
BS: using "art as a language, a vocabulary to communicate: a balance sheet doesn’t get it done"
WM: "a lot of stories fail; most work, most art, is a failure"
BS: "we have no special privilege to be raised up or celebrated: it’s about how I celebrate others"
AS: important to "get rid of the heroics"; humour has an important role
KB: [great anecdote about how his father-in-law worked on the Burma railway and said that ‘you survived if you kept your sense of humour….the Dutch perished’]
WM: "winning is a notion that doesn’t belong in this kind of work"
JO: "what we do matters, and you can only do if you live….and I’m going to die living"
[responding to questions now]
WM: "the mistake of wanting to talk about the hero…best to understand the point of view opposite from you, [which gives] much more chance of resolving the issue"
CM: no perfect solution; "carrying the burden of having to fix it will paralyse you"
JO: "don’t get trapped in these utopian narratives….these are lies; but do engage as a human being and as a citizen"
WM (on measuring impact of stories): "as soon as someone says ‘I can measure that’, you’re in trouble"; "fiction is always closer to truth than non-fiction"
KB, quoting JO: "stories: we find ourselves in themm make ourselves in them, choose ourselves in them….we’d better choose them well"
There was lots more here, and lots to pick out: about heroisation and the risk of utopian narratives (which I’d connect to various other discussions about transparency, authenticity, superhero myths and so on), about the power of stories and passion to further what you do, about the relationship between truth and facts, about responsibility (response-ability), about humour and enjoyment, about stories as journeys (of questions), and about humanity.
The above might seem a lot of words, a lot of sentiment, but it was absolutely compelling and relevant. For me, James Orbinski was an extraordinary communicator, and his words carried great weight, whilst Walter Mosley seemed to slice through to the key parts of the topic. I hope that, from some of the above (and maybe watching the video via the link at the start of this post), you might find what Walter Mosley called "the nuggets, the glimmers of hope" to keep telling your story.