As an advocacy organization GHC can attest to how much impact we can create through stories. Stories have the ability to compel people to act and support our asks, which include sustained global health funding and bipartisan support of global health programs.
We recognize the importance of hearing from the people at the frontlines of health – putting them at the center, and in charge of their narratives. GHC has supported patient advocates to tell their stories at the 71st World Health Assembly (WHA71), and more recently, at the just concluded Interactive civil society hearing in preparation for the High Level Meeting (HLM) on NCDs at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) this September. However, is there something more we can do better to elevate the voices of the people for whom we advocate?
Cue our webinar co-host, Lisa Russell, an award winning filmmaker and creative activist. Lisa was kind enough to share her experiences and expertise with storytelling, why it is essential, and more importantly, why it is critical to do it correctly and responsibly.
A few key highlights from Lisa’s presentation:
“Storytelling is a very important element of global health advocacy but we need to invest as a community in making sure the stories we tell are accurate, respectful and responsible. That comes with investing time in teaching/learning and growing the craft. It’s a relatively new trend in the global health community but it needs to be based on true storytelling for it to be high quality and sustainable.” –Lisa Russell, MPH.
1. Telling stories is critical because the act forms an emotional connection between the storyteller and the audience. There are several types of storytellers including, but not limited, to filmmakers, poets, photographers, musicians, writers, and even beatboxers. However, storytelling is not marketing, journalism, advertising, communications, or campaign slogans. While complimentary aspects of communication, they require a different skill-set from storytelling.
2. Perhaps most important to note, is that stories have a structure. They have key elements, which, when built, create a memorable and impactful story. These include character, setting, plot, conflict and resolution. Lisa refers to her short film: Heroines of Health to illustrate how each of these key elements play a role in creating a highly acclaimed and impactful story.
Common pitfalls in storytelling in global health are usually around telling a flat linear story, often chronologically (…and then…and then…). With such storytelling, there is no character development, no real conflict or climax, and often the story is unmemorable. Also, many start with text to share the context of the story, which detracts from the purpose of the story. You want the story to move people, to be a journey and an experience that they are invested in.
Why pursue responsible storytelling?
“If done well, global health storytelling can enable the global health community to elevate stories of struggle and resilience in a way that reaches a larger audience and has greater impact on funding and legislation. If done poorly, it can perpetuate “poverty porn” and a storytelling trend end that is not effective, respected or sustainable.”-Lisa Russell, MPH
So how does one begin to create impactful stories? First, consider partnering with storytellers: the musicians, and artists and filmmakers-they are bold, emotional, have a large following and have the ability to break down information in a more relatable manner.
You can use different devices to create an impactful story. You can use your story to break stereotypes, create characters as people first, before their professions, underscore universal or cross cutting themes that most audiences can relate to, and, of course, the story structure.
It is also critical to build strong and sustainable partnerships with storytellers: invite them to sit “at the table”, invest their understanding of your organization and the issues you focus on, and invite them to host professional development workshops for staff and/or patient advocates.
Stay tuned for future webinar on this topic and others!
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