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Live from Skoll World Forum 2015

With so much going on at the 2015 Skoll World Forum, it's impossible to participate in everything. Our bloggers are sitting in on many of the exciting sessions at this year's event. Read their concise notes and observations to catch up on important discussions you may have missed.


FORUM2015: How to Use Storytelling To Change Culture

FORUM2015: How to Use Storytelling To Change Culture

April 21, 2015 | 5456 views

WED, APRIL 15, 2015; 11:45 – 13:00

At this session, more than 40 advocates, filmmakers, philanthropists, technologists, and others from around the world gathered to explore how to more effectively create culture change through storytelling, media, arts, technology, and other tools.

The vibrant discussion led to some key insights along with some critical questions about how we can more powerfully promote the values of dignity, equality and justice. I have captured these below along with some links to additional resources.

The power of storytelling

Several participants highlighted the power of storytelling to drive culture change. Storytelling enables people negatively affected by an issue to process their experiences and heal their way into becoming leaders for change. This in turn can engage multiple constituencies in the journey of transformation and build movements that can shift us beyond advocacy to real culture change.

Storytelling allows the storyteller to be seen and for her voice to matter. It enables the person who is being affected negatively by a social norm to become the driver of change. It’s important to ask who is telling whose story as a critical component of culture change.

In the creation of stories, it’s important to stop “othering” and move beyond binaries in a way that allows everyone to go through a process of transformation. In this context, the role of empathy and compassion are critical because they allows us to step into one another’s shoes and experiences.

There are many powerful ways to tell stories – performing arts, documentary, film, radio, the written word, video games – and we should be open to exploring all of them as pathways to culture change.

Transforming belief systems requires us to move beyond the traditional storytelling triangle of victim, perpetrator, and rescuer because that locks us into disempowering strategies for culture change.

The influence of digital media

The role and influence of digital media in driving culture change was an animated part of the discussion especially because people from Facebook and Participant Media were present.

The digital world allows for atomized storytelling that connects to people’s shorter attention spans. Social media has blurred virtual and physical spaces; our focus should increasingly be on how we connect the two even where Internet access may be limited.

The digital space has begun to transform the nature of identity because it allows us to call people into community with us in momentary and in long-term ways. Access to scale through digital tools also allows us to build communities and constituencies across boundaries that may be transitory but facilitate different avenues for reach and engagement.

Social media allows us to tap into the fundamental human need to help other people and amplifies the ability of people to come together and build peer networks for support.

It’s important to remember that social media can often make complex situations too simplistic and drive unrealistic solutions.

Other insights

Participants offered some critical insights and questions in order to advance culture change. It’s important to identify and engage underlying cultural and spiritual beliefs and engage with them at the community level to shift and create new norms.

Change that is led from within the community is more effective than that which is parachuted in from the outside. It is critical to recognize the role of peer influence in driving change.

Campaigns by themselves can drive limited systematic change and must be connected to other strategies for long-term sustainable change.

Some additional links that might be helpful to this discussion:

  • Ford Foundation – Culture/Change Insights and Priorities. In December 2014, the Ford Foundation invited more than 75 pop culture and social change thought leaders to take part in CULTURE/CHANGE, a rare convening to explore the present – and shape the future landscape of the culture change field.
  • Breakthrough is a global human rights organization working to make violence and discrimination against women and girls unacceptable. Our cutting-edge multimedia campaigns, community mobilization, agenda-setting, and leadership training equip men and women worldwide to challenge the status quo and take bold action for the dignity, equality, and justice of all.
  • The Harmony Institute is a research institute dedicated to understanding the impact of entertainment. Harmony Institute believes that stories and data can engage audience to produce lasting change.
  • Spoiler Alert – How Progressives Will Break Through with Pop Culture by Tracy van Dyke. “Spoiler Alert” is the warning you receive when a major plot point is about to be revealed. The spoiler within reveals the major strategic investments that progressives can make into pop culture and creative activism to achieve transformative societal and political change.
  • Media Impact Funder is a network of funders, working broadly on media and technology issues, in order to create social change.



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