Once Upon a Time There Was No Poverty: Storytelling & the Global Goals


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By Christine Newman

Malala. Ahmed Mohammed. Aylan Kurdi, the dead Syrian toddler.

Ask someone to describe what issue each of these represents, and most will have at least a basic understanding. Ask someone to expand on “right to education”, “discrimination”, “Syrian refugee crisis”…silence is much more likely to be the response.

I’ve long promoted the importance of communications and storytelling to the success of any health or social impact program (hear the drum starting to beat again?), and so I was thrilled to hear storytelling to be a repeated theme on Day 1 of the Social Good Summit. The ambitious 17 Global Goals will require mass action from citizens all over the world, and as Zia Khan of the Rockefeller Foundation so rightly noted, creating goals is not enough. Khan highlighted that it’s by telling the stories of individuals that innovation is sparked, that change is effected.

Not only do individual stories make a complex issue more personal and easily understood, but they also provide a platform for problem solving. As Khan said, “Stories provide innovation bridges for ideas to leap across, resulting in breakthrough.” Bringing issues to life through concrete examples leads to concrete brainstorming, real solutions for real problems. Present people with the story of a two year old child washing up dead on a beach because his family was running from unfathomable violence and war, and they can start to identify specific things that need to be done.  Present them instead with pages of data and dry, generalized facts, and that extra spark will be missing.

We need to turn the Global Goals into a collection of short stories, not just a list of goals & targets, if we are to truly engage all people around the world to care and take action. #TellEveryone not just about the goals, but about the stories.

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