The Art of Storytelling for Social Enterprises
The art of storytelling is something that is perfected by Kenyans and in many African cultures. Every evening in many Kenyan villages, the young ones sit down and either listen to their grandfather or grandmother. I remember sitting in such settings many times with my late grandfather. He was a man of many stories, but sometimes would run out of them and start repeating something he had told us before. The wonderful thing about him is that even when telling the same story, you would still think you are listening to it for the first time. He mastered the art of looking at the past and bringing in some of the recent trends and the lessons that could be learned from either the success or the mistakes of the past. This is something which is common with many African elders that has been passed down to generations.
However, it took a while for that format to be translated to online storytelling. Part of the reason why we came up with BAKE (Bloggers Association of Kenya), was to promote local content creation online. At the time, almost 95 percent of the stories told about Africa were by people living outside Africa. Six years down the line, the vibrancy of the Kenyan online space is out there for all to see. The technology enabled the traditional art of storytelling which was reserved for the elders around a fire place to be an everyday thing among the young Kenyans.
I was extremely excited when I got an invite to a Storytelling workshop event by Siemens Stiftung at the SEED Africa Symposium held on 29th September at the Safari Park Hotel.
The following is the part of the invite narrative that really kept ringing in my ears;
“People ask for data, but believe in stories. Stories are things that people know, love, and remember, and when thinking about a business they know, facts and figures are secondary. We consider this a good thing: narratives can be a real asset for any social enterprise”
That part reminded me of how African elders repeat stories to their grandkids but make them sound so different every time they do that. In my mind, I would not say Facts and figures are secondary to a good story teller but a ladder that they use to build on good stories. And that was evident at the workshop.
The first part of the workshop was devoted to the real-life stories of two social enterprises: The Fish Farm, located in South Africa, and Echo Mobile from Kenya. Echo Mobile in particular was founded and run by people whom I know and have interacted with. Both stories of The Fish Farm and Echo Mobile according to Siemens Stiftung resemble a journey, beginning with the hero’s departure into the unknown and progressing through various twists of fortune to discover the right path for the business in question, which is like finding a treasure. At the end of the journey, the protagonist is a different person: something in his or her life has changed for good. I will have a full interview with Jeremy and Zoe Cohen of Echo Mobile in the coming days, so stay tuned for that
The second part of the workshop was very interesting. Learning on how to structure a story and making others. First step being to draw a storyline graph to structure your story.
The great thing about drawing a storyline graph is that it gives you the full scope of the story. Form the start, the twist and turn in between to the end. What remains after that is to fill in the gaps with words.
The second step is to mark and categorize the key turning points. The turning could be due to many factors, including Technology, Innovation, Health, Financing, Research, Education, Bad decision, Leadership wrangles, Bad client and many others.
After drawing the stories and marking the turning points, the participants were asked to tell their stories to the persons sitting next to them. Personally I know how important this is. Sometime when you write a story, you fail to spot some of your mistakes and when you bring in a third party, they immediately see those mistakes. If you don’t have someone to tell the story to, then the best thing is to give yourself some time and look at the story later.
The third step is to assess your story. At this point it is important to see whether there are things people would learn from it. At the same time, one would also need to ask if other people would identify with the same story. All the participants were advised to assess their stories along the following criteria
- Surprise factor
- Arc of suspense
- Personal identification
- Learning Effect
I have never written them down like that but during the event I found myself nodding after reading each of the criteria.