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Storytelling is a powerful human tradition, a form of connection and communication that is unique in its ability to build understanding around complex concepts and experiences.

Storytelling is the way we help people connect with our work and inspire them to get involved. We bring our work to life through stories, whether they are stories of individual struggle and triumph, or a broader narrative about how communities navigate challenges.

Often, we feel the need to paint the community we are working with from a deficit/crisis perspective – with our organization in the role of hero or savior – out of a perception that this is the only way to convince folks to support our work. Funders reinforce this by rewarding efforts that focus on the most “needy” or “vulnerable”, requiring organizations to present their communities as lacking or deficient. These stories then have the ripple effect of shaping the way listeners see and understand communities and even influencing our own beliefs about those whom we intend to serve.

First we want you to Read this (15 minutes).

Then, read this (12 minutes).

Task #1: Dominant Narratives and Approaches

In this handout, we outline some of the problematic and pervasive narratives that can show up in the stories we tell about our work and the communities we serve. 

Please complete the corresponding handout in your packet by answering these questions:

Does your organization perpetuate any of these narratives? 

What would it look like to shift how you tell your story? 

What implications does that have for how you think about those who you wish to work alongside?

Reflect individually; share and discuss as a team.

Inner Work: Reflections on Module 5

Problematic storytelling isn’t just something that organizations do. We are constantly telling, and letting others tell, our own stories. Reflect on the “stories” that are told about you (by yourself and by others) – they way you’ve written your bio, how your boss introduces you, the way your mom talks about you to her friends, that essay you wrote on that last school/award/fellowship application. Where might there be some underlying problematic narratives? What would it look like to shift them?

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