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Reimagining the way we tell our stories

Discover how three UK Fellows are using their authentic voice to connect across differences and mobilise change
March 15. 2022
Orla, Charlotte and Jayne in a collage


How often do we share stories with one another? 

From reliving a hilarious moment with a friend to sharing a powerful experience with your team — stories are all around us. Some talk about the ordinary, others the magical. Some stay at the surface, others offer deeper wisdom. All connect to our shared humanity.

At Acumen Academy, we are interested in a particular type of story — a story that can connect across lines of difference, inspire communities and mobilise action.

We all have stories of pain, or we wouldn’t think the world needs changing. We all have stories of hope, or we wouldn’t think we could change it.

Marshall Ganz

During the Fellows Programme, we explore how to tell stories that matter. This practice is grounded in Marshall Ganz’s work as a community organiser and the Public Narrative framework. This framework connects our “Story of Self,” “Story of Us,” and “Story of Now” — and offers us a process to transform our experiences into a tool we can use to communicate our shared values and mobilise lasting change.

This piece serves as an introduction to the Public Narrative framework, a glimpse into the Fellowship, and the stories of a few of our Fellows who are reimagining how they share their story.

The story of self: Trusting in your voice with Charlotte 

What moments and experiences have called you to this work?

The stories we share frame our understanding of one another and our world —from where our values come from, to the experiences that have shaped our lives. But to tell a powerful story about our values or life experiences, we have to start by trusting who we are.

To focus on your personal story within storytelling involves embracing truth and trusting in your voice.

Charlotte Carson

Charlotte Carson is the Director of LOOK UK, an organisation that supports visually impaired youth and their families. She admits that finding her perfect Story of Self — the story that led her to this mission — was at first deeply frustrating. 

“I could talk about many different challenges. Picking one that was both relatable and impactful was a struggle.”

Searching for one key moment that called you to serve your mission can feel limiting. However, the Story of Self teaches that it's not about the “drama” or “tragedy” of the story, but the extent to which you allow yourself to be vulnerable, to let others see something real about you and where you draw your care and courage from. 

Through mentoring schemes, support groups, and workshops, Charlotte tackles isolation for visually impaired children across the UK, creating a space for them to thrive. LOOK UK’s mission is to create a world where all young blind and partially sighted people are valued, included, and can fulfil their potential.

“I sometimes feel like I've got so much to say,” says Charlotte. “It's very easy to get lost in communicating LOOK UK’s needs and the boundaries we face.”

When crafting a story, it’s easy to focus on a message that pulls at people’s heartstrings, although it may not be authentic. Eager to nail her true Story of Self, Charlotte drew on her own experiences to craft an authentic message about the organisation.

“I needed to have faith in myself and remember I know enough to get the message across - I needed to trust,” she explains.

Framing her story around the values that pushed her to join the organisation — and sharing the same vulnerabilities about the struggles they face day-to-day — Charlotte created a message that is both honest and inspiring to others.

The Story of Self enables others to understand who we are — it welcomes them into our world and tells the story about how our values and experiences have led us to serve our mission. 

Story of us: Building a community with Jayne 

Why is this community in particular called to act?

The Story of Us invites and inspires others to join you in your work. It enables you to build a sense of community among individuals who may or may not yet see themselves as one and shows them how they can help in the journey towards creating change.

Jayne Jones works as the Commercial Manager of the Argyll and Bute council in Scotland, where she’s responsible for administering sustainable and high-quality public services at schools. As the National Chair of ASSIST FM, Jayne also represents local authorities in promoting the benefits of high-quality school meals for all children, as a way to tackle inequality and food poverty. She works in partnership with various organisations, as well as children and young people, to help improve access to good food and food education.

The 2021 UK Fellows cohort offered her a space to practice telling her story and build a message around a shared sense of community. 

“Through discussion groups and experiences we shared with each other, we activated emotions that will help us tackle the challenges we face every day as social innovators,” Jayne said. 

“For me, food is universal. Be it good or bad, everyone can remember their own school food experience. So right away, we are connected through these memories. In my public narrative, I tried to highlight my memories and connect to the common experience of what children and young people's lunchtimes look like now. I think we can all connect to the importance of a good meal.”

The biggest learning for Jayne came from the generous support of her discussion group.

Their coaching and feedback was invaluable and they challenged me to dig down and find the shared experiences and values that make my story better.

Jayne Jones

This encouraged Jayne to think about how to articulate the challenge, choice and outcome of her mission much more clearly. 

“I don't think my Story of Us is yet finished, and I'm continuing to edit and curate it,” she admits.

According to Ganz, it is our shared identity or set of values that makes us an “us”. The Story of Us brings together a 'specific people or moment’ that not only shapes a community, but builds a story that inspires others to join in on the work.

Story of now: Evoking action with Orla 

What is the urgent challenge we are called upon to face?

Your Story of Now is centred around the choice you are calling upon others to make. It is a story that inspires others to drop everything else and pay attention. It provides a challenging vision of what will happen if we don't act and a hopeful vision of how different the world could be if we do.

For Orla McKeating, Founder of Still I Rise Diversity Storytelling, the Story of Now gave her a chance to reflect.

An excellent opportunity to stop and reflect on what my purpose is today. To dig deep into how I can make the change and inspire others to do the same.

Orla McKeating

With Still I Rise, Orla is on a mission to celebrate diversity by hosting reading sessions with books from across the globe —celebrating diversity, tolerance and encouraging open hearts.  

As a storyteller, “my work is all about sharing stories to create safe and trusted spaces, inviting all people, young and old, to feel valued and seen,’ says Orla. 

We already know why our work matters but the Story of Now requires us to look beyond that. We need to explain how to get from here to there —why the moment is now and why it starts with us.

For Orla, influencing and inspiring others as part of her work was the real challenge, "especially when reaching those who either don’t see the problem, or chose not to,” she adds.

“It resonated with me to find a different approach, which was using the authentic voice. I shared stories that happened in my life — that had an impact and changed my views or how I saw the world. I used my authentic voice and based my Story of Now on what I had seen and the impact of my work. I also shared the true urgency that we all need to do something no matter how small.”

When doing the work of driving change, Ganz reminds us of the responsibility we have to offer a public account of who we are, why we do what we do, and where we hope to lead.

“If you don’t author your public story, others will, and they may not tell it in the way that you like,” says Ganz.

By having a space to practise building their authentic voice, Fellows are able to build stories that enhance their efficacy, create trust, invoke solidarity, and lead more effectively. 

Are you looking to enhance the power of your authentic voice to connect across differences and create meaningful change? UK Acumen Academy is on a quest to build a community that uses the power of storytelling to create a more just, inclusive and sustainable world. Learn more and apply.