The other day, a friend shared with me what motivates her to do what she does, and she did so from a very interesting point of view: Stories. In a world of increasing tensions, conflict, despair, disasters, trade wars and distrust and also of new- found love, hope, peace and reconciliation, I found it very refreshing and encouraging to look a bit deeper into the stories we are all a part of. Below follows her write up and I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did and feel encouraged to discover your own stories.
“My mother in-law is a quilt-maker. For many years, she owned a shop in downtown Victoria, Canada, where she offered quilting classes and sold fabric in every imaginable colour, pattern and texture. People love quilts, partly for their beauty, partly for their practicality, but more for the stories they tell about us, about our families. A new baby, a wedding, a harvest. Every square, every piece its own little story, stitched together with many others to tell a larger tale. Tactile narratives.
Stories are powerful. They tell us where we have been, what we have learned, and where we are going. They guide our choices by telling us what we are capable of, what we are supposed to want, and what we need to be afraid of. Collections of stories, like quilts, form the personal and organizational narratives that shape our identities.
Thomas King said it best: “The truth about stories is, that’s all we are.”
I have always loved to read. As a girl, I devoured novels. I would imagine myself as the adventurous girl detective, the spirited homesteading girl, and the stubborn orphaned girl from India. In many ways, it was reading stories about bold girls that helped me to believe I could also be bold and adventurous. Empowered by this identity, I become a pilot and spent several exciting years flying small planes in the Canadian North.
When I made the choice to go back to university, I found a new and different community at the campus women’s centre. In the heart of that beautiful space was a large quilt. Quilting circles have historically been women-centered spaces, communities that help each other through life’s struggles and celebrate each other’s accomplishments. Quilts themselves are important historical documents that transmit women’s stories, even political statements, when other means may not be available to them.
In that space, I heard many stories that saddened me, inspired me, reflected and contradicted my own experiences. I developed a new vocabulary. I saw different patterns, textures and colours in people’s histories. I came to appreciate that excluding those seemingly mismatching stories from our collective narrative– because of ideas about gender, sexuality, or race – diminishes all of us and prevents people from being able to fully own and embody their different identities.
When I began working with Indigenous people and communities, I gained another perspective on how stories shape the way we see ourselves individually and collectively. How identity is so closely tied to shared experiences and relationships. It also helped me to understand how frighteningly easy it is for identities to be entirely erased when people are no longer allowed to tell their stories. How violently and easily holes can be ripped in our patchwork.
Today, I work with organizations in the public, private and non-profit sectors to amplify their social impact. That might look like a lot of different things, but in essence it’s about focusing on people – their capabilities, needs and agency – in whatever work the organization does. Some organizations hold achieving positive social impact as their primary goal, while others are looking for ways to improve their social responsibility.
More and more, I see opportunities to contribute to better social outcomes through storytelling. For some, it might be about building an organizational narrative that encourages employees to be more socially minded in how they approach their work and empowers them to make different decisions in their roles. For others, it might be about supporting a beneficiary to tell their story and honestly examining project outcomes through another lens; there are useful lessons in those missed stitches and crooked lines.
The compelling thing about stories – the underlying human truth – is what drives me to bring storytelling into my work. If social impact is about people, and storytelling is about the human experience, then social impact is inherently about storytelling.
Last fall, I moved to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. This has been another significant marker in my own story. It has helped me to understand, more than ever, that your perspective depends a lot on where you sit. Things in my own life have taken on a different texture altogether, a fresh composition.
All you have to do is turn on the news to be inundated with stories about racism, dishonesty, and corruption. And so, we grasp at other stories about heroes, altruism and sacrifice to balance them out. But people are more complicated than this binary. We need more stories that reflect the messiness, the complexity, and the struggles of doing good in this world. Stories that show us the diversity of who we are and what we are capable of.
Our quilt will never be perfect. But it will be brilliant.”