Storytelling for Social Change (Ashoka)

Few would deny that storytelling is a powerful tool for inspiring action and change and influencing thought leaders, funders, and decision makers.

Climate change, inequality, violence and other challenges can’t be solved by doing more of the same. We need new narratives that connect with peoples’ deepest motivations and promote more radical action. Stories engage people at every level – not just in their minds but in their emotions, values and imaginations, which are the drivers of real change. So if we want to transform society, we must learn to tell – and listen to – a new set of stories about the world we want to create.

As a changemaker, you have to be comfortable telling stories to engage the hearts, heads, and hands of your audience to help give wings to your project.

Eight Steps to Creating a “Sticky” Story

New media and online distribution channels make sharing our stories easier than ever. What makes great stories so powerful is their “stickiness,” their ability to draw our attention and engage our hearts and minds. The best stories spread good ideas like wildfire and inspire us to take action. And that’s precisely what makes storytelling such a powerful tool for social innovators.

Everyone has a story. This guide  created by Ashoka will help you tell yours.

Step 1. Reflect and build your narrative arc. 


storytelling-670x477Remember two or three moments from your life when you stepped out of your comfort zone and tackled a problem to make a positive difference in the world. What was your “call to action”/“a- ha moment?” How did your action make you feel, and impact others? Recall these moments vividly, using all of your senses. Then select one of these moments as the basis for your story.

Tip: You might want to write freely about these moments, create an audio recording of your response, or draw a map.

The Narrative Arc

Every story has a beginning, middle, and end. Describe the central conflict or challenge you hope to address in order to inspire hope with your solution. The following questions can be helpful as you build your story around one of the key moments you identified in Part A. Your goal is to inspire others to share your vision. The protagonists could be the founder(s) of the organization, staff members, or people who have benefited from your social venture.
Tip: Ask a friend or colleague to interview you and record or type responses to the narrative arc questions.

Step 2. Identify your key audience (i.e. the general public, social innovators, thought leaders, funders)

how-to-seduce-your-audienceWho wants and needs to hear your story? In order to create a compelling story, you need to understand your audience and what motivates them to take action. Make sure your story addresses your target audience.

Step 3. Select your core message.

Why are you telling this story (e.g., to raise awareness or funds, or to advocate for a position on an issue, etc.)? What is your main message? Distill your solution and mission into one idea that is easy to remember.

Tip: Try telling your story in six words or less to get at its core.

Step 4. Choose your story type (i.e. challenge story, big idea, how-to, impact).

Choose the best story to create to reach your target audience. The following are proven story types that inspire people to take action.

Ashoka has encouraged these types of stories in its identification of leading social innovators for the past thirty years.

Step 5. Create your call to action.

keep-calm-and-call-for-actionWhat do you want your audience to do upon hearing your story?

  • Share your story with their network
  • Become a supporter/champion of your cause
  • Sign up for a newsletter or blog posts
  • Sign a petition
  • Volunteer
  • Donate to your organization
  • Start their own program

Step 6. Select your story medium (i.e. written, video, audio, spoken).

Once you have distilled the core components of your story, you can tell it through a variety of media. Choose the medium that best allows you to engage with your target audience.

Step 7. Create an authentic and concrete story.

Make sure to follow the following two principles in creating your story:

  • Be authentic. Be vulnerable.
  • Establish an emotional connection with your audience—inspire empathy.

Being vulnerable, authentic and truthful makes you more relatable and enables you to gain their trust.

  • Through which voice(s) do you want to tell your story? (Tip: If you’re writing, write the way you talk.)
  • Which perspectives do you want to include?
  • What is the overall tone of your story?
  • How do you want your audience to feel during the different parts of your story?

Step 8. Optimize channels for sharing your story.

It’s important to choose the right channels and medium to reach your target audience. Use technology and your personal networks to advance your story.

You can download Ashoka´s guide for Story telling in the following link: Download Guide (pdf)

If you are interested in learning more about effective storytelling and story types, check out the following courses, toolkits, and books:

  • Narrativ
    • Free course on the principles of storytelling.
  • Aaker, Jennifer. How to Tell a Story Workbook, 2012.
    • Includes a step-by-step guide to creating a story.
  • See Change’s Story Science Toolkit
    • Provides resources on the process of deciding what stories matter most and how to tell them effectively.
  • VanDeCarr, Paul. Storytelling and Social Change: A Strategy Guide for Grantmakers, 2013.
    • Gives an overview of storytelling projects, strategies, and resources for social change.
  • Booker, Christopher. The seven basic plots: Why we tell stories. Continuum International Publishing Group, 2004.
    • Traces seven basic story plot types throughout the arts and humanities.
  • Heath, Chip, and Dan Heath. Made to stick: Why some ideas survive and others die. Random House Digital, Inc., 2007.
    • Explores six principles for creating messages that stick.
  • Margolis, Michael. Believe me: A storytelling manifesto for changemakers and innovators, 2009.
    • Covers 15 storytelling axioms to influence people to believe in your message.
  • Simmons, Annette. The story factor: Secrets of influence from the art of storytelling. Basic books, 2006.
    • Includes practical storytelling techniques and explores how story transforms relationships.
  • Sachs, Jonah. Winning the Story Wars: Why Those who Tell-and Live-the Best Stories Will Rule the Future. Harvard Business Press, 2012.
    • Provides resources and examples on telling authentic and memorable stories.
  • Maguire, Jack. The power of personal storytelling: Spinning tales to connect with others. JP Tarcher/Putnam, 1998.
    • Includes resources and activities for telling personal stories.