Be a storyteller, not a saviour


Mike Buonaiuto


The third sector is at the forefront of global issues. They are the conversation starters and the implementers of change. Charities and social enterprises are paving the way for solutions – whether social, political or economic – on a global scale. The third sector is the pioneer of evolution and thus, we play a huge role promoting and pushing for diversity in the messaging and campaigns we actively create.

As a social change company, Shape History’s work is to help our third sector clients reach and inspire audiences in order to raise funds, and increase membership or awareness of issues.

Using digital tools to promote both online and offline action, we champion the need for solutions to issues that affect populations both nationally and internationally.

For example, for the World Hepatitis Alliance, together we built the landmark NOhep movement, working towards the global goal of eliminating the disease by 2030; working with BPAS, we helped lower the cost of emergency contraception in Boots, Superdrug and Tesco to allow better access for women; and finally, we recently launched the flagship film for Charities Aid Foundation (CAF), for this year’s #givingtuesday UK, hosted on 28th November. Each different in their execution, what runs through each of these campaigns is the emphasis placed on the narrative.

For years, our TV screens have beamed images of pain and poverty and it’s been debated whether audiences are becoming increasingly averse to this approach. But we would argue that the debate shouldn’t be on the emotive element, but more on the messaging behind it.

In order to reach people at the core of their consciousness, to really connect with them, it’s no longer about depicting issues from the position of saviour. It’s about equal representation and portraying those who need support as humans – not as charity case studies. Understanding and championing diversity is the key to this.

We have welcomed a change in the emphasis of messages we share, to focus on the strengths of diversity rather than the shackles society places upon us – but there’s still a long way to go.

Social media has played a huge role in this shift. With the ability to directly engage audiences in real time through the use of platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Periscope, it’s never been easier for organisations to make issues resonate with people and to mobilise supporters from all walks of life. Audiences want to connect on a personal level so we need to prove to them that we care about their stories and the stories of others.

Change is driven entirely through the third sector and part of the way it creates that change is by sharing the experiences of those who might not necessarily have a platform to do so and to assist in shifting the narrative for underrepresented minorities.

It’s about reaching out to our audience base, viewing both them and the subject of the campaign as peers, and empowering them with the information they need to get involved – rather than begging on behalf help for those deemed ‘less fortunate.’ They need a reason, there and then, to actively get involved and champion our cause.

We have a small window of opportunity to focus on the solution. Humanity needs to shine through in the narrative so we need to depict these issues as if they were happening to real people rather than to a class of victims who need our pity.

In order for us to truly shape the world and create a better place where equality can thrive, we need to start mobilising like-minded audiences and begin telling a new story – one of empowerment and strength.

Mike Buonaiuto is an activist, campaigner and the Executive Director of social change company, Shape History.

Contact Mike via and @mike_shapes.

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