We need to tell better stories. We’ve become aware that the way we report on our work – especially the stories we share from our partner projects – doesn’t always give you the full picture. Not that we deliberately hide anything, we hasten to add; it’s just that, in a short, one-off story, we will inevitably only communicate a brief glimpse of someone’s life. There’s only so much we can say in 200 words or a one-minute video.
Like many other international development charities, we find it all too easy to revert to stereotypes – especially when we have limited space to tell a story. The danger then is that our storytelling can perpetuate the tired old idea of poor, deprived people who need our guidance and generosity to improve their lot. The more we do that, the more that idea becomes entrenched in our thinking. Eventually, it can become impossible to see the people we serve as anything but poor.
Of course, representing someone only in the context of their need is not accurate. It’s not balanced. It’s not that a stereotype like this is necessarily untrue, but it’s not the ONLY story. We might share a story of a ten-year-old boy in Rwanda living with HIV, but that’s a snapshot of one small area of his life. We don’t then show you the boy playing with his friends, teasing his sister, acing his maths lesson at school or getting told off by his mum for eating too fast. And we’re unlikely to show how climate change is affecting his village or how the country’s economic problems are affecting food supplies for the community. So, anyone who read the boy’s story wouldn’t really see who he is: they’d just see his HIV status.
What if we changed how we gathered and told stories? What if we made the people our partners, not just the subjects of the stories we tell? How can we make the people who benefit from BCT’s work our spokespeople? How can we make it easier for them to tell their own stories, in their own words, in their own way?
You’ve probably noticed we haven’t offered any clear answers to those questions. That’s because we’re still working these things out – they’re not questions with easy answers. And even once we have answers, we won’t always get it right. We’re still learning. But this is what we’re striving for. We want people to see, watch and read the stories we tell and to see our people for who they truly are.
If you have any feedback on our communications or suggestions of how we could be fairer, more rounded and more ethical in our storytelling, please get in touch.