On the 27th of February, we co-hosted a Social Media Week Lagos panel titled What’s Your Story? The Power of Storytelling to Drive Social Change.
Panelists for the discussion included DRASA’s Managing Director Niniola Soleye; Toyin Adesola, Founder and Executive Director of Sickle Cell Advocacy and Management Initiative (SAMI); Joel Benson, documentary/film maker; Wana Udobang, freelance journalist, poet and documentary/film maker; and Remi Owadokun, Founder, Total Makeover Program and 4 time Amazon bestselling author. Our moderator was Arit Ekpo of Menoword Media.
Why focus on storytelling?
In Nigeria, we have a very big storytelling culture. People start threads on social media and trend because we love to tell stories. However, when we want to use these stories to address social issues and challenges, we seem to hit a roadblock.
Wana gave her perspective on how stigma and shame often cause us to struggle to translate our storytelling skills when it comes to serious topics and issues. Culturally, when something happens to one, it happens to all of us. Hence, talking about serious issues means that you are not just shaming yourself but also those around and linked to you. This makes it difficult for people to share their stories as is; instead they may wrap them in fiction to tell the story.
One question raised focused on why people switch off when they are watching something serious. Joel talked about why Nigerian filmmakers may not have cracked how to maintain people’s attention and pass messages across. He maintained that presentation is important to get and keep people’s attention, regardless of the severity of the topic.
Niniola talked about some of the challenges of conducting public health advocacy and passing messages in a relatable way to the target audience. Storytelling is important in this area and can be used to clearly show and illustrate to people what can happen if they do or don’t do certain things.
So how do we tell stories that touch on serious issues?
Storytelling especially around sensitive or serious issues needs to be balanced. Not too entertaining that the message is hidden but not boring either so that people are still engaged. It’s important in shaping conversations and influencing the way that we think and see issues. So we must continue to tell our stories and push our messages.
In fact, it’s been proven that if someone keeps seeing the same thing over and over again, the tendency is that the person may accept it as the reality. This can be good but it can also be bad.
In the case of the Nigerian movie industry, Nollywood, repetition is often used to reinforce stereotypes. And unfortunately, these stereotypes are quite powerful and can affect how we engage with other people. Remi shared a practical example of how we need to work in partnership with the movie industry, whether it be Nollywood or a different one. She mentioned that in Brazil, the government introduces new things with soap operas. If they want to introduce internet banking for example, it would be talked about in every episode of a soap opera.
We can harness these kinds of collaborations to tell our stories and bring awareness to the issues that affect our society. From educating people on how to prevent the spread of infectious diseases to addressing myths and changing the way people view sickle cell disease or female genital mutilation, the power of stories is clear. So let’s keep talking.
Watch the YouTube video and click below to view the gallery of pictures from the discussion: