We first crossed paths with Digital Storytellers at Hub William Street, a thriving co-working space with an abundance of my favourite house plant, Devil’s Ivy. Digital Storytellers develop and share powerful, purposeful stories as well as building the capacity of others to do so. As a fellow B Corp with expertise that is highly relevant to the for-impact sector, we were keen to pick their brains. So, thanks to Cofounder and Director Pete Dowson for chatting to us about successful storytelling, effective partnerships and major trends in the sector.
Please could you tell us a bit about yourself and your role at Digital Storytellers?
I’m Pete. I guess depending on where we are at in the process, I think of myself as either a story architect and/or engineer. We’re a small agency, so I get involved with everything from business strategy, modelling and product development, to creative strategy, editing and shooting.
For those who aren’t familiar with your organisation, who are Digital Storytellers?
At heart, we’re a collective of values-aligned people who all share a belief in the power of storytelling to change the world. In terms of form, we are a purpose-driven storytelling agency that tells stories that matter, primarily through film but also in other formats like illustrations or live scribing and design. Our approach to creating positive impact is to craft impactful stories that amplify positive narratives and disrupt negative narratives. We also love to share our knowledge and resources to empower a wider community of changemakers, and cultivate a community of purpose-driven storytellers.
We work with a wide range of folks – from grassroots initiatives and independent changemakers, to social enterprises and NGOs, educational institutes, corporates, government, councils and foundations. Our stories are usually designed for specific purposes – sometimes it’s a high level vision story drawing on voices from the community, or a powerful personal journey showing profound impact, or hand-illustrated explainers to ‘colour-in’ complex concepts and scenarios. All of these get used in a number of ways – from general communications, to campaigns and targeted promotions. What’s more interesting for me though, is how co-creating a story with an organisation often shapes their internal culture… the story they tell themselves.
What are your top tips when it comes to storytelling
For us, every great story needs these 5 magic moments…
- WHOA moments: shock you to want to know more.
- AHA moments: give you valuable insights to share with the world.
- AWW moments: fill you with empathy and a sense of connection.
- YAY moments: boost you with motivation to rise up and take action.
- WOW moments: inspire you to be greater than you ever thought was possible.
Some other little things I’ve picked up along the way… as the story listener, be really aware of the stories you tell yourself, and be willing to put those stories aside to immerse in the stories of others. And as the storyteller, be authentic and take yourself deeper and further into your story than you are comfortable with, then invite your audience to follow.
Personally, I think the secret to great storytelling is an understanding that the world itself is actually a constantly evolving story that we are all co-creating together – every single day. The stories that resonate the most are simply reflections of this bigger unfolding narrative – because we are each small artefacts of an indescribable work in progress.
In your experience, what are the critical success factors when it comes to partnering?
I think it’s important to find both the shared perspectives and differences in any partnership. Then you can relate to each other with genuine empathy and a better degree of transparency. Being values-aligned and sharing a common vision also really helps build trust and respect. Sometimes, with a great alignment, we can be more altruistic in the relationship, other times it’s fun to simply collaborate and co-create projects and then there’s the more direct values exchange approach and finding the ‘win-win-win’. We always look for new ways to complement partners to get better outcomes for us both as well as the wider community. So my best advice with partnerships is to look for what you could do together that you couldn’t achieve on your own.
What are the major trends you are seeing in the for-purpose sector?
Overall there is strong rising global consciousness at every level. Purpose is undoubtedly the current hot topic, alongside meaning and engagement, especially in the business world. There is also growing awareness around social inequities despite being in a time of relative wealth and abundance. Particularly, gender equality and diversity are becoming the focus.
We’re also seeing more organisations adopting a collaborative approach, which is essential for us to achieve greater outcomes together. These include social procurement, the shared value movement and collective impact.
Tech is relentlessly driving social innovation and we’re entering an era of the ‘democratisation of everything’. For us, on one hand, it’s fortunate that technology is making the practice of storytelling increasingly accessible; on the other hand, it means there is more “noise” and you’re going to have to tell a stronger story in new and different ways, in order to be heard.
And for organisations like ourselves, perhaps the most interesting and important social evolution that is emerging is the shift towards what Frederic Laloux framed as ‘Teal’ (check out Reinventing Organisations). Teal moves away from hierarchical and depersonalised organisations towards thriving, autonomous living systems, driven by evolutionary purpose and characterised by the personal sense of wholeness at work. Internally at Digital Storytellers, we consider B Corp as our way of doing and Teal as our way of being in the world.
How can people get involved with Digital Storytellers?
Well, people can engage us to tell stories of course. But what we’d love even more is to empower changemakers to tell their own stories and develop the culture of storytelling within their organisations. We created Stories For Impact workshops and programs precisely to serve this purpose, and we recently launched this course online – so now we’re very excited that we can grow connections and serve changemakers across the nation and the world.
We are also currently proto-typing a ‘pathway to purpose’ program to nurture the next generation of impact storytellers. These include creatives who may want to escape the corporate world, people from marginalised communities who would like to learn new skills or have their voices heard, or students of the craft of storytelling.
Recently, we met up with Enspiral in New Zealand and were completely inspired by what becomes possible with an active purpose-driven community. So we’re resolved to help cultivate the community of impact storytellers both here and around the world. We’d love to partner with other organisations and perhaps some educational institutions to grow a stronger community of practice around impact storytelling.
Are there any for-impact organisations that you’d like to shout out to?
There are so many! Those that immediately come to mind are Australian Progress, Collaboration for Impact, B Corp, Enspiral, Social Enterprise World Forum, Edmund Hillary Foundation and Wildwon. Also Go Foundation for their ecosystem approach to impact – we need to see more organisations take this approach to create more effective change. There are so many more in our local ecosystem that deserve a shout out. And my personal list of giving includes Australia Institute, EDO, Lock The Gate, Farmers for Climate Action, Juice Media and a few others – I think everyone should donate at least 1% towards causes they personally support, even if it’s just a small amount split between a number of groups.
What is Digital Storytellers’ key point of difference?
I think that would have to be our people and culture – that drives everything else. We have a very special team of humans with dedication, commitment and sincerity for our purpose and craft. The level of care we have for each other, and the way we nurture passion and creative expression shows up in our everyday service delivery. And our clients are a big part of that too. When you genuinely care about impact, sharing the same values and vision with your clients and team-mates, that invites a whole different level of innovation, resourcefulness and excellence. Sometimes this also means challenging or even saying no to certain clients and projects, but it has been our experience that this is what truly makes a difference between being part of a good organisation and a really great one.